Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Search
MENU

Ocean Science: Start Shallow, Go Deep (Part I)

HP_3_1_oceansWhile memories of the beach are still fresh in students’ minds, ocean science offers many hooks for seasonal lessons in all of the sciences. Oceans cover more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of all water on the planet. But according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the lead federal agency for protecting and managing the ocean, more than 95 percent of the underwater world has yet to be explored. Ocean scientists often point out that we know more about the surface of the moon than of the ocean floor. That’s true even though the ocean produces much of the air we breathe (from photosynthetic plankton, kelp and algae) and much of the food on our plates.

Many ocean life forms and events that are most familiar to students occur at the surface or in waters relatively near the surface, which are the focus of this post. Next month’s post, “Ocean Science: Start Shallow, Go Deep (Part II),” will explore science concepts in deep waters and on the ocean floor.

For biology classes, fall is a prime season to study migrations. Gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal: roughly 5,000 miles each way between waters off Mexico in winter and the Arctic in summer. Currently the whales are still feeding in the Arctic, but soon they will start moving south to their winter breeding grounds. Learn about gray whales’ feeding habits and track their progress south on the Journey North web site. For more species consult Ocean Tracks, which shows the movement of elephant seals, white sharks, Bluefin tuna and albatrosses in the Pacific Ocean.

Fall is also high season for hurricanes, which are driven by heat transfer from warm ocean waters to the atmosphere. The U.S. National Weather Service’s official hurricane seasons for the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific oceans extend through November 30, and many major hurricanes have struck in September. Physics teachers can use hurricanes to illustrate basic concepts, including zones of high and low pressure, vacuums and energy transfers. Unit 3, section 5 of The Habitable Planet explains how ocean circulation patterns help to generate hurricanes and monsoons, another form of seasonal tropical storm.

To extend the lesson, ask students to consider how warmer ocean temperatures as a result of climate change may affect the frequency and strength of hurricanes. This is a complex question that has generated much debate among climate scientists. But according to a 2013 study by MIT professor Kerry Emmanuel, a leading expert on this issue (and featured scientist in the video for The Habitable Planet’s unit 2 on Earth’s atmosphere), climate change could make hurricanes both more frequent and more intense. For advanced students, the scientific debate over Emmanuel’s position shows how difficult it can be to show causal connections between climate change and complex weather events.

Oceans are also key links in broader climate patterns such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, an event that occurs every three to seven years when trade winds across the Pacific weaken and warm water piles up against the coast of South America. El Niño events cause far-reaching impacts on weather, including heavy rains and landslides in North and South America and droughts in Asia. The National Weather Service is currently predicting a 60-65 percent chance of El Niño occurring during the fall of 2014 and winter of 2015. For details about El Niño, see Annenberg’s Weather interactive on the water cycle. Then look at NWS monthly weather forecasts for the United States to see how temperatures and precipitation in your area may be affected.

Oceans also can serve as a frame for chemistry lessons. Many ocean scientists are strongly concerned about acidification – changes in ocean chemistry that are driven by climate change, as seawater absorbs rising amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. According to NOAA, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and could be 150 percent more acidic by the year 2100. This would represent a fall in pH value from approximately 8.2 to 7.8 or lower.

Acidification is already having harmful impacts on marine life. For example, shellfish farmers in the Pacific Northwest have reported that some organisms’ shells are thinning or are pitted and damaged. For an applied chemistry lesson focusing on ocean acidification, start with unit 10 of Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, an overview of acids and bases. Then dive into “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn,” an award-winning multi-media series by the Seattle Times that examines how acidification could alter life in the world’s oceans.

Ultimately acidification can only be reversed by reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. In the short run, however, other strategies could help to mitigate the impact on ocean life. NOAA is working with university and shellfish industry scientists in the Pacific Northwest to monitor ocean chemistry and develop responses, such as reducing nutrient pollution from land, which also contributes to acidification.

Next month’s science post will explore the deep oceans for more science topics, including deep ocean life forms; the geology of the ocean floor; and the chemical and biological processes slowly breaking down the Titanic at its underwater resting site.

Wetlands 1: Marshes and Mud Flats and Bogs, Oh My!

WetlandsIf you live in the Northeast, Midwest, or along the Pacific coast, don’t be surprised if you see small ponds or lakes appear suddenly in your neighborhood during the spring. These are vernal pools – wet areas that form in low-lying zones where water collects in winter and spring. By summer the water evaporates, leaving the site damp or dry through autumn.

Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands, but many other types occur year-round across North America. Wetlands are areas where the soil is always or usually saturated with water, so they support plants and animals that are adapted to moist conditions. Bogs, marshes, mud flats, swamps, and estuaries are all forms of wetlands.

They don’t always look impressive (that’s one reason why many wetlands have been filled in or paved over), but wetlands play important ecological roles. They serve as nurseries and feeding grounds for many types of fish, mammals, and birds; filter pollutants and sediments out of water; and protect coastlines from the impact of storms.

To put wetlands into context, unit 8 of The Habitable Planet describes Earth’s water resources, how they move through the global water cycle, and threats to fresh water. Section 3 shows how the world’s freshwater resources are distributed between ground and surface waters. Section 8 discusses how pollutants–including biological organisms, chemicals, and sediments–impair water quality.

Wetlands can serve as settings for biology, ecology, or chemistry classes. In  Journey North, learn how wetlands are especially important feeding and nesting zones for whooping cranes. Read about what the birds eat, track their migration stops, and discuss how human actions are affecting the wetlands that these birds use. For a biology or chemistry class, see unit 4, section 7 of Rediscovering Biology, “Microbial Diversity,” for a discussion of how archaea break down carbon in swamps. And the interactive on “Garbage – Solutions for Sewage” offers a case study of Arcata, California’s wastewater management system, which includes artificial (constructed) wetlands that improve water quality through physical and chemical processes.

And if you live in a region where vernal pools form, the Association of State Wetland Managers has news, videos, and links to additional materials about these seasonal spring wetlands and the many species that live in them.

Look for post #2 next Wednesday (April 23) with more ideas for teaching about wetlands during American Wetlands Month in May!

Citizen Science I: From winter into spring

I see youMarch started off with yet another wave of snow, ice and Arctic air across much of North America. But even in regions where winter has been colder than average, like New England and the Midwest, the natural world is transitioning from winter to spring. And that shift offers many science teaching opportunities.

Even if your town is still covered with snow, you can still observe signs of seasonal change, such as lengthening daylight hours or the passage of animals and birds migrating north. Through Annenberg Learner’s Journey North (JN) program, teachers can register their classes and share their findings with other observers across North America. Choose a species that migrates through your region – for example, hummingbirds along the Gulf Coast, or robins across much of the eastern United States. Where and when have they been seen locally in recent years? Is that pattern holding this year? If you see something different, what might be the cause?

Or use the phenology checklist to track changes in sunlight and temperature, and correlate those factors with the emergence of plants and animals locally. Compare your students’ observations with reports from other regions. Why is the timing of spring different across North America? Journey North’s teacher resource page offers other standards-based classroom lessons and advice from teachers who have used JN at different grade levels.

Journey North is also a way to introduce students to the concept of citizen science. Citizen science projects come in many forms, but typically pair volunteers with scientists to collect scientific data. The central idea is that anyone can make observations that will help researchers tackle large-scale questions about the natural world.JNheader102007

When students participate in citizen science projects, they engage in many activities that are central to the scientific process: they observe phenomena, collect data, summarize it, and have opportunities to compare their data with others’ findings and interpret the results. See Annenberg’s course on The Science of Teaching Science for more discussion of how these activities support scientific learning.

Traditional citizen science projects ask participants to collect data in the field for analysis by scientists. One well-known example is the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), administered by the National Audubon Society, which launched in 1900. Thousands of CBC volunteers, often working in teams, count birds in designated zones every year in late December across North America and beyond. Researchers have used the enormous CBC database on bird populations to identify species that are declining or threatened, and develop strategies for protecting them.

Over the past decade another approach to citizen science has evolved, in which scientists ask participants to search through large data sets and sort or process information. Using GalaxyZoo, an astronomy project, view images of galaxies and classify them according to their shapes. More than 150,000 people contributed classifications during the project’s first year.

Games are also becoming a popular way to draw participants into scientific tasks. One of the most popular is Foldit, which has also attracted hundreds of thousands of participants since it debuted in 2008.  Foldit players solve puzzles by folding video images of proteins. To earn high scores, they have to understand basic principles of protein structure, which are explained in introductory challenges. Scientists at the University of Washington developed the program to see whether humans’ puzzle-solving intuitions could help predict the structure of proteins – a key task in biology and medicine. Players can also design new proteins that could prevent or treat diseases.

There is no single directory for citizen science research, but many projects are easy to find online. For a sampling, see the listings at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (birds and bird habitat); Zooniverse (astronomy, climate, and biology); Scientific American magazine’s database (many disciplines); and Scistarter (many disciplines), a website that connects volunteers with citizen science projects. And don’t forget to check out Learner.org’s own Journey North program!

How are you getting your students involved in citizen science projects?

Writing Activity: Travel the Globe with Latitude Shoes

JN_latitude_shoesCheck out this writing project that’s a fun way to learn about latitude. Kathy Corn recently participated with her students at Mills River, Sugarloaf, and Hillandale Elementary schools in North Carolina.

 

 

 

 

“People everywhere are invited to put on a pair of Latitude Shoes and go for a ride. What would you see if you traveled around the world at your latitude? Write a story about your 24-hour adventure.

  • How fast and how far will you go?
  • Who lives at your latitude?
  • What countries will you visit?
  • What languages will you hear?
  • What seasons do you experience and what clothes do you need?
  • Everyone has the same photoperiod at your latitude, how does the climate compare?”

On the Journey North Web site, the page for this activity includes materials for the full activity; the science, reading and writing, and geography standards connections; a link to share your students’ stories; and a gallery of students’ illustrations and writing. This assignment could be used to assess what students have learned during Journey North’s Mystery Class.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Journey North: Owl Love

Barred Owl photo by Stephen J. Lang courtesy of Wisconsin Society for Ornithology

Barred Owl photo by Stephen J. Lang courtesy of Wisconsin Society for Ornithology

Whoooo’s Finding Romance? (from Journey North on Learner.org)

The calendar says it’s winter, but some birds have a different opinion. Many owls are in the middle of their spring courtship, and some are already sitting on eggs! Mother owls start to incubate their eggs the moment they lay them because, if an egg were to freeze, the developing chick inside would not survive. The mother spends all of her time sitting tight. Father owls normally do the hunting for both of them during this critical time.

Why do owls start nesting so early? It’s hard to be certain, but the timing does mean baby owls will be learning to hunt when inexperienced young mammals are in abundant supply and easy prey.

For more on owls:

  • See the owl facts page on Journey North. For example, find out how owls’ crooked ears help them calculate the exact distance to their prey.
  • Find a literature link to Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon.
  • Practice your owl calls using these recordings.

Finally, join Journey North this spring as we track how seasonal changes in sunlight affect the entire web of life. What signs of change are you seeing in February? Show your love for our Earth and report your observations of owls, butterflies, and plant activity on the Report Your Sightings page of the Journey North Web site.

Take a Virtual Field Trip to See the Monarchs

Monarchs Wintering in Mexico, image by Elizabeth Howard

Monarchs Wintering in Mexico, image by Elizabeth Howard

Happy Friday! We hope you had a great week teaching.

Take a break and watch this amazing video footage (Video courtesy of Art Howard, Artwork) of the monarch butterflies roosting in Mexico. Journey North starts the spring monarch migration season off in Mexico with the sights and sounds of a butterfly colony.

If you’re feeling inspired and creative, write a poem. What words would a poet write while sitting below butterfly-filled branches?

 

Invite Your Students to the Garden

Students Gardening (St. Mary's Hall, San Antonio, TX), image by Phyllis Swinney

Students Gardening (St. Mary’s Hall, San Antonio, TX), image by Phyllis Swinney

It’s February, it’s cold in many parts of the U.S., and it’s time to talk about gardening.

Ask an avid gardener like me about my devotion to the hobby and you’ll get an enthusiastic variety of responses likely along these lines:

  • Finding solutions to garden problems is challenging and satisfying.
  • There is joy in nurturing living things.
  • It’s great exercise.
  • Being a productive contributor to the health of the environment benefits everyone.

Many schools are acknowledging that these outcomes are as valid in the schoolyard as they are in the backyard. In fact, a study conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society on the benefits of its Campaign for School Gardening found that school gardening “boosts child development, teaches life skills and makes kids healthier and happier.” Here are some specific findings from the report:

 

  • Gardening helped use up surplus energy in active kids.
  • The process of growing something from seed to fruit helps teach children responsibility and managing a living organism. Some students learned valuable math skills as they sold their produce to the town for a profit.
  • Getting in touch with the dirt and bugs helped some young students overcome their fears.
  • An English teacher found her students’ creativity in poetry expanded after working in the garden.

In addition, gardening and environmental studies authentically connect to subjects across the curriculum. Science students can conduct soil tests and use monarch migration data collected by observing butterfly activity in gardens to look at climate change patterns. Language Arts students can write poetry about the butterflies and their long journey or exchange gardening logs with students in other parts of the country. Spanish students can write to penpals in Mexico about the migration. School gardening fosters collaboration, encourages problem-solving, and produces successes that all students share. And, even though it’s February, you and your students may start right now.

Monarchs Wintering in Mexico, image by Elizabeth Howard

Monarchs Wintering in Mexico, image by Elizabeth Howard

In February, your students can join students and scientists across North America in learning about the monarch butterflies that are currently living deep in central Mexico. Stunning images of the monarchs in this habitat divert cabin fever and inspire creativity. See the Journey North Web site for additional photos, lesson plans, and monarch migration tracking resources. Students can go outside to monitor the schoolyard for an existing monarch-friendly habitat and make predictions about what butterfly activity they are likely to observe when the migration reaches your region. If there currently is no garden in your schoolyard, start planning spring activities with your students to create a welcoming habitat for the butterflies that will begin making their journey north in March. MonarchWatch.org also provides helpful tips for planting and growing the milkweed that is so vital to the monarchs’ reproductive cycle.

While planning your garden now, save space for the tulip bulbs in the fall. In this Journey North international science experiment, track the greening of spring in the Northern Hemisphere through ‘Red Emperor’ tulip test gardens. Students plant tulip bulbs in the fall. When the plants emerge and bloom, children announce that spring has arrived in their part of the world. The relationship between geography and climate, and the greening of spring is revealed, one garden at a time. Students making observations in their own schoolyards, and tracking the greening of spring across the Northern Hemisphere begin to see how season-driven weather and climatic factors influence plant growth.

Encourage your students to join us gardeners across the country as we grow in our knowledge of the environment and make contributions to the health of the planet.