Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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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?

Ways to teach about climate change (Part II of II)

HP_surface air increase(See Part I: Why should schools teach about climate change? here.) Teaching about climate change can be daunting: the science is complex, multi-disciplinary, and evolving quickly. But many key ideas about how Earth’s climate system works can be used to illustrate basic ideas in biology, chemistry, and physics.

For example, when biology students study how organisms adapt to their environments, teachers can introduce the idea that climate change is shifting many species’ ranges and altering the timing of seasonal events, such as the first flowering of plants in spring. When students study the carbon cycle in chemistry or earth science, teachers can point out that human activities are adding carbon to the atmosphere, and discuss how Earth’s atmosphere and oceans act as “sinks” for carbon.

What should students know about climate science? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), America’s weather and climate agency, suggests that a climate-literate person:

  • Understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system,
  • Knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate,
  • Communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way, and
  • Is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.

NOAA’s Climate.gov library breaks climate science literacy down into key principles – how energy flows from the sun to Earth, the interactions among Earth’s systems that regulate climate, factors that make climate variable, and the impacts of human actions. The site also offers visuals, videos, experiments demonstrating key concepts, and interactive tools.

Many climate change concepts can be explored through projects, which give students opportunities to apply ideas – and often, to see the impacts of their personal choices. Clarkson University worked with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to develop ten project-based climate modules on topics ranging from the greenhouse effect to the climate impact of a “dream vacation.” Lessons target grades 6-8 but can be adapted for other levels.

School groups can also join ongoing citizen science projects across the United States, many of which focus on climate-related events. Three national examples:

  • Journey North, from Annenberg Learner, is a free program that uses observations from students and citizen scientists to track wildlife migration and seasonal change. Teachers can use Journey North to help students learn which indicators of changing seasons are unaffected by climate change (such as the length of daylight at a given time of year) and which are impacted (such as the first arrival of migratory birds in spring).
  • Project Budburst, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, tracks how plant species are responding to local, regional, and national climate changes. Participants submit ongoing or one-time reports on specific plants. The project offers classroom resources for grades K-12.
  • Project FeederWatch, run by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, is a project that surveys bird populations in back yards, parks, and nature centers across North America from November through April. Researchers use the data to track changes in bird species’ winter abundance and distribution.

The Habitable Planet series from Annenberg Learner also provides tools to teach about climate change. The series, presented in videos and an online textbook, explains fundamental environmental science concepts that support an understanding of climate change. Key units include “Atmosphere,” which describes Earth’s energy balance and the role of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; “Oceans,” which shows the important role that oceans play in absorbing carbon; and “Energy Challenges,” which explains how fossil fuels were created and describes the pros and cons of these and other energy sources. “Earth’s Changing Climate” ties these issues together to show how greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are altering Earth’s energy balance. (Note: for the most current international assessment of climate change science and impacts, see post here from October 30.)

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.

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.

 

Journey North’s Exciting News!

Get  Journey North’s free New Mobile App!

See it, snap it, report it.

Citizen scientists and budding environmentalists can now report sightings of birds, butterflies, and other migrating species from the field to the Journey North network using their iPhone or iPad.  The new app provides tools including maps, a geographic locator, and a function to record and send field notes. App users can take and send photos of their quarry using their camera phone.  By reporting sightings of migrating species, the app user becomes part of a network of more than 900,000 K-12 students who contribute data as they track the season’s advance northward.  An Android version of Journey North mobile is currently in production and will be announced shortly.  download the free app

Journey North, the nation’s premiere citizen science project for children, is a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. Participants (including the general public) share observations of animals and changes in the ecosystem. The data feeds into the resource-rich Journey North Web site, which features migration maps dating back to 1997, images and photos of wildlife, video, standards-based lesson plans, classroom activities, and information from scientists about specific species and the seasons.  Journey North is a winner of the Webby award as a best educational site.

Journey North is presented by Annenberg Learner and can be accessed through its Web site. Annenberg Learner is a division of the Annenberg FoundationFlickerLabs is the developer of the Journey North apps.

Journey North Interviews

Saturday, March 24, 2012, Elizabeth Howard got a chance to tell listeners of  The Animal House on WAMU 88.5 about the Journey North citizen scientist program! Read the audio transcript of the interview here: Journey North on The Animal House.

Elizabeth Howard was also interviewed by Vermont Public Radio on April 2. You can hear the interview and read about using Journey North in the classroom from the VPR site.

Check out the Journey North Web site for information about how to get your students involved in tracking animal migrations and the arrival of spring.

Happy Groundhog’s Day!

Journey North gardeners are excited about predicting spring using science and technology. Are they smarter than a groundhog? Visit the Journey North site to see these citizen scientists at work. Also, learn how you and your students can get involved in research that helps us understand connections between climate and plant growth.