George Lucas Educational Foundation

Journey North: Children Practice Real Science by Monitoring Monarchs

Third-grade students at Rockledge Elementary join thousands of kids across North America to track migration patterns of butterflies and other species as part of this online project. More to this story.
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Woman: What have we got today?

Narrator: It's a big day for these students at Rockledge Elementary in Bowie, Maryland. It's the day they open an envelope full of paper monarch butterflies made by students in Mexico.

Woman: She lives in Mexico, and she's given us her address, and how many think they could write a note back to her, because wouldn't you like to know who is going to get the ones you made?

Narrator: The arrival of these symbolic butterflies mirrors the annual migration of monarchs from their winter home in Mexico to North America each spring. Following the migration is just one part of Journey North, a comprehensive set of project-based learning activities delivered free to schools across the country via the Internet.

Woman: Okay, let me bring the map up. What we're going to do is we're going to follow the path of the monarchs.

Narrator: Exploring the interrelated aspects of seasonal change, students follow the migration of several different animals and add their personal observations to the global Journey North database.

Elizabeth: And I really appreciate the incredible power of the Internet as a communication tool, because you can be speaking to kids up in Alaska about the snowstorm that just hit up there and the whales that are on their way, and even a kindergartener seeing their first robin is of importance to everybody else.

Woman: Another state where the monarchs are going to be visiting. Kyle?

Kyle: West Virginia?

Narrator: Frances Koontz has used Journey North in her classes for the past seven years to touch on everything from science, math, and social studies to ecology and English. For Koontz, Journey North works.

Frances: Because it's authentic, because we actually write letters, for instance, the children take an ownership of that. Their writing is better. Because they know somebody really is going to read that letter, they're much more careful about their penmanship, about their grammar, about spelling. So I'm able to bring all of those language-arts skills into an activity that is real and authentic. Social studies comes in with the butterflies because Journey North people are just wonderful about bringing us information about the children in Mexico.

Child: The air temperature is 63 degrees.

Narrator: Students get a chance to act as scientists, making observations of natural phenomena right outside their classroom door and sharing their findings with their peers and scientists around the globe.

Frances: The science is just extremely rich, so really, almost every part of my curriculum can be brought into Journey North, and Journey North can be integrated in some way into it. And it meets the state's standards, which is, of course, my benchmark.

Go all the way down.


Narrator: Another Journey North activity is a geographical game called The Mystery Class. Teams of students compete to identify a secret spot on the globe by deciphering scientific and cultural clues to the locale.

Girl: We were trying to guess where our mystery class was. It could be anywhere in the world. Now we think it's Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

Boy: And the weird thing about the photo period is each time, it increases one or two minutes.

Girl: And that means it's by the equator.

Frances: Then I can step back, now that they have this knowledge, and just let them interact with each other and bring out a product. It's just wonderful to watch.

Narrator: While Journey North relies on sophisticated technology to deliver information, there is no substitute for a first-hand experience of nature's small miracles.

Frances: What does that tell us?

Monarchs are here.

Frances: It might be a monarch.

Frances: We were lucky enough to have a patch of milkweed in the front of the school, and we found 57 eggs and larvae and brought them in. We actually were able to watch one of the butterflies emerge from its chrysalis. That's something they'll never, never forget.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Leigh Iacobucci
  • Diane Curtis


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Rege Becker
  • Jim Gilchrist
  • Joseph Rose


  • Kris Welch

Additional footage courtesy of

  • Annenberg/CPB
  • Frances Koontz

Editor's Note: Although Fran Koontz, the teacher shown in this video, retired in 2008, the Journey North continues to be actively used in schools all over the country, and is considered the nation's premiere "citizen science" project for children.

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jessica Gibb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

March of the Monarchs
Q#1-Q#3 In this classroom they are using a computer program called Journey North that has activities and a database for the kids to use to record research as well as communicate with and learn about people from all over the world. This allows the teacher to use hands on and visual learning strategies. They are able to their own research and record the information found on the journey north database. They also work on their writing skills as they communicate with other students by writing letters to them. The kids are learning about science including animals, weather, climate etc,; language art skills by writing and reading; and social studies skills by learning about people around the world.

Q#4 The technology used in this classroom is a great contribution to the learning experience of the students. They are able to actually see and experience things they wouldn't be able to otherwise without traveling around the world. From the classroom the teacher is able to present them with visual hands on information from places a long way from home. The activities provided are creative and interactive and help the kids to really learn and apply the information taught. They are able to do research and record this research in a database where it is made available for people all around the world to see. They are also able to write to people around the world. This makes it so that the kids will want to do a good job on their work because it is going to be seen and used by other people. This is also a good way for them to practice what they are learning. There was a lot of active engagement and group work integrated into the classroom through the activities provided.

troy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This video was interesting because it shows how kids use Journey North to talk to other people as well as keep track of their resources they are using to do projects. This can be veru helpful in classes that have the opportunity to use this program because students usually do not get to see other people react to their work. Also, in this case, students were able to take the butterfly migration patterns and talk to people who may have experienced this migration in other parts of the world.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

i salute to the author of this other way of teaching the students effectively...
you let the students learned by doing..
or learning by experience.

Vanessa Parker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After watching the video, I think the way technology and subjects like social studies, geography, and language arts were intergrated very well. It helps the students work together as a team. In addition, the outcome, or product, done by the students is viewed not only by the teacher, but by others outside of the classroom. I think this is a great way to get students involved with technology in class. It helps keep the students' interest and the need to go explore more.

Suzanne Berzinis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a meaningful experience to provide those children. They were so engaged and the activity touched on so many areas!

Kristian Berg's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I produced and shot the video of the monarch emerging and the African American child reacting (North Minneapolis) used in this video. I also produced and directed the footage shot in Mexico with the symbolic migration and the monarch sanctuaries.

It was all part of a series of videotapes for Journey North and the Annenberg Foundation on monarch butterfly/animal migrations, tulip gardens, and mystery class. All nature based observational and experiential science curricula from Journey North. The entire series is streamed here:

I now produce for Penn State Public Television.

Kristian Berg

vishwanath's picture

Without doubt this should be the way to teach our young students. Instead of being tutored, they should be trained to aquire knowledge.

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