Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mni Wiconi - Water Is Life

Life began in the ocean.  Unicellular creatures, algae, etc. evolved into surveying salamanders, pioneering lichens, and more and more complex plants and animals.  Today, algae and microscopic creatures still form the base of many food chains.  Sensitive frogs and salamanders are threatened by pollutants and invasive species.  The warming seas recently lead to the death of TWO THIRDS of the Great Barrier coral reef, also the base of a large food web.  Without water, there would be no life.  Without clean water, biodiversity and all it connects with suffers.  What can be done?

I showed my students a picture of Peanut, a red slider turtle who got caught in a soda ring while she was still quite small.  Without opposable thumbs and access to scissors, she continued to grow, but growth of her shell was constrained by the thin plastic ring.  While her limbs have not been affected, her lungs, which should be oval-shaped, look like butterfly wings.  This affects her breathing.  And most noticeably, her shell is shaped like a peanut!

More info  here.

I had the third graders try to figure out how she got like that.  Some thought her shell got squeezed. Eventually, they figured out she had been in that soda ring for many years.  Then we brainstormed how to prevent this from happening to another animal.  We could cut and recycle the soda rings, buy soda that doesn't come in rings, keep our trash tightly covered so wind doesn't carry it into waterways, and help clean up at creeks and beaches.  Some companies have even created "edible" soda rings that will break down in water!

Huichol Yarn Painting
The third graders wanted to protect the animals they met at our creek field trip, so we made art based on Huichol yarn paintings, using parallel lines of marker on square paper instead of yarn pressed into beeswax on wood.  We hope to get funding to make some of these into permanent signs by the creek, asking visitors to "Leave No Trash Behind", "Make Ripples: Pick Up Trash", and "Save Our Stream".  Here are a few of my favorites:


Keeping trash out of the water is one important step.  But more is needed.  What about warming oceans causing wildlife to move away or die out, lead in the pipes leaching out from untreated, corrosive water in Flint, Michigan and many other places, oil pipelines under rivers that water protectors are trying to block, fracking polluting ground water?  If we don't protect our water, we doom ourselves as a species.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, along with many other tribes, others across America and globally, and now several hundred veterans have taken a stand to protect water.  Some have stood in the blizzard, some have collected a blizzard of signatures.  I wrote to our president to stop the DAPL and sent money to the Standing Rock medical team.  The DAPL is nearly completed, but it can still be stopped!  Banks have pulled out from the investment.  People have sold off their stocks in the companies involved.  It's many drops of water that carved the Grand Canyon, and you can be one of those drops!

In Rhode Island, residents are fighting approval of a power plant that would affect the air quality in Burriville.  (The project was green-lighted before any committees had been consulted.)  Corporations and government officials may make unilateral decisions, but they are not all-powerful.  It may take a lot of people, but change can be made and our resources protected.  Even now, I am following a bill that would allow the government to seize Native American land for its own purposes.  It hasn't even gone to Congress yet, but I wrote to my Senator.  Another project I'm watching is a possible pipeline from Nova Scotia to Block Island.  I'd rather help get it stopped before it gets started.  Water is life.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

15 Minute Field Trips™ FUNdraiser!!!

15 Minute Field Trips™ FUNdraiser!!!

15 Minute Field Trips creates environmental literacy programs, combining Art with STEM, training teachers, reaching out to families, organizing school and camp events, and running a blog and website of free resources.  We need your help to publish a "15 Minute Field Guide", update my used camera, replace expendables such as bird seed and art materials, continue offering free hand-outs at events, renew our Creative Cloud subscription to make the best publications possible, and have other funds for research and travel.  We regularly have "15 Minute Field Trips™" with various classrooms, exploring the schoolyard in search of leaf or seed varieties, evidence of tracks, scat, and shelter, raising caterpillars we find, and planting and harvesting healthy vegetables.  This past year, we had our first field trip outside of the school, partnering with BLCT and ASRI to learn about the fauna of Annawamscutt Creek and help monitor and protect its water quality.  Help us continue this work by attending our event or donating now!


Friday, November 25, 2016

Don't Leaf It Alone!

I see leaves of green, red, brown and gold...
I see them changing, it never gets old,
and I think to myself, 
what a colorful world...

By now, most of us in the Northeast have seen the leaves change color and fall.  When my daughter and I visited Cambridge two weeks ago, the fallen leaves were fresh and soft, a composition of sycamore, red and white oak, sugar and Norway maple, aspen and elm.  Cambridge is very much a city, but the sidewalks and parks do not lack for trees.   Below is just a sample from outside the Harvard Museum of Natural History:

The shortening days had signaled the green chlorophyl to retreat back into the trunk, to let these food factories go.  The remaining yellow had always been there, the red were leftover sugars, the brown unneeded waste except for the worms and pill bugs who would digest it and return it to the soil.  We collected those that caught our eye and soon had more than we knew what to do with.  

 On bright copy paper, we made creatures with our findings.  With the rest, we stored them inside the pages of a phone book to keep them flat and dry.

My kindergarteners also collected leaves in our schoolyard, each choosing eight.  With oil pastels and my help with the glue, they created a menagerie of leaf critters and each had their turn to explain their creature to the class.

The fourth graders took it further, creating creatures but also labeling the leaves they used.  Again, oil pastel worked well for this.

So rake it up, jump in the pile, and save a few for later.  Happy Autumn!!!

Friday, November 11, 2016

63 Third Graders Explore Biodiversity

Two weeks ago, I, along with 7 parent volunteers, four teachers, our principal, and Sandra Wyatt from Barrington Land Conservation Trust, took 63 third graders along the Annawamscutt creek from our school in Riverside, through the woods, across a parking lot, across a busy street (with the help of an officer), and through ASRI-protected land to the other end of the creek to meet ASRI Senior Director of Education Lauren Parmelee and teacher Doreen Schiff and her 8th graders to study the creek.  Along the narrow path I had cut as much briars away from and had even moved a fallen tree, we found deer tracks and scat.  Kids and even adults commented that they had no idea this was even here, and we weren't even a mile from the school!  A few third graders even asked if we were going through a jungle in response to the path shaded by maple, oak, and beech trees, native wildflowers, and invasive bittersweet.  

Some had been concerned about what could hurt them out there.  I told them we were unlikely to see many animals on our walk, being a large group that animals would hide from.  Even so, birds, deer, foxes, etc. would not hurt them.  In the permission slip and on the day before, I reminded them to wear good sneakers and long pants and sleeves, because there would be thorns and possibly ticks and poison ivy.  We made the slightly over 2 mile trek from Riverside to Haines Memorial Park in Barrington and back with one scratched leg.  Our nurse did a pre-cursory tick-check back at the school.

Yes, we opened the minds of third graders walking a mile away from their comfort zone (and the comfort zone of a few adults too)!  Yes, many of the kids thought it was a "jungle".  But I also heard them feeling empowered.  They were proud of themselves for taking this hike on.  They felt brave.  They were excited and felt like a team.

Trekking through the "jungle".
Sandra Wyatt from Barrington Land Conservation Trust explains about roots and slippery
rocks before we reenter the woods to get to Haines Memorial Park in Barrington.

When we at last arrived at the other end of the creek, groups of about twelve rotated through six stations.   The first two stations were run by 8th graders from St. Luke's school in Barrington along with their teacher Doreen Schiff, where one station had 8th graders using skeins, nets, and leaf packs to collect fauna from the creek the third graders had help identifying and using charts to note their pollution-tolerance.  The second station involved match cards of macro fauna to their pollution-tolerence to examine different scenarios of what different findings told them about the cleanliness of the creek.   ASRI Senior Director of Education Lauren Parmelee and Ginger from Barrington Land Conservation Trust assisted.

Two kinds of aquatic snails were found, with different pollution-tolerances.


American eel and frog!

Meanwhile, at the other four stations...

Using laminated scavenger lists, kids and adults identify leaves.
Many of these leaves fall into the creek and become habitats for juvenile macro fauna.
Print out your own leaf guide here.

Kids also played Deadly Links (modified to act out as mosquito, dragonfly, and frog in this popular game from Project Wild), created a food web wearing pictures of animals, insects, water, sun, air, soil, and rock clipped to their shirts and passing a rope back and forth to create a "web" of how they were connected, and matching juvenile animal pictures with their adult ones (frog and tadpole came easily, but dragonfly and nymph less so).  We rotated stations every 15 minutes, so the whole trip at the park was an hour and a half.  15 minutes was enough time to run every game, with some playing twice.  Then we had a picnic lunch and carefully collected all trash.  We want to do this trip every year now! 
From a previous Food Web game.
Card examples.

Biodiversity in a Nutshell

Back in September, I was part of Blackstone Valley's first Biodiversity Festival, organized by the amazing Allison Horrocks, where Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, the Department of Parks and Recreation, NRISOS, 15 Minute Field Trips™, and others set up tables on a windy day that kept threatening rain, but actually had a good turn-out.

Beneath the highway, joggers and bicyclists hustled by on the bike path through land that could have easily have been forgotten about.  Instead, between Cumberland and Lincoln, and into Woonsocket, the 12 mile park follows the Blackstone River.  Once polluted by industry few fish could tolerate, now the river supports over two dozen species!  Following the path, you can see the next ones on that food chain, the great blue heron, cormorants, even osprey and eagles!  An abandoned drive-in movie theater was taken out to allow for a restored meadow.  Now mammals such as the river-loving muskrat return, along with the still urban-tolerant raccoons, skunk, opossum.  Opossum are most-welcome hear, as they eat ticks, and the deer that carry the Lyme tick do visit as well. Coyote and foxes join this web as well.  While snapping turtles tend to be more pollution-tolerant than other turtles, several turtle species and well as sensitive frogs have made the Blackstone River their home.

Kelly House
There are many ways to look for biodiversity.  Actually sightings of animals is always a pleasure, but other evidence can be found with a little searching.  Animal tracks, especially in the soft, wet ground beside creeks, is a good place to start.  Knowing who made the tracks and what their presence might mean is the next step.  Below, molds help identify raccoons, squirrel, deer, dog, and more.

There were many great tables to explore, learning more about insects, leaves, trees...  Deputy Andy and others guided children and families on nature walks and in various fun activities.  

Recording what you find.

Record what you find!  Maybe a drawing or even a photo.  Print out a scavenger hunt list and check off what you see.  Examine bones from a distance, look for holes, burrows and nests without disturbing them, notice eaten leaves and nuts, chewed bark, animal carcasses, snail shells.  Who is eating what?
Identifying seeds and leaves.
Collecting insects.
Finding snake skins.

Identifying fish.
Showcasing groups that study the river.
Using data to monitor environmental health.

Looking at insects and catching live ones!
Now to keep it clean!
Making connections by acting out a food web.
Seeing how water gets polluted...
---and how we can prevent it!

Events like this happen all over our state and can happen at your school or even your backyard or local park.  Next blog: 63 Third Graders Explore Biodiversity