K-12 Activity Ideas:
Monitoring Biological Diversity
by Roxine Hameister
Developing a biodiversity monitoring project at your school can help students develop many skills in an integrated manner. Here are some simple ideas that you can use to get your students started.
Children and teachers are being pulled in many directions. Children want to “learn by doing/’ but because of societal fears for children’s safety, they are very often not allowed to play outdoors and learn at will. Teachers are encouraged to meet the unique learning styles of all students but the classroom reality often means books and pictures rather than hands-on experiences. In addition, children are under considerable pressure to be thinking about their futures and what further, post secondary, education they might be considering.
Sometimes children just like science. Many are of the “naturalist intelligence” and enjoy learning how to classify their world. Activities that meet all these requirements are within schools’ meagre budgets and are indeed possible. These projects are equally possible for the teacher with little science or biology background knowledge. The science skills are readily picked up; being systematic about collecting and recording the data is the main skill needed. The curriculum integration that is possible from these projects range from field studies to computer skills, to art and literature; the entire curriculum is covered in these activities. (more…)
by Jude Curtain
The sun was shining. There was just a hint of fall in the September air. Twenty three fourth graders were hunched over their white dishpans, excitedly sorting through their samples of forest litter. So began a series of lessons designed to guide students in generating questions, creating investigations, and ultimately finding answers.
Lesson #1: Noticing Details
My experience has been that children need training to be good observers. My first lesson engaged students in examining a container of forest litter, sorting all the things they discovered in their samples, and recording each item in their science journals.
Lesson #2: Open vs. Closed Questions
We defined closed questions as those that had a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Open questions were those that required an explanatory answer. Examples of both types of questions were generated first by me, then by the students in a class discussion. (more…)
by Sandy Frost and Ben Swecker
For many people, a trip to Alaska is the dream of a lifetime. Yet cost and logistics keep many people away. In 2002, a group of dedicated educators joined forces to make such a visit— if only a ‘virtual’ visit—a reality for thousands of children across the Western Hemisphere. Blending good, old-fashioned interpretation and education know-how with technology, the Winging Northward—A Shorebird’s Journey distance-learning project brought the amazing resources of the Copper River Delta, Alaska to a diverse audience. This innovative and ambitious project developed over three years. The following article chronicles the miles traveled, and those yet to come, for this effort.
The Copper River Delta
Each spring, a wildlife spectacle on the scale of the great game migrations of Africa takes place throughout coastal Alaska. Along intertidal mudflats, millions of shorebirds rest and refuel on their long journey to their breeding grounds in western and northern Alaska. These migratory birds rely on critical wetland habitats throughout their journey. Many people are passionate about shorebird conservation and education. No one who has had the opportunity to witness this spectacle can fail to understand the critical need to conserve migratory birds and the habitats that they rely on. Shorebirds, in their spectacular and dramatic migration, can provide a “hook” for educating people about the plight of Neotropical migratory birds and wetlands.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Copper River Delta to North America’s migratory birds. This productive coastal wetland supports a rich and varied array of fish, wildlife, and human uses. Brown bears stalk the tidal marshes where trumpeter swans nest, coho salmon spawn in groundwater-fed streams, and mountain goats scale the rugged peaks.
Much of this incomparable wetland ecosystem is public land, managed by the Chugach National Forest. Recognizing the significance of the Copper River Delta to the fish and wildlife resources of Alaska, in 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) stipulated the delta be managed chiefly for the “conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats.” Throughout the National Forest System, there is only one other area with a similar congressional mandate.
Over the last decade, the Cordova Ranger District successfully developed an innovative education and interpretive program focused on the fish and wildlife resources of the Copper River Delta. However, the relatively small number of people reached with their education effort continued to be a concern. In an effort to widen the education ‘net’ and leverage their limited resources, the district gathered a powerful coalition of partners who shared their passion and goals. The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network stepped up to the plate as the lead nongovernmental partner, while the US Fish & Wildlife Service (National Conservation Training Center) provided critical guidance and support. Finally, the linchpin of the effort was the exceptional work of the Prince William Network—an educational institution affiliated with the Prince William County Schools in Manassas, Virginia.
Although these partners brought great energy and vision to the table, they did not bring large pots of money. Instead, the early efforts of the project were focused on securing funding through a number of sources. A project of this scope requires a significant investment. The partners were successful in securing over $100,000 in competitive grants from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the Alaska Coastal Fund, Ducks Unlimited, Wild Outdoor World Magazine, the US Forest Service—Conservation Education grants, and US Forest Service-International Programs. These funds were matched with generous in-kind contributions of labor, materials, and services.
Through the generous support of program partners and sponsors, the entire program was available at no charge to students and teachers.
“Winging Northward—A Shorebird’s Journey” is a comprehensive education project focused around a live, satellite-broadcast “field trip” from the Copper River Delta on May 8, 2002—the peak of shorebird migration. Although the highlight of the project was the broadcast, an entire web of supporting materials was spun around the televised event. The partners launched a dynamic website in November 2001, supported a live webcast, produced supplemental education materials, and developed an evaluation program.
In an age when it is challenging for teachers to arrange natural resource field trips, especially in urban areas, an electronic field trip reaches kids where they are—in the classroom. The ‘virtual’ field trip used satellite and internet technology to beam the shorebird excitement into classrooms in Alaska, Canada, the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
Teachers, parents, and students used online monthly activities and entered a poster contest to prepare for the field trip. The website offered a teacher resources center and exciting classroom activities that supported the monthly theme and were correlated to national education standards. Maya, the western sandpiper, was the program and website host and led children through her world as she journeyed from her wintering grounds in Mexico, north, to her breeding grounds in western Alaska.
Just as shorebirds know no boundaries, so did the project reach across the Western Hemisphere. Partners in Mexico provided critical links to the Spanish-speaking world and resource information about the shorebird’s wintering grounds. The website was bilingual and the broadcast was simultaneously translated in Spanish. The English broadcast was also close- captioned.
Interactive elements pulled the students into the wetland world of the Copper River Delta in the grand finale broadcast. Students learned about shorebird adaptations, wetland habitats, and migration across international boundaries. They met biologists and local Cordovans, watched as Alaskan students explored the mudflats and observed the swirling shorebird flocks, and interacted through e-mail, fax, and phone to relay questions and game answers. From the Virginia studio, classrooms won prizes—such as a 4-foot fleece shorebird—during the mystery game.
The project also featured a live webcast during the broadcast. This webcast reached many additional children and was available, on-demand, for six weeks after the live program. The combination of satellite and internet technology assured the broadcast was accessible to the largest possible audience.
Marketing for the project included a full-page advertisement and feature story in SatLink Magazine (the leading publication for distance-learning programs), a full-color brochure sent to schools across the country, numerous notices posted on educational and resource list serves, presentations to professional organizations, and rigorous working of established networks.
Looking back at a project, and analyzing its strengths and weaknesses, is an important step that’s often skipped in education and interpretive projects. Realizing the value of a rigorous
evaluation for future distance learning projects, the partners have developed a comprehensive plan to take a critical look at the effort and share that information with others.
This evaluation includes informal feedback from teachers and students, and a pre- and post- assessment test that will quantify the educational effectiveness of the project. These results are being synthesized, but preliminary results show an excellent educational response. Test results suggest that students showed a 20% increase in knowledge about shorebirds after they watched the program.
The partners are also committed to producing follow-up projects that will leverage the educational value and life of Winging Northward. These projects will be available by December 2003, on a CD and will include a project report, complete curriculum, complete website, an edited version of the broadcast, and supplemental information.
We estimate that well over 300,000 children took part in the live broadcast. Over 850 sites in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico registered for the program. During the broadcast, 1266 emails flooded the network.
Technology makes all the world our backyard. By forming coalitions, rigorously focusing on educational objectives, and celebrating what makes our piece of the world special, the partners effectively reached children across the Western Hemisphere.
Winging Northward brought shorebirds and wetlands to kids who may never have the chance to experience hundreds of thousands of migratory birds teeming on mudflats and swirling in the air. They didn’t come back from the electronic field trip muddy, but they learned that everyone, whether urban or suburban, plays a role in conservation. When the broadcast was over and the shorebirds moved on, students carried with them a little piece of a national treasure—the Chugach National Forest. Our vision is that they will channel that energy into nurturing a local habitat.
For More Information
“Winging Northward—A Shorebird’s Journey” http://shorebirds.pwnet.org/ Chugach National Forest http://www.fs.fed.us/r10/chugach/cordova Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival http://www.ptialaska.net/~midtown/ Sister Schools Shorebird Project http://sssp.fws.gov/
Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network
Beach Hoppers: Inquiry-based learning while having fun!
Field trips are exciting. Field trips incorporating inquiry-based learning and live animals are even better.
by Stephanie Schroeder
This second grade unit focuses on beach hoppers, tiny amphipods found on most sandy beaches. The first three lessons focus on learning beach hopper characteristics in the classroom and teaching students how to do scientific fieldwork. Once the students are beach hopper experts, they take a field trip to the sandy beach to conduct experiments on beach hoppers.
On the west coast, there are primarily 2 species of beach hoppers, Orchestoidea californiana and O. corniculata. The animals reach lengths of 28 (1.1 inches) and 25 mm (.98 inches), respectively. Beach hoppers can be found along the mid tide line where the sand is neither too dry nor too wet. Typically, they can be found on both sheltered and exposed beaches, near washed up algae. It is best to go in search of them prior to the field trip. Look for small holes and start digging or look under algae in the wrack line. (Refer to the Beach Hopper Biology websites listed in the Resources section.)
A second grader finds a worm. (photo by Trish Mace)
Lesson 1-Intro to beach hoppers-KWHL chart
Goal-how to ask good science based questions while learning about beach hoppers
Key concepts-Good science based questions help us learn information and sharing information is a good way to learn.
Show a picture of a beach hopper and describes where they live and sets up a chart, labeled ‘Beach Hoppers’ with four columns-what we know, what we want to know, how we can learn, and what we learned. Students are asked to provide their thoughts and ideas on the first three questions. If time permits, the instructor can label the picture of a beach hopper and go through its anatomy (antenna, eye, head, thorax, abodomen, walking legs, cheli) and discuss how the parts of the animal are used. (A beach hopper picture with anatomical labels can be found on the OIMB GK12 webpage, under Beach Hopper Unit Summary, see Resources section.)
Lesson 2-Can you jump as far as a beach hopper?
Goal-measuring and introduction to proportions by comparing how far beach hoppers and humans can jump (Relative to body size, beach hoppers can jump much further than humans.)
Key concepts-accurate measuring and proportions
This lesson incorporates live animals and math. First ask students if they think they can jump farther than a beach hopper. Divide the students into two groups. Each group measures both how far they and a beach hopper can jump. Measure the heights of students in group one. Lay a tape measure on the ground and record how far each student can jump. In group two, students put a beach hopper in their hand and measure its length with a ruler. To determine how far a beach hopper can jump, place a target with circles indicating 3, 6, 9 and 12 inches from the center on the ground. Each student puts their beach hopper in the middle and observes how far it jumps. Switch roles for groups and repeat. Introduce the concept of relative body size proportion, explaining how a beach hopper can jump much farther than a human. Determine how much farther a beach hopper jumps, compared to its body length, than humans can. (A worksheet can be found on the OIMB GK12 webpage, under Beach Hopper Unit Summary, see Resources section.)
Lesson 3-Wrap up and review, field trip preparation
Goal-prepare the students for the field trip and plan and discuss the field trip experiments
Key concepts-appropriate field trip behavior, how to ask a good question and conduct experiments
Lead the students in a discussion to decide and list good field trip rules and what the class needs to bring to the beach. Revisit the KWHL chart and have the students reflect on what they have learned about beach hoppers, what more they want to know and how, when they go to the beach, they could discover some answers. Lead a discussion on what the students will do on the field trip based on their responses. Guide them towards the three experiments planned for the field. The first determines where (high, mid and low) in the tidal zones beach hoppers live. The second examines what substrate beach hoppers prefer to live near. The final experiment looks at if beach hoppers hop in a specific direction when released.
Reconnaissance work will be needed to determine the best beach for the field trip. Factors include location, ability to easily locate beach hoppers, safety of the beach, human activity, and how much beach is exposed during low tide. Although an extreme low tide is usually not required, the tide must be low enough to expose the area of digging for the duration of the field trip.
Shovels, buckets, sieves (a kitchen colander with small holes will work), clipboards, Rite in the Rain paper, pencils (Field trip data sheets can be found on the OIMB GK12 webpage, see Resources section.)
Divide the students into groups of no more then 10 students with at least one group leader and 2 helpers. Each group should have 3 shovels, 3 buckets, 1 sieve and 1 clipboard. Designate one student to be the recorder for each experiment and switch recorders for each experiment. Allow 30-40 minutes for each experiment.
Once the students arrive at the beach, hold a review session with the entire group to remind them of their 3 experiments and review beach etiquette (treat animals with respect, refill any holes dug, etc).
Experiment 1-Where do beach hoppers live?
The expected answer-they live at the mid tide line where it is not too dry and not too wet. Beach hoppers are poor swimmers and cannot live low on the shore where there is too much water, but will dry out if they are too high on the shore due to the sun. (Give students a hint that they should dig near holes). (See field journal sheet 1 on OIMB GK12 webpage in Resources section)
Have students predict where and why they think they will find the most beach hoppers. Start digging at the high tide line and have students count how many they find and record their data. After 10 minutes, have the students move to the mid tide line and repeat their search. After 10 minutes, repeat at the low tide line. Have them make observations about the size and color of the organisms.
Experiment 2-What do beach hoppers like to live near?
The expected answer-they prefer seaweed as that is what they eat. It also provides refuge from the sun and predators. (See field journal sheet 2 on OIMB GK12 webpage see Resources section)
Keep the students in the same groups and work in the mid intertidal where there are the most beach hoppers. Ask the students to list possible habitats-seaweed, rock, driftwood, and just sand. Start digging and have the students keep tally of how many beach hoppers they find near each spot. Have the students capture and place beach hoppers in a bucket containing some damp seaweed for the next experiment.
Hillcrest Elementary second graders on an inquiry-based field trip at Bastendorff Beach, Oregon. (Trish Mace)
Experiment 3-What direction will a beach hopper hop?
The expected answer-beach hoppers orient themselves according to the slope of the beach, jumping landward. This prevents them from moving downward on the shore where they would get into deeper water where it would be harder for them to swim. (See field journal sheet 3 on OIMB GK12 webpage in Resources section)
The students will hopefully have collected 20-30 beach hoppers. Lead a discussion on how the beach hoppers should be released (head towards the water, head towards the land, etc.) Students release equal numbers of beach hoppers at the high, mid, and low zones and observe the beach hoppers’ behaviors. Assign students the task of releasing one beach hopper at time and have them observe the direction they hop. One student will record the direction the beach hopper moved, writing if the beach hopper stayed there or continued moving.
If time remains, students can practice sieving sand and looking for other animals, seeing what lives where.
Many lessons, from a variety of disciplines can be created based on the field trip.
Graphing-have the students graph the distribution of beach hoppers per zone (low, mid and high tide lines)
Day in the Life of a Beach Hopper-each student will write and illustrate a story depicting how a beach hopper would spend a day
Zonation poster-students can work in groups or individually to draw a poster showing what they found in different zones of the beach.
Jan Ward, Alix Laferriere, Merry Lojkovic, Kara Davidson, Ashley Binter, Ben Grupe
Beach Hopper Biology Websites
OIMB GK12 Beach Hopper Unit Summary
OIMB GK12 Field Trip Data Sheets
Citizens for a Healthy Bay’s Junior Bay Ranger Program
By Katrina Landau
In 2003, the Washington State Legislature passed ESHB 1466 that established the Natural Science, Wildlife and Environmental Education Partnership Grant program under the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). In the 2005-2006 inaugural year, Citizens for a Healthy Bay (CHB), a Tacoma based 501c3 organization, was one of the recipients.
This innovative partnership was created to promote “proven and innovative natural science, wildlife and environmental education programs that include instruction about renewable resources, responsible use of resources and conservation.” (more…)