Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Blog Update: it's spring! But also, I'm still here!

Happy Spring!! Here where I live it's really, really hard to believe it's actually spring and not still winter (see picture below for the amount of snow we still have), especially since we had a blizzard yesterday afternoon. Not much snow actually stayed on the ground, but still...looking out the window yesterday afternoon made me very, very unhappy. Seems like this winter is never ending! Because it's a new season, I changed my blog colours to be more spring-y and reminiscent of spring flowers. And, of course, can't have a year go by without featuring my favourite colour on my blog background: PINK! :)

As I'm sure you've noticed (and some of you have actually e-mailed me; I do appreciate your concern), I've been a little...absent from my blog in the last month (and I guess the month before that, too...). It's not because I've lost interest or I've run out of pictures (you can NEVER run out of plants to blog about with a plant blog...), it's because I've been very, very busy this semester. I'm TAing as usual, I'm also recording lectures of another course for an online course project by the department, I'm helping map the second-year mandatory course curriculum in Biology for the department, I've been volunteering with ReForest London (more on that later), today I'm giving a talk to the London Garden Club about gardening with native species, I have a talk tomorrow at a teaching conference about my blog and the impact I think it's had since April 2012, I'm giving a talk in April at the Earth Day Colloquium on campus about the importance of trees in London, Ontario (and the history of trees in London), AND, last but certainly not least, I'm trying to finish my thesis. Whew! I've been busy. I do have more blog posts planned for when the term starts to slow down (April! Less to do in April! Trust me!)

So about this volunteering thing with ReForest London. A bit about the organization first....

ReForest London is a not-for-profit organization that is all about bringing nature back to the city. Their goal by 2020 is to plant one million trees in the city, on public or private property (visit their Million Tree Challenge website HERE). There are many different ways to volunteer with the organization (tree planting, they have a neighbourhood Tree Captain program, tree giveaways, tree sales, etc.) and I've chosen one of their new programs to volunteer with called the Tree Teacher Program. There are three presentations that we give: Native Trees, The Importance of Trees, and The Emerald Ash Borer. The goal is to start educating the public about why trees are important and valuable, how they improve the quality of life of people living in the city, and why our natural areas should be protected. I've been having a great time with the program so far, and the most rewarding experience by far were my three talks with the Boys and Girls Club in the Teen Zone. The Teen Zone is where (obviously) teens come together after school to use the computers, play video games, do arts and crafts, sit on the couches and talk, or use any number of the facilities they have in the building. The ages of the teens participating in the program is probably 12-15 (just a guess based on conversations I've overheard about school), and they're interested in being on the computer or playing computer games (or listening to music really loudly) in the evenings and nothing else. To try to teach them about why trees are awesome was a big challenge, but I'm always up for a challenge. Oh, and of course I couldn't use the words "learn" or "teach", because that sounds WAY too much like school and that brings their interest level from 10% to -400%. So instead we "talked" about trees. Much less threatening.

The first session we talked about native trees and why trees from this area were pretty cool and worth knowing about (NOT learning about! Ha). I had them draw pictures about why trees are important in their life, and we played Tree Leaf Bingo. They had a blast, and learned a bunch. They were probably shocked that I managed to squeeze in some learning during non-learning time! The next time I talked about why trees were important (using their pictures in my presentation, which all of them thought was pretty awesome), and then we learned how to identify trees using a simple binary key and herbarium specimens (since trees with leaves are clearly hard to come by at this time of year...). They were SO IMPRESSED by herbarium specimens that now they want to come to campus to visit the herbarium and check out the stacks. Who would have thought that a herbarium would be a "cool place to visit" in the eyes of a 14-year-old that hates libraries?! One of them even told me at the end of that session "herbarium specimens are cooler than candy." If you say so! :) The third session was about Pests and Pathogens of Trees (a modification of the Emerald Ash Borer presentation), and that was the one that went over the best. I was allocated 30 minutes for a 15-minute presentation, some questions, and an activity. The session ended up going for 2 hours. TWO HOURS! It was two of the most rewarding hours of my life. All of the teens want to come to campus to visit again to walk around and visit the trees in the arboretum: the oldest, the biggest, the funniest-looking, etc. I never in a million years dreamed that I would turn a bunch of kids from "trees are boring" into "I WANT TO COME VISIT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TREES!!!" It was amazing. Just goes to show that a little perseverance and a lot of patience can do wonders.

So. That's my life in a nutshell over the last couple of months. As much as I love what I'm doing, I can't WAIT for life to slow down a bit! I've been counting down the days until the end of classes, which is really unusual for me because I love interacting with students so much. But the end of classes means the end of marking essays. And as much fun as that is...I'd rather not :)

More blog posts (especially about plants) coming soon!