I was a middle school teacher for over a decade, teaching English and Social Studies and serving as the Social Studies Department chair.  I also got kids outside.  I took them camping (trust me, I actually took 125 kids camping in tents for a whole weekend, and the thing I remember most is laughing, a lot.) I had a grant to keep at-risk kids in school all summer, and we built a wildlife garden in an inner courtyard at our school.  And those kids eventually designed a water children’s garden at George Washington’s River Farm and were invited to testify to Congress on the importance of environmental education.  I love watching the transformative power of nature to connect us to one another, to awe us with tiny miracles, and to heal our anxious hearts.  And I love that this is the theme of the Islanders series, which takes place on the tiny island where I live now and where we raised our children.

Ideas for Science Lessons and Activities For The Islanders

I had a great time pulling together this spreadsheet of videos for Ms. Powers class at Laing Middle School.  It connects specific nature videos with SC Science Standards. The teachers asked me to look at the way animals move, vertebrates and invertebrates, mollusks, bilateral symmetry, and more.

Here are some more activities directly connected to the book:


One of the biggest threats to animals who use light as a way to communicate is light pollution.

  • What are some causes of light pollution?
  • What are changes people could make that would help create darker skies?
  • If you live where you can see bioluminescence in the water, go look on a dark summer night to see the tiny sparkles at your fingertips under water. How would you describe it?
  • Research some organisms that use bioluminescence to communicate in the water.

Have you ever seen fireflies? If you go out at night to see them, try not to use a flashlight. Let your eyes adjust to the dark so you can see the stars and the fireflies a little brighter.

  • Are people seeing fewer fireflies now than they were 20 or 40 years ago? Why do you think that is?
  • As you observe a firefly, try counting the flashes. It can be a clue to what species they are. Females usually flash from the ground.
  • How many species do you think you are observing? Do any fireflies flash at exactly the same time? Can you identify females? The photo below shows both stars and fireflies on Dewees.

To read more about Dewees Bioluminescence, here is a blog post from 2010. 

And I wrote this on Mary Alice Monroe’s blog in 2018:

Tonight at the dock, a young family arrived back on Dewees by ferry after eating dinner on the Isle of Palms.  The stars were sparkling above: with no streetlights to our north, the dark skies can be incredible.  And in the water, early bioluminescence is making its first summer appearance.  Awe and wonder and laughter floated past on the breeze as they trailed their fingertips in the water at the dock, creating sparkles in the water.  Just a bit of everyday Dewees magic.

Nature Observations

  • Find a small spot and look for 10 minutes, taking note of what you see
  • Learn to listen carefully – if you hear the loud buzzing of bees, follow and see if they are actively pollinating something.
  • Use your eyes to follow birds or lizards: where are they going? Are they feeding young?
  • Take a good look at a plant: for at least 10 minutes. Go on a micro safari and see what tiny insects, caterpillars, eggs, and frass you can find. Does this plant look like a good host plant? Is the plant native, non-native, or invasive? Is there a difference between the wildlife hosted by native plants and non-native plants? If a plant is” invasive” what does that mean? Some scientists think the greatest threat to biodiversity is invasive species. In your research, do you think that is correct?

Native Plants

Dewees Island residents can plant only native plants in the ground. Would that bother you?  What would you plant and why?  Check out our series on Dune Succession.

Community Science

Despite what Honey would have said in the book, did you know that you can use a phone app like Seek or Inaturalist to learn about what you are seeing and record your sightings so other naturalists can benefit from your observations.

You can also become a community scientist, logging birds, butterflies and insects into databases to help scientists and politicians learn about migration, challenges to populations, and seasonal timing. Ebird, Ebutterfly, Frogwatch, Feederwatch, inaturalist, and the Bee Conservancy all appreciate volunteer sightings. In addition, you get access to all sorts of information that tells you more about the animals where you live.

History Activities

Dewees Island has a nature center at our Landings Building. (In the book, this is where Jake, Macon, and Lovie hang out to write in their journals.) That center houses animal exhibits like Pierre and Shelley, our diamondback terrapin, a mud turtle, and a tiny yellow- bellied slider.  Like Honey, we did some renovations in the nature center, and we did paint a large map of the island on one wall.  In that building, you’ll also find a history wall with a timeline that has a changeable exhibit telling the history of Dewees.  And there’s a display case where residents bring interesting things they found to display.  

Can you identify the items below?  If not, can you guess what they were used for?  Can you put them in chronological order?

Finding Historical Stories

If you lived on Dewees Island and could watch history unfold, you might have seen any of the following significant moments: all of them are worth researching to learn the stories.

    • The ship Carolina arriving in Bulls Bay with some of the Earliest Europeans
    • Early Naturalists like Lawson and Catesby researching the “New World”.
    • The Sewee tribe launching their boats to trade with England
    • Blackbeard returning to Cape Fear with a cargo of medicine
    • Cornelius Dewees sending Palmetto Logs to Fort Mountrie
    • Francis Marion stopping by to trade
    • A ship’s launch, the Brigantine Neptune, by a tenant of Cornelius Dewees
    • British Ships amassing to Invade Long Island and Sullivans
    • A British ship, The Glasgow, run aground in Dewees Inlet; and Cornelius Dewees and his men capturing the crew and setting fire to the ship.
    • Cornelius Dewees following the orders of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to send firewood to Sullivans Island
    • A maritime battle between French Privateers and the HMS Mosquito
    • Blockade runners from the North trying to sneak into Charleston during the Civil War
    • Robert Smalls and the Planter heading north
    • An escaped enslaved man opening fire as he was being pursued, killing the heir to the property on Dewees.
    • The Hunley sinking the Housatonic four miles out to sea near Sullivans Island
    • A rivalry between the owner of Dewees (Hyer) and another Captain (Dutart) which left one of them dead.
    • The Huyler family moving onto Dewees in 1925, and bringing their auto out by barge.
    • The construction of a “Fire Tower Lookout” that was really part of a five fort defense system looking for Submarines and plotting the location of ships during World War II.

Demonstrating your Knowledge

Research any of those events and:

    • Create a one page cartoon with four frames that shows what happened.
    • Pretend to be an eyewitness and report what you saw on a news interview.
    • Pretend time travel is possible and send Macon, Jake, and Lovie back in time to see what happened. Write a conversation between them looking at different sides of an event.
    • Write a newspaper story about one of the events.
    • Create and perform a ballad about one of them.
    • Write a diary entry from someone in the Submarine Tower.
    • Write a letter to an imaginary paper from the time period asking for advice on a problem.