World Water Quality Monitoring Project

 Science and Service Learning have long been seamlessly intertwined in my life since I started teaching full-time.  Though I am no longer in a formal classroom, the two share an even larger part of my life.  Hands-on, real-life science comes naturally to me.  It is a major component of our daily living and learning.  We seek out opportunities to put our skills to work and to learn about the world around us in a natural way.  This is Unschooling at its finest.
wwmprojectOur Roots & Shoots group has been taking part in a great service learning opportunity called the World Water Monitoring Project for the past few years.  The international education and outreach program builds awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens in basic monitoring of local water bodies.
Upon learning how to collect water quality data with our group, the kiddos asked if we could purchase our own.  The cost of a Basic Kit (shipped to any location in the US) is just $13 plus shipping. At this price – I couldn’t pass it up!  We now carry the kit with us on all our nature outings and it has provided us the necessary tools to engage in meaningful, hands-on science.  I supplement the kit with other tools that I have used for years – including a Kestrel 3000 Pocket Wind Meter – a handheld weather-monitoring device that provides a wide range of functions.
We also make every effort to identify the little critters we capture in our nets.  Sometimes this is easier said than done, but dichotomous keys are helpful and we carry a few laminated ones with us.  We record our findings in a Rite In The Rain Journal.  When we return home, we upload our data to the  World Water Monitoring Project and if we’ve spotted critters, we upload images to Project Noah.

Our outings are more meaningful when we know that our data will be used to help the scientific community better understand our world.

Orienteering – An Introduction

Orienteering is a sport that requires skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain, and normally moving at speed. Participants are given a topographical map which they use to find control points.  Originally a training exercise in land navigation for the military, orienteering has developed many variations.
Orienteering began in the late 19th century in Sweden.  The actual term “orientering” (the original Swedish name for orienteering) was first used in 1886 and meant the crossing of unknown land with the aid of a map and a compass. In Sweden, orienteering grew into a competitive sport for military officers, then for civilians. The name is derived from a word root meaning to find the direction or location. The first orienteering competition open to the public was held in Norway in 1897.  Barnesklubb met last week for an introduction to the sport of Orienteering.  A simple pentagonal course was set up in a local park and the kids were given instruction on how to navigate using the compass.  The points were clearly visible and at each, a ‘clue word’ was recorded.  When the kids completed a four-point course, the words completed a sentence. This lesson is provided in my earth science curriculum, Earth Logic:  Our Dynamic Earth. It can also be purchased individually.

We are excited to take part in more elaborate Orienteering courses in the future. Perhaps you’ll join us?

Environment Exchange Boxes

Have you ever marveled at the differences between the natural environments of your home region and those of areas through which you travel?  I know I do.  I grew up on the southern Oregon coast, lived in the Willamette Valley through college, and we started our family while living in central Oregon.  Even within this one small state, the ecosystems are varied and thereby the plants and animals that reside there are diverse.   I now live in Northern California and I am amazed at how distinctly different the ecology is here.

To celebrate the diversity of the regions in which we live, I am organizing an exchange activity.  However, I will need your help.  I don’t have many followers so you’ll need to help spread the word.  I’ve also shared the project with my local homeschool community.   The activity is based upon Project Learning Tree‘s activity #20, Environmental Exchange Box (click upon the link for the PDF of the lesson plan).   Follow this link for visual ideas, PLTs Forest Exchange Boxes.

Essentially, each family puts together a box of things found in your local natural environment … a selection of pressed leaves and flowers, seashells, seeds and cones, a vial of sand, feathers, a few stones, a sound recording of local birds, stories the kids have written about their favorite things to do in their area, photographs, samples of non-perishable regional foods (maple syrup, walnuts, etc.), and/or  copies of newspaper clippings relating local environmental issues.

We can also use a webcam and/or YouTube to facilitate the exchange – allowing the students an opportunity to interact with their exchange partners to explain the contents of the box they prepared.    What you select and how you organize your box is up to you.  Be creative!

Everyone wishing to participate would be given the address of another family to whom to send their box. You mail a box just once.

Those interested in taking part should submit the information below via email.  I will thereafter assign each participating family a partner family with whom to exchange boxes.

  • Name
  • School Name (if you have one)
  • Address
  • Telephone Number (include area code)
  • Age of Students
  • Email Address
  • Preferred state or region with which you would like to exchange (not guaranteed)

This exchange project has concluded.

Estuarine Ecology Unit Study

Upon returning home from our recent trip to the coast, I was inspired to organize the lessons I have taught in the past into a unit study for homeschoolers and classroom teachers.  I am now ecstatic to announce that I have completed it!

Estuarine Ecology

The Estuarine Ecology Unit Study is available as a part of the comprehensive Science Logic Curriculum that I have been developing the past couple of years.  This unit compliments the popular Life Logic: Ecology Explorations and provides lesson plans integrating science, history, math, language arts, technology, and fine arts.

Estuary Ecology

Here is an overview:

  • 14 Lesson Plans with extensive ‘Background Information’
  • 12 custom notebook pages to complement those lessons
  • Key vocabulary list
  • A detailed list of how the activities are correlated to the themes
  • Resource list
  • Clickable links

In total, this new Estuarine Ecology Unit Study ebook is 58 pages long. You will have a complete plan at your fingertips for your science curriculum.  I have aimed to keep these lessons as simple as possible with very few additional resources needed.

Price $14.97

The Estuarine Ecology Unit Study is an inquiry based, hands-on life science curriculum for middle school students.  It is created to provide teachers with the tools and inspiration to engage their students in meaningful science and service learning experiences through tangible curriculum, shared resources, and real-world contexts.  This secular curriculum was field tested in the public school classroom and modified for the homeschool or co-op setting.

School of Ants

In July, we signed up to participate in a new citizen science project called, School of Ants.  We received our collection kits late last week and were anxious to get started.  We received 4 complete collection kits.  Each kit contained 9 collection vials (4 red for sidewalks and 4 blue vials for green spaces, and 1 large orange vial for anything else we might collect). 

We took out and read the instructions.  The instructions stated that all 4 vials of one color (blue or red) from one kit should be placed in one area, approximately a foot apart.  When we were comfortable with what we were expected to do, we brainstormed where we wanted to place the collection the vials.  Because we had 4 distinct kits, we decided upon the following 4 locations locations:  RED – sidewalk in front of our house, cobblestone area of our driveway, the asphalt road in our community, and the concrete surrounding the pool deck.  BLUE – our lawn, beneath the roses in the the landscaped area of our house, in the shrubs across the road from our house (pictured below), and in the backyard.  
I then  asked the kids to write out their prediction or hypothesis.  “Where do you think we will collect the most ants?”  Both of the kids predicted we would see the most ants in the backyard.  “Ants make their homes and build colonies in the dirt, so I think that is where we will find them.” As it turned out, this wasn’t how things turned out.  

I had divided up the vials for the kiddos and indicated where they should place them.  We then frolicked in the pool for an hour and then proceeded to retrieve the vials.  Surprisingly, only a few vials had any ants.  The vials we placed at the pool were inebriated with tiny little ants … so many in fact, crawling every which way … that I had difficulty putting the lids on and many escaped our capture as a result.  

When the kids returned from the other areas where they’d placed the vials, I discovered that several vials were completely empty … there wasn’t even any cookie crumb (or whatever it was that had been placed in the vials to attract the ants). Come to discover that my little guy had inadvertently dumped out the contents.   
After several interrogations, he insisted that he placed the vials on the ground with the food but it was upon the return that he dumped them out.  “There weren’t any ants so I didn’t think about it,” he said.  Ah well.  Our mistake provided good points of discussion for our conclusion when I asked, “If you were to do this experiment again, what would you do differently?”

“The School of Ants project is a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools. Collection kits are available FREE to anyone interested in participating. Teachers, students, parents, kids, junior-scientists, senior citizens and enthusiasts of all stripes are involved in collecting ants in schoolyards and backyards using a standardized protocol so that we can make detailed maps of the wildlife that lives just outside our doorsteps.” 

For more information on studying insects with children, check out this Squidoo lens:  Bug Collecting.  It was awarded a Purple Star!!  

Update 28 Aug 2012 –  The species we found was identified as the Argentine Ant (Linepithema humile).  Check out what species were found across the country by following this link,  School of Ants – Result Map.

Terra Aqua Columns :: Habitat Study

A few weeks ago, our Roots & Shoots club gathered to learn a little more about ecology.  I first gathered everyone together for a mini-lesson on a few key terms:

  • Ecology
  • Habitat
  • Niche
  • Food Chains
  • Food Web

I then read aloud a favorite book,  In the Snow, Whose Been Here?  by Lindsay Barrett George.  The kids enjoyed trying to guess which animal had been there based on the clues in the illustrations.  Though my own kiddos have previously read this book, as well as George’s others (In the Woods…, In the Garden…, and Around the Pond…) it is always a treat to revisit.  Remarkably, not all their guesses were accurate.

We then gathered around the table to construct a habitat of choice using recycled 2-liter bottles.  I was a little surprised that everyone chose the same … Terra Aqua Columns, but then I think I would have as well.

They were easy to construct and the kids were so intrigued that many went home and constructed a variety of the others in the book.  One little guy, even requested to make Terra Aqua Columns as a part of his birthday party the following week.  How cool is that?!

Construction in Progress

Water, as it cycles between land, ocean and atmosphere, forms the major link between the terrestrial world and the aquatic world. Water drips off rooftops, flows over roads, and flows down the drain of our kitchen sink. It percolates through the soils of fields and forests and eventually finds its way into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

During its journey, water will pick up leaf litter, soil, nutrients, agricultural chemicals, road salts and gasoline from cars, all of which have profound impacts on life in aquatic systems. Water can also be filtered or purified as it percolates through soil.

Construct Your Own Terra Aqua Column

A Terra Aqua Column provides students with a model to explore the link between land and water. The model has three basic components: soil, water and plants.


  • One 2-liter soda bottle
  • One bottle cap
  • Wicking material-fabric interfacing or cotton string
  • Utility knife (adults use recommended)
  • Awl or electric drill
  • Water, soil and plants


Step 1 – Remove label from the 2-liter bottle. Cut bottle 1 cm below shoulder. 

Step 2 – Poke a 1cm hole in the bottle cap with the awl. Alternatively, you can drill a hole with an electric drill.

Step 3 – Thread a thoroughly wet wick strip through bottle top, invert top, and set into base. Wick should reach bottom ofreservoir and thread loosely through cap. 

Step 4 – Fill reservoir or bottom chamber with water. Add soil and plants to the top chamber. To be effective, the wick should run up into soil, not be laying along a side of the bottle. For better drainage, place a layer of gravel or sand in the bottom of the top chamber.

~ ~ ~

The idea for this activity came from a book titled, Bottle Biology.   Within it’s pages, students learn how to explore science and the environment using soda bottles and other recyclable materials. Model a rain forest and grow different plants, create a spider habitat, observe the lifecycle of a slime mold, explore an ecosystem or make Korean kimchee.

You can pursue these and other scientific investigations with over 20 bottle constructions, including the Ecocolumn, the Predator-Prey Column, the Niche Kit and the Terra Aqua Column. Each chapter contains background information, activities and teaching tips.

Here you can see our completed Terra Aqua Columns as well as a Decomposition Column (the tall green one) in the background.  The kiddos have had a great time exploring these mini habitats. They are looking forward to creating a Predator-Prey Column and have ordered a preying mantis egg case specifically for the cause.