Find Expeditions Start an Expedition About Open Explorer

Galapagos: Elementary Teachers in the Field

June 13 2018

Two 2018 Grosvenor Teacher Fellows will connect in-class science learning to the Galapagos Islands for primary and intermediate students.

June 13 2018


Accept contributions for your expediton by providing us a few details. We will create an account on your behalf at WePay. If you haven't already registered with WePay, they will send you an email to complete your registration.

Preparation Stage

I now have three partial weeks of school under my belt, and the Galapagos and adaptations have been a major theme. The entire 5th grade team agreed to begin our science studies with our Ecosystem unit this year, and we have put the focus on the Galapagos.

First we examined where the Galapagos Islands are located and discussed how they were formed. Later in the year, we will be studying land forms, tectonic plates, and volcanoes--and we'll be talking about their formation some more. As we've studied what habitats are, we read about the strange and wonderful habitats of the different Galapagos Islands.

With some background on the habitats, I gave the students pictures of saddleback and dome back Galapagos tortoises. They had to pick out the similarities and differences between the tortoises and then hypothesize what could have caused those differences. I then shared "Galapagos George" by Jean Craighead George to learn about them in more detail.

My students then conducted a Darwin Finch Beak activity. Each pair of students had five different types of beak - scissors, tweezers, spoon, toothpick, and clothespin. They had to pick up different types of food with the beaks and count how much they could get in 30 seconds. This led to an intense hour of timing, testing, and recording. Not quite at the level of the famous evolutionary biologists, the Grants and the real Darwin finches, but very intense nonetheless. My students are testing how adaptations occur in nature.

To top off the lessons of adaptations, our school was evacuated last Monday because of mold. I am now running my classes in the Middle School shop class, among radial arm saws and welding equipment. We are experiencing a lot of personal adaptations as well!

This week we will be doing a Google Hangout with Elitza Germanov, a researcher who studies the effects of microplastics on oceanic megafauna. This will introduce my students to some of the dangers that the amazing animals of the Galapagos are facing. Hopefully, this will lead to interesting questions that my students will want answered!

I did a double take when I logged into my Lindblad Expeditions portal this weekend to reread my expedition guide. A countdown timer greeted me with the reading "1 Week, 2 days" against a photo of a giant tortoise. I've finalized my packing list and even started gathering my things.

Stacy and I are both a few weeks into the new school year and have focused on explaining our expedition to our classes. Of course, this looks different in 5th grade than it does in 1st grade. I've been laying the groundwork with my primary learners by reading my kid-friendly blog posts with them.

Students shared connections about places they've traveled before. They asked me about the logistics of ship life. After I told them that the islands were formed by a hot spot (a topic we'll explore more in our History of the Earth science unit soon), many wished me luck at seeing a volcanic island erupt. I promised to bring back a video if I had the chance.

Students were excited to learn I'd be snorkeling almost daily and taking underwater photo and video. They imagined the possibilities this could produce - from finding sunken treasure, to bringing back pearls, to being snapped at by a sea turtle.

Most of all, I wanted to get my kiddos excited about the endemic species in the Galapagos. I passed around animal figurines I purchased of some of the unique wildlife, and questions flooded in. Then, each student chose their favorite of the animals to draw. I will bring their mini masterpieces with me next week and take photos of their artwork next to the living, breathing specimens!

I had a very amusing day today preparing for the expedition. My wet suit had arrived, but I had never tried snorkeling with it.

In addition, my friend recently loaned me her Go Pro camera to take to the Galapagos, specifically to use underwater. I instantly went on the internet to get the best tips on using a Go Pro underwater. The consensus seemed to be to put the camera on the end of a long pole (like a selfie-stick) and point it at what you want to record.

So I wandered around the house and yard with a Go Pro on a stick and got a lot of silly video. But I wanted to practice in the water. Fortunately, a fellow teacher had just installed a pool; and she offered it to me to practice.

Today I went there straight after school. The wet suit and the Go Pro seemed to work great! It was a lot of fun, and I learned some important lessons for using the Go Pro underwater. Hopefully my videos from the Galapagos will be more interesting than pool bottoms and filters!

How to Prepare?

I went through a long period of time where I didn't travel much at all. If you look at the time frame carefully, you'll notice it coincides with the time my children were young. In fact, until two years ago, I hadn't left the United States in over 20 year. Then in 2016, I received a Teacher for Global Classrooms fellowship from the U.S. State Dept. Through this fellowship, I learned an immense amount about globalizing my elementary classroom in a more deliberate manner. The fellowship also sent me to the Philippines, where my desire for travel was reignited.

This fellowship led to becoming a National Geographic Certified Educator, and then a Grovesnor Teacher Fellow. I still pinch myself that I will be going to the Galapagos Islands in 52 days.

As a bit of a nerd, I prepare myself by reading. I have bought a LOT of books for myself and my classroom. I also received a lovely surprise from a friend who I hadn't seen in years. She sent me three books from her family's trip to the Galapagos a few years before. My reading began in earnest in July. I'm not sure I'll get through all the books before school starts in three weeks, but I'm going to try. And I know my students will love many of these books. Even if the text is too difficult, the photos are gorgeous.

Some of the other things I'm doing to prepare:

  • Like Alison, I am investigating wet suits. As a SCUBA diver from a long time ago, I know I get cold in the water. Even if the water is 80 degrees, it pulls your body warmth away. The water around the Galapagos in September is 72 degrees!
  • I've bought a new camera. I'm a point-and-shoot gal, but this is a nice one, and I've been practicing with it all summer. I can still guarantee that the photos Alison takes of me will be better than the ones I take of her.
  • I've revived my travel blog which I write for 3-5 grade level. Feel free to check it out here:
  • Best of all, Alison and I got to check in with each other in person a few days ago, while I was visiting Colorado. Seeing her face-to-face makes our trip all the more real!


In less than 3 months, Stacy and I will be embarking on our voyage to the Galapagos Islands. This is the first time I've traveled through the lens of an educator formally; although, I suppose I've carried students in my thoughts on all my trips since I became a teacher. But, now I have time to research and gather student input. I'm preparing to make thoughtful curricular connections during the expedition.

I grew up as an American expat in Southeast Asia, so I'm very fortunate that travel has always been a big part of my life. I quickly learned that when you step into new cultures and environments, you're challenged; the more you travel, the more you grow. It's one thing to tell my first graders to be brave, curious, and global-minded; it's another to model this myself. I hope my expedition encourages students to lean into, not away from, the discomfort of novel places, practices, problems, and perspectives... both in and out of the classroom.

Me, about the age of my current students, on a plane ride off to somewhere exciting!


Already done:

  1. Connected with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions staff, naturalists, and other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows in Washington DC. I also received an overwhelming amount of background information, advice, and media training.
  2. Developed an action plan and outreach plan to help me get the most out of my expedition before, during, and in the year after.
  3. Read every travel blog I could find by people who have gone to the Galapagos
  4. Watched the BBC docu-series on Galapagos that's on Netflix... twice

Still to do this summer:

  1. Finish getting all my gear. To get ready for all the snorkeling we'll do, I bought a GoPro for underwater footage and my own wetsuit. I've also picked up a light rain jacket and some sport sandals for Zodiac rides and wet landings. I'm still testing out reef-safe mineral sunscreens and I need to look into seasick pills and probiotics. I'm adamant that not my skin nor my stomach will slow me down!
  2. Do a lot more research on Galapagos. I'm beginning to work my way through some books from my recommended reading list.


To do once the school year starts in August:

  1. Introduce my new class to the expedition via my kid-friendly blog written at a K-5 reading level.
  2. Ask students what they want to learn and see. I plan to film their questions so I can collect and film answers in the field. I'd also like to bring some artifacts with me from school to deepen the personal connection.
  3. Collaborate with colleagues across my K-12 school to help leverage my time in the field and make this a valuable experience for students at all levels.
Expedition Background

"In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." - Baba Dioum

  • WHO: Alison Travis, a first grade teacher based in Colorado and Stacy Gasteiger, a fifth grade teacher based in Pennsylvania
  • WHAT: Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship field-based professional development, made possible by National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions
  • WHERE: The Galapagos Islands, sailing aboard the National Geographic Endeavour II
  • WHEN: September 14-23, 2018 for 10 days. We'll be arriving on the same day that Darwin first arrived 183 years ago!
  • WHY: To connect in-class learning (specifically in science) to the world at large for students, to inspire students to get involved with global issues, and to provide other teachers with resources tying together exploration and education
  • HOW: Digital storytelling driven by student inquiry, using narratives as well as digital, underwater, and 360-degree photo and video

Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins


Love this and can’t wait to follow your expedition :)