Cochrane High teacher Jander Talen will soon embark on a 10-day expedition to the Galápagos Islands.
He was selected by the National Geographic Society and Lindblad Expeditions as one of 50 pre-K-12 classroom and informal educators across North America to form the 15th cohort of Grosvenor Teacher Fellows.
From Sept. 7 to 17, Talen will get hands-on, field-based educational and research opportunities at the islands, which are on the World Heritage List.
"My hope is that I can take things from the expedition to these islands--there are 13 main islands there--and learn how interconnected our world is and then bring it back to my students and share it with them in Cochrane."
Located around the equator about 900 km off of the coast of Ecuador, Galápagos is an archipelago of volcanic islands. It is known for having a large number of endemic species. Several were studied by Charles Darwin in the 1830s and inspired his theory of evolution by means of natural selection.
The journey to the islands will be made on the state-of-the-art expedition vessel National Geographic Endeavor II, which was built for the high seas and permanently stationed in Galápagos to sail the equator.
Talen says he learned of the fellowship opportunity when explorers came to speak to his students on the opportunities that exist to explore our own backyard. Among them was Christian Stenner, a spelunker and National Geographic explorer, who recommended Talen make application for the fellowship.
"I never even heard of them before, but as I looked it up, I thought this is the most amazing professional development opportunity."
He applied in January and when he didn't hear back began plotting out a stronger application for next year.
"Then I got a call in February and they said, 'Hey, we want to let you know you have been accepted as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow for the next two years, and I was over the moon."
He had the choice of prioritizing his top picks from an amazing list that included expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, circuit navigating Iceland, studying the B.C. and Alaska coastline, and an expedition in Australia.
"Galápagos was my top choice, and fortunately, they fit me on the ship."
Each day will be filled with opportunities to gain first-hand insight into the islands' endemic species you can't possibly garner by visiting them in captivity.
"I get to be a learner aboard the ship. As a teacher who guides students through studies in environmental and outdoor education, social studies, and photography, I get to take the posture of a learner and learn from incredible naturalists and photographers on a National Geographic and Lindblad expedition ship."
They will be utilizing clear-bottom zodiac boats, snorkeling one or two times a day, and will be spending time on land to get up close and personal with the animals and to visit farms.
"To experience how those marine iguanas live there, how those Blue-footed boobies live there in that space, and how they have come to be that way. I mean, there are Darwin's famous finches and there are different beak shapes and what they're utilized for in the different islands."
"Even the Galápagos tortoises, you can tell what island they're from, based on some of the patterns on their shells," he continues. "I'm just starting to learn more about that and I'm looking forward to seeing that up close and personal and hopefully then as I develop more of a love for that space, I can find ways to have my students in Cochrane find a love for their natural space at the Ranche or in Kananaskis or Banff so that they develop a love for those places and have a desire to protect them, as they need to be taken care of."
While attending a pre-expedition workshop in Washington, D.C. at National Geographics main camp, he was struck by comments made by the naturalist who will be helping lead the expedition.
"She explained to us her favourite animal on the whole Galápagos Islands is the flightless Cormorant because they can't fly (they have these tiny little wings). She says it's proof that you don't have to be excellent, you just have to be good enough, which I thought was kind of an iconic-type quote."
There was an instant connection with the other 49 Fellows selected, five of whom are from Canada, and two from Alberta.
"I love the teachers at Cochrane High School and we have great relationships there, but it's also great to have other teachers from around North America who are really excited about the same nuances of interconnectedness in the world, so connecting with these people and planning and developing things together has already been a huge benefit to my professional growth."
Because a Wi-Fi connection will be available, he intends to share just a few photos and stories with his students along the way, and the occasional update on X (Twitter).
"I hope to really experience the place while I'm there and not spend all my time just communicating. Then hopefully I can digest it while I'm there in person and then reflect on it and share it when I get back."
Fellows take on a two-year leadership commitment to support National Geographic’s education initiatives.
"With the help from the great partnerships of National Geographic staff and other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows," explains Talen. "I’ll be creating specific units and lessons using what I learn in the Gapápagos to inspire my students. National Geographic’s hope is that the work I produce for students will culminate in a student action/outreach project where students can showcase their learning through action."
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