Citizen Science in the Classroom: Monitoring Dragonflies

By September 8th, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Comment

Editor’s Note: This post has been republished and shared in celebration of SciStarter’s Back To School campaign where you will find 10 citizen science projects aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.

Citizen Science in the Classroom:  Using the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership Pond Watch Project to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards

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Dragonfly captured during citizen science survey (Photo: Karen McDonald)

Grades:

K-12th

Description:

While most people are aware of the migration of monarchs and birds, most are unaware that there is also a large seasonal migration of dragonflies. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) is an organization dedicated to developing a network of citizen scientists that monitor the spring and fall movements of dragonflies (five in particular). This includes monitoring migrations in Spring and Fall, Pond Watching, and collecting adults and shed casts (exuviae) for analysis of stable isotopes. The isotopes can help researchers identify how far dragonflies are migrating. The MDP projects span all of North America and can be conducted anywhere there is fresh water and dragonflies.

The migration study and Pond Watch are the two activities best suited for student participation.  This is because the dragonfly collection requires euthanizing adult dragonflies, which may be a sensitive activity for children. For those working with elementary to middle school students I would strongly suggest participating primarily in the Pond Watch project. The Pond Watch project allows continual monitoring of a pond, or body of water, for the five key species of dragonflies that MDP has identified as migrants. The migration studies occur primarily in Spring and Fall, and for those not familiar with dragonfly migration (teachers or students) identification of “migration” behavior may be too difficult to distinguish from behavior that is “hunting” or “patrolling” without proper training. For this reason I’m going to focus on the Pond Watch project for all three projects are similar (Note: for the isotope project you will need to order a kit from the MDP website).

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(Photo: Karen McDonald)

 Materials You’ll Need:

  • Computer with internet access.
  • Printer
  • Binoculars (optional, but helpful)
  • Clipboards and pencils
  • Data sheets downloaded from the MDP website
  • Access to pond or water with dragonflies (ponds, pools, landscaping, drainage areas, etc.)
  • Digital Camera(s) (optional but encouraged)
  • Meter Sticks (optional)
  • Insect nets (optional)
  • Dip nets and buckets (optional)
  • A printed guide for identification of 5 species of dragonflies (supplied on MDP site)
  • Field guide to dragonflies of your region (optional, but helpful)

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • Dragonflies are ubiquitous throughout North America and they are familiar to most school children.
  • You don’t have to be a dragonfly expert to participate, your class only needs to learn five key species of dragonflies and some basics of their behavior (egg laying, hunting, etc.).
  • This project requires very little materials.
  • Students develop natural observational skills and use quantification to measure population abundance.
  • The project can be done three seasons of the year.

Teaching Materials:  

There are a variety of teaching materials supplied on the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership website and the Oodonota Central website. On their home page you can find a “Projects Flyer” that describes their various projects, along with a 32 page instruction manual of “Monitoring Protocols.” On the MDP website they have a “Resources” tab that has helpful identification resources, anatomy guides, specific pages for the five focus species of their projects, behavior resources, and more. On the Oodonata Central web page you can also find checklists, maps, photos/ID, and resources. I found Oodonata Central to be geared towards professional in the field than teachers or educators, but it is a useful resource. There are regional trainings held by MDP, they suggest checking their website for dates, times, and locations.

As an educator, I have also found the following resources helpful, and I will reference some of these in the following standards section:

Online Safety for Children

To participate in this project the teacher will need to create a log-in for the MDP website, which can be used for the entire class. They may then control data entry. Students do not need to create their own accounts. To register, you will be required to provide the location of the site where you are collecting, including longitude and latitude.

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(Photo: Karen McDonald)

Common Core and Next Gen. Standards Met:

Kindergarten:

Next. Gen. Science:

K-LS1-1 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals need to survive. K-ESS3-1 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals and the places they live.

For the first two standards, teachers may introduce the life cycle of dragonflies to students using the books mentioned in the “teaching resources” section of this post. You may then have students describe what dragonflies need to survive during different stages of their life cycle. This may be done in categories such as food, water, shelter, and space (or ecosystem).

K-ESS3-3 Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air and/or other living things in the local environment.

Students may use what they learn about the needs of dragonflies, especially around ponds, and then draw or describe solutions for reducing human impacts in the area where dragonflies feed and reproduce. All of these standards may be supported by participating in the MDP Pond Watch project and going to your local pond to collect data about dragonflies, their habitat, and behaviors.

Common Core:

Literacy:  RI.K.1 With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text. W.K.1 Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell the reader the topic or name of a book they are writing about. W.K.7 Participate in a shared research and writing project.

By participating in the MDP Pond Watch research project, students may conduct field research to support reading. The books mentioned in the “teaching resources” section of this post may also be used to help students meet all three of these standards with grade appropriate reading. See the NGSS description above for Kindergarten.

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.4 Model with Mathematics. K.MD.A.2. Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has “more of/less of” the attribute and describe the difference.

By participating in the MDP Pond Watch project, students may count, observe, and quantify dragonflies (larvae, adult, and molts). Teaches may also have them count how many of the five different species, focused on by the MDP researchers, that they observe and quantify behavior such as hunting, mating, laying eggs, etc. This data may be recorded on the Pond Watch data sheet and submitted.

First Grade:

Next. Gen. Science:

1-LS3-1 Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents.

Teachers may use the Pond Watch project to allow students to learn the life cycle of dragonflies.  The books, worksheets, and lesson provided in the “teaching resources” section of this post will provide supplementary materials. The class may then go out into the field to make real-time observations of adult and larval dragonflies.

Common Core:

Literacy:  RI.1.1 Ask and answer key details in a text. RI.1.2 Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text. W.1.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects.

By participating in the MDP Pond Watch research project, students may conduct field research to support reading. The books mentioned in the “teaching resources” section of this post may also be used to help students meet all three of these standards with grade appropriate reading. See the NGSS description above for First Grade.

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.5 Use appropriate tools strategically.

By participating in the MDP Pond Watch project, students may count, observe, and quantify dragonflies (larvae, adult, and molts). Teaches may also have them count how many of the five different species, focused on by the MDP researchers, that they observe and quantify behavior such as hunting, mating, laying eggs, etc. This data may be recorded on the Pond Watch data sheet and submitted.

Second Grade:

Next. Gen. Science:

2-LS4-1 Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

Teachers may focus on using the Pond Watch project as a springboard for comparing different types of ponds (ecosystems, water quality, and clarity) to meet this standard. The lesson plans provided by Utah State University may be useful in using aquatic insects (especially dragonflies) as bioindicators of ecosystem health.

K-2-ETS1-2 Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a problem.

Teachers may use the lesson plan provided on insect wings and adaptations by PBS. They may discuss the shape and design of dragonfly wings, make models, create a flip book, and test a model design in a wind tunnel.

Common Core:

Literacy: W.2.6 Recall information from experience or gather information from the provided sources to answer a question. SL.2.5 Create audio recordings of stories or poems; add drawings or other visual displays to stories or recounts of experiences.

Students may use their experience observing dragonflies and conducting experiments about dragonfly wings (see NGSS above) as a basis to answer a question (hypothesis) and to support their findings and experimental results.

Math: 2.MD.D.10 Draw a picture graph and a bar graph to represent a data set with up to four categories. Solve simple put-together, take-apart, and compare problems using information presented in the bar graph.

By participating in the MDP Pond Watch project, students may count, observe, and quantify dragonflies (larvae, adult, and molts). Teaches may also have them count how many of the five different species, focused on by the MDP researchers, that they observe and quantify behavior such as hunting, mating, laying eggs, etc. Teachers may also have students make observations about average flight duration and the height of flight of the dragonflies observed. This data may be recorded on the Pond Watch data sheet and submitted. Students should also create bar graphs and picture graphs of this information.

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Dragonflies make great organisms for citizen science (Photo: Karen McDonald)

Third Grade:

Next. Gen. Science:

3-LS4-3 Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Teachers participating in the Pond Watch project may have students make observations of the number and types of dragonflies and aquatic insects found at their site. The lesson plans provided by Utah State University may be useful in using aquatic insects (especially dragonflies) as bioindicators of ecosystem health. By examining bioindicators teachers may have students quantify insect populations and discuss survivorship rates and water quality.

3-LS4-4 Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change.

Students may discuss their findings about dragonfly and aquatic insect populations in relationship to what might happen if the local ecosystem water quality deteriorated or was made more clean. They may offer solutions for bio-remediation or community level-solutions.

3.LS1-1 Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles, but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.

Teachers may use the resources provided, in the “teaching resources” section of this post, to help students learn the life cycle of dragonflies. They may then have students draw and compare this cycle to frogs, beetles, butterflies, and grasshoppers while noting the differences between complete and incomplete metamorphosis.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.3.9 Recall information from experience or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories. SL.3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

Teachers may have students research the life cycle and natural history of dragonflies as bioindicators (as well as other aquatic insects). They may have students report on their findings during the Pond Watch data collection period and their hypothesis concerning water quality and pond health (see the NGSS project above relating to aquatic insect bioinidicators).

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.4 Model with mathematics. MP.5 Use appropriate tools strategically. 3.MD.B.3 Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories.

By participating in the MDP Pond Watch project, students may count, observe, and quantify dragonflies (larvae, adult, and molts). Teaches may also have them count how many of the five different species, focused on by the MDP researchers, that they observe and quantify behavior such as hunting, mating, laying eggs, etc. Teachers may also have students make observations about average flight duration and the height of flight of the dragonflies observed. This data may be recorded on the Pond Watch data sheet and submitted. Students may also quantify and graph the numbers and types of different aquatic insects discovered during their exploration of water quality/health (see lesson plans mentioned in NGSS standards above).

Fourth Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: 4-ESS2-2 Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.

By participating in Pond Watch students may learn about the needs of dragonflies and the five key species that tend to migrate. Teachers may use a topographical map of their local county or region and ask students to identify patterns on the map, and then to hypothesize possible migration routes for the dragonflies that live in their local pond. Students should consider wind, buildings, food sources, water sources, updrafts, thermals, and man-made obstructions. They may work in groups and then present their ideas to the class.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.4.8. Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources. W.4.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Students may use the project described above (see NGSS standards) as the basis for their research about local conditions such as weather and natural resources or man-made obstructions in an area. They may present their findings as a part of the research project on potential routes for dragonfly migration.

Math: MP.4 Model with mathematics.

Students should be able to use scale bars from their topographic maps to estimate and model different migratory routes, and distances, for their hypothesized fly way for dragonflies (see NGSS standard above for description).

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(Photo: Karen McDonald)

Fifth Grade:

Next. Gen. Science:

5-LS2-1 Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

Teachers may have students develop a visual model of the food web of the ponds which are being studied. They may then have students trace the flow of energy through primary, secondary, and tertiary consumers. 

Common Core:

Literacy:  RI.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. RI.5.9 Integrate information from several texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information. SL.5.5 Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of the main ideas or themes.

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.4 Model with mathematics. MP.5 Use appropriate tools strategically.

Teachers participating in the Pond Watch project may have students make observations of the number and types of dragonflies and aquatic insects found at their site. The lesson plans provided by Utah State University may be useful in using aquatic insects (especially dragonflies) as bioindicators of ecosystem health. By examining bioindicators teachers may have students quantify insect populations and discuss survivorship rates and water quality.Teachers may have students research the life cycle and natural history of dragonflies as bioindicators (as well as other aquatic insects). They may have students report on their findings during the Pond Watch data collection period and their hypothesis concerning water quality, biomagnification, and pond health (see the NGSS project above relating to aquatic insect bioinidicators). Students may use quantitative data, relating to the different species observed in their habitats, and relate this to their findings.

Middle School:

Next. Gen. Science:

MS-LS2-4 Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations. MS-LS2-2 Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.

Teachers may use Pond Watch as a platform to allow students to observe populations of invertebrates, specifically aquatic invertebrates and dragonflies, and then to discuss present day environmental factors affecting their populations as well as future predictions of how climate, water quality, ecosystem changes, and human influence may affect the location(s). This may be supported by studies of bioindicator species (such as dragonflies) using the lesson plans provided by Utah State University.

MS-LS4-2 Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships.

Students may construct possible cladograms or time limes of evolution relating to modern day dragonflies (observed during Pond Watch studies) and fossil dragonflies. Resources such as the National Geographic article on paleo-dragonflies may be useful as well resources on ancient dragonflies found in “Google Scholar.”

Common Core:

Literacy:  RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts. RST.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions about a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. WHST.6-8.2 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

Students may use the data they collected from the Pond Watch project to support ideas about ecosystem populations of invertebrates and water quality. They may also conduct research related to dragonfly tolerance of different levels of water clarity and quality and then relate this to their ideas about how changes in ecosystems may affect aquatic insect populations (food sources, rearing grounds, migration routes, etc.). Students may also conduct research on prehistoric dragonflies and then present their research related to modern dragonflies observed during their research projects.

Math: MP.4 Model with mathematics. 6SP.B.5 Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context. By participating in the MDP Pond Watch project, students may count, observe, and quantify dragonflies (larvae, adult, and molts).

Teaches may also have them count how many of the five different species, focused on by the MDP researchers, that they observe and quantify behavior such as hunting, mating, laying eggs, etc. Teachers may also have students make observations about average flight duration and the height of flight of the dragonflies observed. This data may be recorded on the Pond Watch data sheet and submitted. Students may also quantify and graph the numbers and types of different aquatic insects discovered during their exploration of water quality/health (see lesson plans mentioned in NGSS standards above).

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Dragonfly collection and citizen science (Photo: Karen McDonald)

 High School:

Next. Gen. Science: HS-LS2-2 Use mathematical representations to support and revise explanations based on evidence about factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems of different scales.

Teachers may have students participate in the Pond Watch project and then use data from different seasons (possibly years) to quantify population observations of the five different species being studied, their behavior, life stages, and abundance. Students may wish to compare larval (nymph) populations to adult abundance to assess if there is immigration occurring in the ecosystem.

HS-LS2-7 Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity. Students may assess the ecosystem that they are studying for biotic and abiotic factors that might affect aquatic insect (and adult) dragonfly populations. They may then develop management solutions and produce a management strategy plan for the class.

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