Archive for the ‘Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)’ Category
By Lea Shell
Middle school students are presented with a bucket of what, at first glance, looks like dirt. They pull handfuls onto their lab bench and carefully begin to sift.
“I found a shark tooth!” one student exclaims, prompting the other students to peer more intently at their own piles. Before long, they see that the 10-million-year-old sediment that they’re sifting through—rejected from a nearby phosphate mine in North Carolina—contains the fossil remains of sharks. Some students go through several handfuls before finding a tooth, some just “get lucky,” but they’re all reaching into the bucket to see what they can discover. Read the rest of this entry »
Going out of your way to attract mosquitoes seems like the last thing anyone would want to do, but that is exactly what the national Invasive Mosquito Project is hoping volunteers will do in the name of public health.
Managed through the United States Department of Agriculture, the Invasive Mosquito Project aims to track the spread of invasive container-breeding mosquitoes – those whose females lay eggs in the standing water that collects in containers such as vases, rain barrels, and even pool or boat covers. The introduction of many non-native species often coincides with the introduction of new pathogens, and mosquitoes are notorious for playing host to a number of these, including the viruses responsible for West Nile, dengue and most recently in the news, Zika.
Citizen Science in the Classroom: Using the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership Pond Watch Project to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards
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).
Materials You’ll Need:
- Computer with internet access.
- 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.
The World Water Monitoring Challenge results are out!
Earlier this year, I found myself hanging over a concrete ledge by the Charles River. But not to worry – it was nothing dire. I was actually trying to collect a water sample for the World Water Monitoring Challenge.
Talk about diving headfirst into citizen science.
On September 18 of each year, the WWMC encourages people around the world to test the quality of the water near them, share their findings, and become inspired to protect one of the most important (if not the most important) resource on our planet. The entire program runs annually from March 22 (the United Nations World Water Day) until December 31.
The primary goal of the WWMC is to educate and engage citizens in the protection of the world’s water resources. Their philosophy is this: conducting simple monitoring tests teaches participants about common indicators of water health and encourages further participation in more formal citizen monitoring efforts.
It doesn’t just end with submitting your water sampling data. The WWMC make it a point to report the results back to participants each year in an annual report. The data for this year are now available online and open for all to see.
Citizen scientists across 6 continents and 51 countries participated. Taiwan alone reported 92,023 individual efforts. Within the U.S., Florida took the lead with 10,143 reported individual efforts. In all, 10,371 water test kits were distributed.
*The data in this graph represent the mean average results for regions listed in the map, spanning from 2009 to 2013. The results reported for WWMC do not constitute a completely thorough and accurate portrayal of the health of the world’s water. Accurate water quality monitoring requires the use of standard quality assurance protocols and is conducted by trained volunteer monitoring groups and professionals around the world.
WWMC participants sampled local lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and other water bodies and ran simple tests for four key water quality indicators: dissolved oxygen, pH levels, temperature, and turbidity. (Learn more about why these things are important to measure when it comes to water quality monitoring.) Some groups even tested for the presence of macroinvertebrates such as dragonflies, mayflies, and scuds. Samples were taken in a range of settings – agricultural, commercial, residential, and industrial.
This project is ideal for anyone who lives near a water source, educators who want ideas to teach students about water chemistry, or citizen scientists hoping to get their feet wet with an increasingly important field of research.
Lily Bui is the Executive Editor of SciStarter and holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She is also the STEM Story Project Associate for Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Cambridge, MA. This fall, she’ll be a masters candidate in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program. Previously, she helped produce the radio show Re:sound for the Third Coast International Audio Festival, out of WBEZ Chicago. In past lives, she has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.
Using Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards
Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) is a project through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is a year round project specifically designed to engage classrooms with local urban birds and citizen science. Cornell offers a free classroom kit for you and your students when you sign up for the project. They cite that 88% of their partner organizations work with under-served audiences and 75% or more of the participants have little to no experience with birds. The project materials they offer are also bilingual. (Spanish) To participate you need a yard or open area that is about half the size of a basketball court. They are not strict on the size of this area or what is in it as long as you can look out and make observations. CUB focuses on sixteen specific urban birds, with observations lasting 10 minutes each. There is no minimum or maximum participation. These observations are supported with an easy-to-understand data sheet and a bird ID check-sheet with clear images. You can upload your information to the website and the site will show you a bar graph of your sightings. Cornell also offers mini-grants of $100-$750 to support community events and activities around urban birds (from arts and culture to science and nature) and your school.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Computer with internet access and printer.
- The CUB kit is free, but it is not required. You can also download the data sheets and posters without the kit and participate (this may be particularly helpful because the kits can take up to 6 weeks to arrive).
- Data sheet (http://celebrateurbanbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Celebrate-Urban-Birds-Activated-5.pdf)
- Printed list of birds for the study (http://celebrateurbanbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/CUBs-Focal-Species-Tally-Sheet-REV.pdf)
- Binoculars (optional)
- Bird field guide (optional)
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- This project can be done in any urban environment.
- The project is free and comes with free classroom materials supplied (including bilingual materials)
- You do not have to be an expert bird watcher to help your students participate in this project.
- Cornell provides training materials for you.
- You can track your data and use it for classroom analysis.
- Cornell strongly supports the “Zero Means a Lot”concept along with the idea that observations with zero birds are still valuable, which is an important lesson for students.
- Students become aware of the wildlife in urban environments and more conscious of the life native to their surroundings.