Teaching & Learning Blog

My Summer in Kenya

Barbara Purn is a 2nd grade teacher at Villa Academy, an independent Catholic school in Seattle. This summer, she is traveling to Kenya on a fellowship from the Earthwatch Institute, a nonprofit science-education group, to study the behavior and stress habits of Sykes monkeys. Ultimately, she plans to share her research with her students as part of a unique lesson plan on endangered and threatened species. In this opinion blog, she’s keeping a journal of her educational expedition. (My Summer in Kenya ceased publishing in July 2006.)

Education Opinion Lesson plans for the classroom
Since my primary goal of this trip was to find opportunities to bring my experiences back into my 2nd grade classroom, I have found two activities that I plan to use. Both of them are tasks that I did in the research of the monkeys, and I feel will both work in my classroom.
Barbara Purn, July 24, 2006
2 min read
Education Opinion Back from Kenya
I am now in Heathrow Airport, once again waiting out an 8-hour layover. Yesterday I had an hour flight from Malindi to Nairobi, where I had to spend about 8 hours as well. I actually got some sleep on the flight to London, about 3 hours I think and I feel pretty good this morning. I’ll be here until afternoon, fly for nine hours and arrive in Seattle only one hour later than when I left London!
Barbara Purn, July 19, 2006
1 min read
Education Opinion The End of the Monkey Tale
We have come to the end of the expedition and it is quite sad. We have become quite close not only to each other but the monkeys. Yesterday afternoon we had to say ‘goodbye’ to them and wish them well. Maurice, came out, I’m sure, to say ‘goodbye’ to me as well and I think did as well.
Barbara Purn, July 16, 2006
2 min read
Education Opinion Third World Experience
Today was pretty typical. I followed two monkeys in the morning for good periods of time, like over an hour each. I am usually tracking with another teacher, Allison, these days, and a researcher assists us when we need it. Sometimes we need help confirming the identity of a monkey or sometimes we loose one into heavy foliage or to another tree and Laura or Monica help get us back on track. They were given almost a month just to get the know the animals before doing follows like we are, and we only had one or two days! Sometimes it’s frustrating and others, when I can ID one and stick with her for a while, it’s very fun.
Barbara Purn, July 14, 2006
1 min read
Education Opinion African Safari
What an amazing experience--I can hardly believe all that we saw and did in the last two days. Our trip to East Tsavo Park was really perfect in the every way. We drove about 2 ½ hours with our wonderful driver, Pius, who has been with us all week. The drive was over very rutty, brick red, dirt roads. Tsavo is the largest park in Kenya and we drove forever over it, it seemed, and yet we covered only a small corner of it. We saw so many animals I can hardly remember the names—elephants, gazelles, impalas, lions, crocodiles, hippos, cheetahs, dik diks, warthogs, giraffes, many different kinds of birds including ostriches, and others. It was so fabulous to see the animals in their natural habitat, grazing, drinking at the waterhole, dusting themselves and just being free and natural. We couldn’t get too close or get out of the van, but the top lifts up to allow you to stand up for better views. We were so grateful to have our good binoculars along!
Barbara Purn, July 13, 2006
3 min read
Education Opinion The Secrets of Monkey Following
I’m getting more used to looking for monkeys, walking softly on the crunching wood so as to not startle them, to be able to sense when they might be near and to see them in the trees as they move across the forest. The area that the three of us are in is much more challenging, because the monkeys are less used to people and easily flee, and the forest is very dense. We rarely use trails when following a monkey—just barge ahead into the bushes, get scratches on your arms and face from the thorns, watching for wasp nests and huge spiders. I try not to really think about what might be around me! Haven’t seen any snakes yet, however, which is conforting.
Barbara Purn, July 11, 2006
1 min read
Education Opinion A Special Pair of Sandals
Today we had a little diversion from the regular schedule in the afternoon. After watching monkeys from 7-12:45 and 2:30-4:30 our driver took us into the little town of Watamu. We were able to walk down the street and look into a few kiosks where items were for sale, mostly for the tourists at the few hotels in the area. All us women were anxious to order handmade sandals, which we did. They will be made in our size, with beaded decorations that we choose (about 20-30 different styles to choose from) and will be ready tomorrow afternoon. The price is 450 Kenya shillings which is about $6.30. One woman sat there and began to sew the beads onto the leather by hand as we spoke. We asked if they could really have 10 pairs of sandals made by hand by tomorrow and he said, “Yes, we have many people to help us.” They will probably work for many hours on these sandals and I will always think of that as I wear and enjoy them.
Barbara Purn, July 10, 2006
1 min read
Education Opinion My Work with Monkeys
Yesterday our task, from 7-12:45 and from 2:30-4:30 was to try to identify and then stick with one female monkey for awhile. This involves using binoculars to carefully look at the tail, nipples, and then face for distinguishing features. Tails can be crooked, probably from an injury, a little thicker with hair or thinner, and the way they end can be different. Nipples usually are pink, but some have black spots on them, and they can be of different lengths. Who knew! The last thing you look at is the face for eyebrows, open mouth, and the eyes. You have to study the monkeys for quite some time to be able to positively identify one.
Barbara Purn, July 9, 2006
2 min read
Education Opinion My Trip to Kenya
July 5
I left Seattle today at 7:10pm on British Airlines. Getting there three hours ahead was not too early—lots of travelers these summer days. The flight is completely full, a huge Boeing 747 that holds over 280 passengers. I am in a middle seat between two nice women. One is from Hungary and is flying home for a surprise visit with her mother. The other is traveling to Zimbabwe to help with medical supplies she is bringing for AIDS workers. We had some interesting conversations.
Barbara Purn, July 9, 2006
4 min read
Education Opinion Heading Out!
I am looking forward to meeting my teammates on the upcoming excursion. We had brief communications via email a few weeks ago introducing ourselves. All 6 are teachers like me, which will make it very cool! They are from Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Mississippi. As most relate that they have taught about 2-3 years, I’ll probably be the ‘mother’ of the group with my 30+ years of teaching! I just hope I can keep up with them. One of our tasks after the trip is to write at least one lesson plan using our experiences in the field, for our classroom back home. I look forward to sharing ideas with my teammates.
Barbara Purn, July 2, 2006
1 min read
Education Opinion Preparing for My Trip
I have just completed the school year with my second graders, cleaned out my classroom, written report cards, and am now ready to really focus on my upcoming trip! I leave July 5, which is only about 12 days away. I am getting excited, realizing that it's really going to happen, and my months of preparing for it are about over. I'd like to let you know what led up to me going to Kenya to research monkey behavior.
Barbara Purn, June 24, 2006
3 min read