Environmental Science: Our Local Biodiversity & Environmental Impact Statements

The Environmental Science merit badge has been a lot of fun to teach. In many ways, today’s activities were my favorite because they got us outdoors and we were able to visually see examples of local biodiversity, invasive species, erosion, and so much more. We concluded by discussing components of an environmental impact statement.

Today is the final post in the series highlighting the activities I have coordinated as the Environmental Science merit badge counselor for our local Boy Scout Troop.

Biodiversity & an Environmental Impact Statement @EvaVargaOur Local Biodiversity

For requirement #5, we chose two outdoor study areas that are very different from one another (a nearby forested woodland and an area of the sand dune undergoing succession). In small groups, the scouts marked off a study area with flags and counted the number of species found within. They then estimate how much space was occupied by each species and the type and number of nonplant species observed.

After our visit to each area, they were directed to write a report that discusses the biodiversity and population density of the chosen study areas. I look forward to reading their work and discussing what they learned from this experience one-on-one.

Environmental Impact Statements

Requirement #6 of the merit badge requirements is a little vague.

Using the construction project provided or a plan you create on your own, identify the items that would need to be included in an environmental impact statement for the project planned.

I do not know what construction project to which is referred so I was a bit confused. In my opinion, a local real-life construction project would be best suited for this requirement as the boys would have real experience and prior knowledge.

I thereby opted to take the boys for a walk around our neighborhood by which we were able to do several things:

  • visit a residential construction site and talk about the impact the housing development had on the local ecosystem (sand dune)
  • view, from a short distance, the north spit where a liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline terminal has been proposed

Locally, there has been a HUGE political battle in regards to the LNG whereupon we could visually see the north spit where a liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline terminal has been proposed. Along the way, we also observed areas disturbed by construction and thus an abundance of invasive plant species, an open meadow-like area (generally shrubs of both native and invasive species and a variety of wild grasses) the city presumably mowed to reduce wildfire danger, and the site where a WW2 bunker had been removed (this greatly saddened us but I believe the local authorities did so due to fear of litigation).

When we returned home, we discussed the impact the residential construction had on the area as well as the proposed LNG terminal. I pulled up the final Environmental Impact Statement that was released to the public and we walked through components of it for quite some time. It is rather lengthy – over 200 pages – so I aimed to summarize and pull out the key components including:

  • topographical maps
  • proposed roads
  • drafts of engineering plans for containment
  • mitigation plans

The previous posts in this series have touched on the following topics:

Environmental Policy Timeline, Key Terms, & Pollination

How Species Respond to Environmental Changes & Endangered Species

Acid Rain, Pollution Prevention, & Conservation Practices

Scientists At Work: Activities and Books to Promote Science Literacy

Promote Science Literacy - Scientists at WorkScience understanding is key to making our way in the world. Whether we are making decisions about our health care, attempting to understand currents events, or learning to perform a new job, science knowledge plays an important role.

The major goal of scientists is to develop current theories that explain bodies of data and predict outcomes of further investigations. Engineers use their knowledge to solve problems.

Modeling, critiquing, and communicating are equally important in STEM fields as are observing and conducing research, testing a hypothesis, and analyzing data.

Promote Science Literacy

Hands-on science instruction and experience in inquiry science is important for understanding STEM concepts. However, it is also important for students to develop an understanding of what scientists actually DO in their day-to-day work. Today, I share a few tips to improve your student’s science literacy.

Encourage students to read nonfiction during independent reading time. Consider reading aloud a biography of a scientist that corresponds with your current unit of study.

Give a book talk about a new nonfiction title. Invite students to share a short book talk on a title they have read.

Create book display to highlight scientists at work. Rotate themes on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Set up a display of the tools and equipment scientists use.

Ask students to interview a scientist in your community. Create posters to share what you’ve learned with others.

Take a field trip to visit with scientists in the field. Consider agricultural sciences, healthcare, and engineering related work.

hydrogeologyScientists at Work

Reading literature and non-fiction books that feature real-world scientists helps students to develop a greater understanding of the world of science. They realize that science isn’t just lab coats and goggles. Here are a few titles that detail the skills and varied experiences of STEM careers.

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard
Citizen science is the study of the world by the people who live in it. In this title, Burns introduces readers to children and adults, scientists and nonscientists who study nature in an effort to learn more and save particular species of animals.

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe
In 2006, a beekeeper discovered his hives were completely empty. What had happened to the 20 million bees? Soon, other beekeepers had the same story. This book describes how scientists worked alongside aviculturalists to discover what we now call colony collapse disorder.

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion
Join oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeryer as he takes readers around the globe and shares his insight after years of tracking debris. With data of ocean currents he brings this concern to the public eye.

The Frog Scientist
Years ago, scientists had discovered that all around the globe, frogs were dying. The decline has many causes, including habitat loss and disease. Follow along with Tyrone, a young man passionate about frogs, who becomes an amphibian scientist and discovers that the most commonly used pesticide in the United States plays a role in the demise of his beloved frogs.

The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity 
Two rovers were sent to Mars in 2003 to discover whether water had ever existed there. See for yourself how the imagination drives scientists and engineers to overcome hurdles and ultimately build models and simulations.

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (Newbery Honor Book)
This multi-award winning title offers a thrilling story of the Manhattan Project. The author details how Oppenheimer recruited scientists from a variety of backgrounds to work on plans for an atomic bomb.

 

entomologycareersI encourage you to begin to explore science career options in more depth. Keep a notebook of what you’ve learned. I have shared two previous careers we have explored: Entomology and Hydrogeology.

Environmental Science: Acid Rain, Pollution Prevention, & Conservation Practices

What a joy teaching environmental science has been. Thus far, we’ve learned about the changes in environmental policy and how the Boy Scouts of America have contributed to environmental conservation practices. We have also learned about pollination, environmental changes, and threatened and endangered species.

Today, our focus shifts to acid rain, pollution prevention, and conservation practices we can engage in ourselves.

Each Sunday through the month of September, I will post a description of the activities I coordinated and the resources I used to teach the environmental science merit badge. Today’s post is the third in the series.

Pollution Prevention & Conservation Practices @EvaVarga.netWater Pollution – Oil Spill Activity

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, March 24, 1989, when an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef in the wee hours of ht morning and spilled over 10 million gallons of crude oil into the sea.

As the Scouts learned in the Environmental Science Timeline game we played the day prior, this disaster resulted in the International Maritime Organization introducing comprehensive marine pollution prevention rules through various conventions. We discussed this tragedy as I shared several photos and strategies that were used to clean up the oil.

We then engaged in an Oil Spill Experiment of our own. One Scout shared with us a video of an incredible new material – a foam material coated with oil-attracted silane molecules – that absorbs oil but not water. It was fascinating and extended our discussion.

Pollution Prevention & Conservation Practices @EvaVargaAir Pollution – Acid Rain Activity

Acid rain is a broad term that includes any form of precipitation (rain, snow, fog, hail, or even dust) with acidic components, such as sulfuric or nitric acid that fall to the ground from the atmosphere in wet or dry forms. With the aid of the visual above, we discussed the pathway by which precipitation becomes acidic.

While we didn’t undertake the lab outlined below due to time constraints, I encouraged each of the Scouts to set up the lab portion of the activity is to demonstrate the effects of acid rain on our environment.

Materials

  • Six Petri dishes (3 for the control, 3 for the acidic solution you choose to test)
  • Pipette
  • Large bell jar or similar item
  • Sulfuric acid or an alternative acidic solution (lactic acid – milk or a citric acid – lemon juice)
  • Two 2-liter soft drink containers
  • Four small pieces of marble or limestone
  • Small growing plant
  • Four small pieces of raw meat (fish or chicken)
  • Two green leaves
  • Small amount of soil

Procedure

Several days in advance, prepare Petri dishes with soil & stone, leaf, and raw meat (two dishes each). One set is to be the control to which distilled water is added. Add a solution of 50% sulfuric acid to the other set. Keep these in a location that is secure so they don’t accidentally get spilled.

Display the Petri dishes and show the class how the acid has affected soil/stone, plant, and animal materials compared to the items in plain water.  Together discuss what effects they think acid rain would have on the various aspects of their local ecosystem.

Set up the following long-term experiment:

  1. Place the potted plant under the bell jar and add a Petri dish or other small vessel of 10% sulfuric acid. Maintain plant normally including acid solution.
  2. Put about one inch of 10-15% sulfuric acid solution into one of the soft drink containers. Suspend a marble or limestone chip above the solution. Cap tightly.
  3. Duplicate (a) and (b) with water only as controls.
  4. Put a piece of raw meat in each of two Petri dishes; immerse one in water and cover, immerse the other in weak acid solution and cover. Note: these pieces of meat will
    deteriorate but the effect of the acid solution will become evident over a period of time.
reduce pollutionExcerpted from a slide show created by the Utah National Parks Council of the BSA

Pollution Prevention & Conservation

Lastly, we brainstormed a number of ways we could help to reduce pollution and conserve our natural resources. We filled the whiteboard with their ideas and discussed several in more depth.

Each Scout was then directed to choose two to put them into practice for the next couple of weeks. I asked that they keep track of their progress and to report back to me what they learned from the experience.


Join us next week for the final post in the series, whereupon I focus on an outdoor biodiversity study and an environmental impact statement.

Environmental Science: How Species Respond to Environmental Changes

Last week I shared with you three activities I shared with the Scouts. A timeline activity to introduce them to the historical events that have helped shape environmental policy in the United States, key terms bingo, and a fortune teller illustrating the metamorphosis of honey bees.

Today, my focus is on how organisms respond to changes in the environment and endangered species. These activities were selected to meet the requirements for #3a and 3e of the environmental science merit badge.

 Each Sunday through the month of September, I will post a description of the activities I coordinated and the resources I used to teach the environmental science merit badge. Today’s post is the second in the series.

Environmental Changes & How Species Respond @EvaVarga.netResponding to Environmental Changes

Ecologists do not only study organisms; they also study how organisms interact with other organisms and how they interact with the nonliving parts of their environments, like chemicals, nutrients, habitats, and so on.

The range and type of interactions that organisms can have with each other and with their environments are large and complex. Some ecologists focus on how individual organisms respond to their environment. Other ecologists are more interested in how organisms of the same species interact with each other in populations.

Still others spend their days examining how whole populations interact with other populations in a community. At the highest level, some ecologists focus on the big picture, studying the interactions between all of the living and nonliving elements in a given area, or ecosystem.

Natural Environmental Changes

Our environment is constantly changing. Natural disasters can cause drastic environmental changes and if severe enough, even mass extinctions. By examining previous natural disasters – earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and volcanoes to name just a few – and their environmental impacts we can learn what to expect in the future.

We opened our lesson with a discussion on the processes of erosion. The Scouts were asked to submit to me photographs of areas where they had observed erosion and to describe what elements contributed to the process. Here are a few of the photos they submitted:

Why Should We Care?

So, why should we care about ecology? For some communities changes to climate are causing longer droughts, more severe floods, and harsher environments. Let’s put it into perspective with just one case study made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row.

Every year, more than 92 million tons of ocean life (like fish, aquatic plants, and so on) are “harvested” from around the world for human consumption. Billions of people rely on these harvests to sustain life – either for food directly or for their livelihood. A poor understanding of marine ecology can result in disaster.

One of the most well-known of these disasters occurred off of the coast of California in Monterey Bay in the mid-1950s. At the time, this bay was one of the most productive fisheries in the world, particularly sardines. However, before 1960, harvests had plummeted, and, by 1973, the last sardine cannery in Monterey closed its doors forever.

Unfortunately, the fishing industry had not applied common ecological sense in their decisions. Sardines were removed from the bay faster than they could reproduce, resulting in a population crash and the end of an economy.

How Do Caterpillars Respond to Stimuli?

Rainforest CaterpillarsBefore my children were born, I volunteered on an Earthwatch expedition to study Rainforest Caterpillars. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life – particularly when I consider the impact it had on my classroom teaching strategies. While the focus of our study was on Parasitism in Caterpillars, what stands out to me about this experience was the real-time observations we were able to make in the field – recording how the caterpillars responded to mechanical stimuli.

Essentially, we would gently pet them with a small paint brush and then pinch them carefully with a pair of tweezers (enough to get a reaction but not to harm).  We would then record their behavior or reaction to the stimuli.

We did this to get a general idea of how the different species would defend themselves and observed a wide variety of behaviors including thrashing about, rearing up and attempting to bite the attacker (that would be us), as well as and most amusing, kicking frass at us.

If you have caterpillars in your local area, give this a try. How do your local species respond to the same stimuli described above?

How Do Aquatic Organisms Respond to Stimuli?

Materials

  • Living specimen of planktonic aquatic life
  • Droppers
  • Vinegar
  • Caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee
  • Sugar
  • Specimen pipettes
  • Compound micropscope
  • Salt crystals
  • Microscope slides and coverslips
  • Cotton fibers

Procedure

  1. Using a specimen pipette, remove a drop from the collected specimen.
  2. Place culture on the microscope slide and cover. Focus microscope to locate organism.
  3. After first observing normal activity, introduce artificial stimuli so the the response can be observed. Record behavior observations on a chart in a lab notebook.
  4. Prepare a new culture specimen if necessary; repeat steps 1-3.
  5. Carefully place a small salt crystal near some of the swimming organisms. Observe and record their response.
  6. Continue to add each stimuli, observing and recording the behavior each time.
  7. Observe movement. Are new structures visible on the organism? Has movement increased or decreased?

Alternatively, you might consider the Goldfish Lab I shared sometime ago.

Environmental Science Endangered SpeciesEnvironmental Changes & Endangered Species

In addition to the activities and discussion described above, Scouts were expected to write a 100 word (minimum) report an an endangered species of their choice. They were then asked to present what they had learned with the group. In this way, we would have a broader perspective and learn how environmental changes have effected a variety of species.


Join me next week as we explore topics related to pollution and acid rain.

Keeping Teens Challenged and Engaged with Video Presentations

Many teens dread giving a speech in front of their peers. They have difficulty capturing – and keeping – the attention of their audience. They struggle to structure and communicate their ideas successfully.

Integrating a variety of technology into your courses – whether it’s history, science, language arts, or a foreign language – will provide teens with a range of  multimedia and design tools. In doing so, teens are more engaged and thereby develop a range of skills related to production and video presentations. Best of all, they learn to communicate more clearly and more compellingly with their audience.

mysimpleshow video presentations

I was compensated for my time writing this review. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Tips For Keeping Teens Engaged

Teens get bored easily – especially when instruction is delivered the same way or when asked to give yet another speech to demonstrate what they have learned. Keep teens engaged by designing lessons that include novelty, variety, and fun.

When teens use short and friendly video, they can awake interest for almost any topic. Creating explainer videos with mysimpleshow, for example, is easy and exciting, and it also trains users regarding the application of creative technology resources.

Focus student attention by incorporating demonstrations, role playing, hands-on activities, storytelling, and multimedia presentations to enhance instruction. Requesting students create explainer videos with mysimpleshow is a great means to structure content, provide guidance, and give an overview.

Did you know?

The great Roman orator, Cicero, recommended the use of images as part of memory training. He also used visuals, in the form of props, in his speeches. For this reason, he is considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists.

Many teens love to socialize and do projects with their peers. Cooperative learning opportunities are highly effective in keeping students engaged and participating in lessons. With mysimpleshow, students can work in teams (either in small groups or with a partner) on video scripts and visualizations to aid in their collaboration skills.

Our Favorite Resource for Video Presentations

While there are many interactive presentation and slide show apps, mysimpleshow is our favorite resource for video presentations. It is the perfect medium your students need to make their project fun, engaging, and interesting.

mysimpleshow is an online tool that enables anyone to create concise and engaging explainer videos in just a few minutes. It is also a great option for teachers to create lessons and presentations with multimedia and interactive elements such as video, audio, and embedded assessments.

Writing the video script native to the mysimpleshow platform, enhances writing skills, as students need to use transition phrases and must only include the most relevant information to align with the storyline template’s character limits.

mysimpleshow video presentations

The screenshot visible above is excerpted from a video I put together for our Scout troop detailing the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. On the left side, you can see two highlighted words – these are the words that are illustrated with graphics from the available gallery or images the user can upload.

I love that the user has the freedom to select the words to animate. As the slideshow plays, the selected image will appear as the narrator reads the highlighted word. The user will thereby need to make small adjustments to their script to assure the graphics appear in a timely manner – a great problem solving opportunity.

My daughter used mysimpleshow to create a fabulous explainer video for Ranger requirement #2g, “Make a presentation for your crew on communications equipment used in the outdoors with emphasis on how this equipment would help in a wilderness survival situation.”

 

She loved the flexibility of the program and looks forward to making another video to teach her Venturing Crew about Leave No Trace principles.

Environmental Science: Timeline, Key Terms, & Pollination

Have I told you how much I love Boy Scouts? My son first joined in February of 2016 and has since earned 21 merit badges – the most recent of which is Environmental Science.

As science – specifically environmental education and stewardship – is my passion, I offered to serve as the merit badge counselor and lead our troop through the merit badge requirements.

My goal was to complete everything in just a few days. We thereby met from 9am to noon for three consecutive days and it turned out to be just the right amount of time.

Over the course of this month, I will share with you the highlights of our exploration. Each Sunday through the month of September, I will post a description of the activities I coordinated and the resources I used to teach the environmental science conservation merit badge.

Timeline of Environmental Policy

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Timeline of Environmental Science

I devised a game similar to Timeline – one of our favorite family games – to introduce the Scouts to the historical events and initiatives that have shaped environmental policy in the United States.

One of the best things I like about the original game is that cards can be combined with the decks of multiple Timeline games (Discoveries, Music & Cinema, Inventions, Historical Events, etc.)

How to Play

While the original game has 110 cards, my simplified version has just 28. Six boys attended the class so I distributed four cards to each. The remaining four cards I held out, using a couple to demonstrate how to play the game.

Each card depicts an image of a historical event related to environmental science and a short summary text. The year in which that event occurred is shown on the reverse side. Players take turns placing a card from their hand in a row on the table.

After placing the card, the player reveals the date on it. If the card was placed correctly with the date in chronological order with all other cards on the table, the card stays in place. Otherwise, the card is moved to the appropriate place on the timeline.

In the original game, the first player to get rid of all his cards by placing them correctly wins. However, since there are not many cards to begin with, emphasis is on familiarizing oneself with the material not on winning.

Download Your Own Copy

If you are interested in playing the version I created, you can download it here, Environmental Science Timeline. There are two cards on each sheet of paper. You will first need to cut the two cards apart. Then simply fold each card in half to conceal the date and begin play.

Environmental Science Timeline ActivityKey Terms in Environmental Science

To familiarize ourselves with environmental science vocabulary, I used a slide show to first introduce the terms. We then played a game of bingo whereupon I called out the definition and they had to find the matching term.

Creating the bingo cards was quick and easy. I simply entered the terms into the widget at myfreebingocards and followed the prompts.

Download Your Own Copy

If you are interested in playing the version I created, you can download and print your own set for Environmental Science Bingo here.

Environmental SciencePollination

The last topic we covered on the first day was pollination. As the boys are entering 7th and 8th grade, they already had a good understanding of the process of pollination before we began. I thereby didn’t spend much time on reviewing this. Instead, we first watched a video, The Lifecycle of a Queen Honey Bee.

With the information we had learned from the video, I guided the boys through the process of creating a fortune teller to illustrate the life-cycle of the honeybee (complete metamorphosis). As they worked on their illustrations, I read aloud from the Handbook of Nature Study in more depth as well as to share the differences between the queen, the workers, and the drones.


As they departed at the end of day one, the boys exclaimed that the activities I had planned were enjoyable and that the also learned something. I call that a success.

Join me again next week when I share the activities I devised to cover environmental science requirements #3a-f.