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

There are affiliate links below which means I may receive a commission when products are purchased. See my disclosure policy for more details. 

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.

Back to School August Super Sale

August Super Sale

It is officially back to school season and store shelves are overflowing with 3-ring binders, composition notebooks, and pencils. To celebrate, your Back to School savings start now!

I am excited to announce that through the month of August, I am offering all 3 of my trimester units (10-weeks each) bundled for just $27!

Life Logic is comprised of three disciplines (Botany, Zoology, and Ecology). The units can stand alone or can be combined for a complete academic year curriculum. The curriculum was field tested in the public school classroom and modified for the homeschool or co-op setting.

Life Science Bundle

Life Logic Curriculum

Botany

Like each of the units in the series, Botany – Plenty O’Plants is a hands-on life science curriculum that provides ample opportunity for kids to explore plant science in-depth.  This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

Zoology

Amazing Animals begins with an overview of the scientific classification system and then progresses through each of the major phyla through hands-on, engaging activities that are sure to captivate your students.

Ecology

The 10-week Ecology Explorations curriculum eBook provides several opportunities to guide your students on an exploration of your local ecosystems.  What better way to learn about ecology than to get out there, collect data, and experience the physical factors that influence the animal and plant communities first hand.

August Super Sale

Purchased separately, each 10-week curriculum is priced at $19.90. Through the month of August, use the special link below to purchase the bundle for just $27.

buynowgreen

In the field for special instructions, enter the coupon code iWant3.

I will then send you a separate email with download links for each of the life science units – Botany – Plenty O’Plants, Amazing Animals, and Ecology Explorations.

 

Exploring Ecology: The Many Parts of a Streambank

The forested land along rivers and streams is known as the “riparian zone”. Riparian comes from the Latin word ripa, which means bank. Riparian zones are areas of transition where the water and land meet and they offer many benefits to wildlife and people.

Only in the past few decades have scientists and land use specialists come to realize the value of riparian zones. Amongst the most diverse biological systems on earth, riparian zones offer many critical ecological benefits:

Overhanging vegetation and trees shade the stream channel, keeping the water nice and cool.

The vegetation along the streambank helps to hold on to the soil and prevent erosion.

These stream side wetlands also act like huge sponges absorbing and filtering the water, which reduces high flows into the stream.

riparian area studyParts of a Streambank

Stream Channel

This zone is the wetted area located below the average water mark or water level. Generally, the streambank soils next to the stream channel have the most erosion because of the constant water flow. When plants are present in this area, the plants are rooted into the soil beneath the water. Vegetation includes herbaceous species like sedges, rushes, and cattails and are found in the low energy streams or in protected, slow-moving areas of the stream.

Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have bumps all the way to the ground.

Riparian Zone

The riparian zone is the area between the average water mark and the average high water mark. The plants that are found here thrive along the banks so long as their root systems are able to access surface water and subsurface flow. When a riparian area contains healthy, native plants, there is less erosion. This zone contains predominately shrubs, willows, and other water-loving plants.

Floodplain

The floodplain is a relatively flat area located adjacent to a river or stream. This area can experience occasional or periodic flooding. When a river breaks its banks and floods, it leaves behind layers of sediment – rock, sand, mud, and silt. These materials gradually build up to create the floor of the floodplain. Here, the soils are a mix of sand, gravel, loam, silt, and clay. These areas are important aquifers, filtering the water drawn from them through these soil combinations. Plants found here often contain a mix of riparian and upland plants and trees – willows, dogwoods, alder, and birch trees as well as large shrubs.

A few years ago, my STEM Club spent the day inundating ourselves in Stream Ecology. Read this post to discover other activities you can use to engage your students.

Transitional Zone

The transitional zone is located between the floodplain and the upland zone. Here, the area is rarely affected by stream flow and floods only once every 50 or so years. This zone is comprised of drier upland trees and large shrubs that do not need to access the stream water or subsurface flow with their roots.

Upland Zone

The uplands consist of land where drier vegetation can be found. The plants and trees here no longer depend upon the surface or subsurface flow of stream water for their survival. However, the taller trees in this zone do create a valuable forest canopy that helps to shade the stream.

Previously, we partnered with the USDA Forest Service to hear first hand how a forester manages a forest and to get a chance to use the real tools of the trade. Read more of our experience in my post, Field, Forest, & Stream: Forest Ecology.

riparian area survey tableRiparian Area Survey

Materials

  • Pen/pencil
  • Tape measure
  • Field notebook
  • Colored pencils (optional)

Procedure

  1. Copy the table above into your field notebook.
  2. Go to a nearby stream and select an area of the streambank and riparian area to study. Measure the area that you have selected.
  3. Complete the table checking the box for each vegetation type you see. If you are able, identify as many as possible.
  4. Choose a section of the length of the stream surveyed and draw the stream and riparian area from a bird’s eye view (from above).
  5. Once you have the basic outline of the area (stream channel, banks, riparian area), begin by marking where you see each type of trees, shrubs, ferns, etc. Use the symbols in the table above to simplify your sketch.
  6. Make sure to draw an arrow in the stream to show the direction of water flow.

Conclusion

  1. Based on your observations at this site, describe any human influences on the riparian area.
  2. What features of the riparian zone do you think are important to fish?
  3. Do you notice any patterns of certain vegetation types and where they are located in relation to the stream? Why do you think that is?

Ecology ExplorationsScience Logic

You will find more activities like this one in my Ecology Explorations curriculum available for purchase in my store. The Life Logic: Ecology Explorations unit that I have developed for middle school students is an easy to implement, hands-on way to learn about ecology. Students will love getting outside, collecting data, and experiencing the physical factors that influence the animal and plant communities in their local area first hand.

 

National Estuaries Day: Student Activities & Courses

National Estuaries Day is the last Saturday of September. As such, we will celebrate on the 24th this year. Established in 1988 as part of Coast Weeks, the purpose of the annual event is to promote the importance of estuaries and the need to protect them.

With the many threats to the world’s ecosystems, it is critical to prepare our children to be tomorrow’s environmental stewards. Estuaries are an ideal vehicle with which to introduce students to marine ecology. Whether through recreational experiences, scenic views, or making a living on the water, many are familiar with estuaries. estuariesday

All throughout the country, local organizations including National Estuarine Research Reserves and National Estuary Programs organize special events, like beach clean-ups, hikes, canoe and kayak trips, workshops and more to recognize the special role these places play in our everyday lives. It is a terrific opportunity to learn more about estuaries.

Why are estuaries important?

Estuaries are partially enclosed bodies of water usually found where rivers or streams flow into it and with a free connection to the sea. The mixture of fresh water draining from the land and the salty seawater influxes of the tides create habitats where many unique plant and animal communities have adapted to life in the brackish water.

As a result, estuaries are among of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Many animals rely on estuaries for food, places to breed, and resting areas during long migrations. Human communities also rely on estuaries for food, recreation, jobs, and coastal protection.

How can I get involved?

Celebrate National Estuaries Day by learning about the National Estuarine Research Reserves and many local Friends Groups who organize a variety of activities benefiting the local estuary and reserve.

You’ll find numerous ways to connect with your coastal environments whether you are seeking a kayak adventure, want to forage for fungi, explore a class in seaweed art, or take in a history walk – there is bound to be something that appeals to you

nationalestuariesdayWhy teach about estuaries?

Estuaries offer a wonderfully rich context for science education and cross disciplinary learning. As a result of the dynamic ecosystem, estuaries provide an opportunity for learners to integrate many science fields such as ecology, biology, chemistry, geography, geology, and marine science.

Students of all ages can gather data and develop their math skills through detailed measurements of salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen. Students also develop language skills as they do further research and begin to communicate their discoveries with other students and scientists. Since estuaries have also played a significant role in human settlement, exploration and development, students gain new eyes on human history, geography, and culture.

Estuaries Curriculum 

I have put together two curriculum units to introduce middle school students to estuary ecology. Each unit is comprised of hands-on inquiry based lessons. A variety of enrichment projects and living books are also suggested to augment the teaching material provided. In honor of National Estuary Week, for the month of September, each of these units is available for 40% off the regular price. 

ecology

Ecology Explorations provides a great introduction to ecology concepts, introducing students to key vocabulary and field collection techniques. It is one of my favorite units because it provides several opportunities to explore your local ecosystems. This 10-week unit includes 20+ activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you. Sale price is $19.90  $11.90.

buynowgreen

Estuary Ecology

Estuary Ecology is a fourteen lesson unit study that focuses upon estuaries and salt water marshes.  It incorporates a month-long moon observation project as well as a field trip to an estuary or salt marsh. The lessons can be adapted to mangroves or tropical regions.  Sale price is $14.90  $8.90.

buynowgreen

A Look at the Industrious Beaver: Nature’s Engineers {Middle School Unit Study}

North American Beaver (Castor Canadensis) play a critical role in the ecology of our streams. Their dams create pooling of water upstream, which creates wildlife habitat for many dozens of wetland and slow-moving water species that wouldn’t otherwise be in such riparian habitats.

These industrious mammals provide a fascinating topic for middle school science investigations. Here you will find a variety of resources and materials to engage middle schoolers in real science related to nature’s engineers, Castor canadensis.

A Look at the Industrious Beaver: Nature's Engineers (A Middle School Unit Study) @EvaVarga.net

Beaver Anatomy & Physiology

Beavers are the largest rodents in North America, and they spend most of their time in the water. To protect themselves from the cold and wetness they have waterproof reddish brown or blackish brown hair. They have small, round, brown ears, and powerful back legs for swimming. A beaver’s front legs are not as large or as strong as its back legs.

Beaver skulls and teeth are very big. The two front teeth are orange colored, and they can be up to 5 mm wide and between 20 and 25 mm long. These teeth grow throughout the animal’s life, and they are used for cutting wood. Without these teeth beavers could not cut down or eat trees and wood. Beavers also have see-through eye lids, and closable nostrils and ears for swimming underwater.

Beavers also have anal and castor glands, which they use to mark their territory. These glands are located beneath the tail. The beaver utilizes the oily secretion (castoreum) from these scent glands to also waterproof its thick fur.

The beaver has a thick layer of fat under its skin that helps keep it warm underwater. Beavers have long sharp upper and lower incisor teeth that they use to cut into trees and woody vegetation. These teeth grow throughout the beaver’s life. A beaver’s tail is broad, flat, and covered with large black scales.

A Look at the Industrious Beaver: Nature's Engineers (A Middle School Unit Study) @EvaVarga.net

Beaver Ecology & Natural History

Important natural processes, such as energy flows and chemical cycles, result from the interaction of species within a community. Food webs of trophic (trophic – pertaining to nutrition) interactions among species are one example of how multiple soil-plant, plant-plant, plant-animal, and animal-plant relationships link together within a functioning community. Some species can be highly influential in their communities, even if they occur at relatively low population densities. When the presence and actions of this species tend to form the foundation of how other species relate to each other in the community, we often call the influential plant or animal a keystone species.

“Keystone” is a metaphor equated to the stone in the middle of an arch in a building. Removal of the keystone leads to destabilization if not outright collapse of the other elements that “lean on” or depend upon that keystone.

A Look at the Industrious Beaver: Nature's Engineers (A Middle School Unit Study) @EvaVarga.netThe beaver is often cited as an example of a keystone species because through its dam-building behaviors it has major influences on both the vegetation of an area and the water table. In turn, these factors have strong influences on the abundance and quality of habitat for many other plant and animal species within the community. They engineer, or create, habitat that supports greater biodiversity that would otherwise not exist.

No other animal with the exception of man can significantly alter its habitat to suit its own needs and desires. Native Americans revered the beaver and referred to them as “Little People” for this reason.

In one of the first images of its kind, night-vision cameras recently captured photos of native beavers and invasive nutria working together to build a dam across a channel at Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area in Portland, Oregon.

Beaver Unit Study Resources

Act out a short skit to teach others about the natural history of the beaver – its adaptations for its environment as well as the impact humans have had on it throughout history.

Dress up a volunteer as you learn about the structural and behavioral adaptations of beavers.

Explore the website Beavers: Wetlands & Wildlife to learn more about beavers and their impact on the ecology.

Learn about the history of the Fur Trade and Beaver Ecology including numerous Historical Source Documents.

Learn about Beavers and Climate Change Adaptation Strategies – A Report from Wild Earth Guardians.

Download the Beaver Monitoring App and help scientists study how beavers could be used as a tool for stream restoration and mitigating impacts of climate change.

Reach out to your local watershed associations to learn about watershed monitoring and restoration projects that impact beavers. How can you get involved?

Visit and observe an ecosystem created by beavers in your local area (contact Fish & Wildlife for assistance in locating a dam if you are unfamiliar). Keep a journal of your observations.

zoology

You might also be interested in my 10-week inquiry based science unit introducing middle level students to the study of animals: Zoology: Amazing Animals. Lessons include scientific classification, identifying animal tracks, ecology, and animal behavior.

 

Polymers Are Cool: 3 Recipes for Middle School

Chemistry is great for making many useful products. It’s also good for making stuff that’s just fun to play with. One of my favorite chemistry units is on polymers.

A polymer is a large molecule, or macromolecule, composed of many repeated subunits. In other words, they are made up of many, many molecules all strung together to form really long chains.

Polymers Are Cool: 3 Polymer Recipes for Middle School @EvaVarga.netIn Greek, Poly- means “many” and -mer means “part” or “segment”.  Mono means “one”. So, monomers are the individual molecules that can join together to make a long polymer chain.

A single polymer molecule is made out of hundreds of thousands (or even millions!) of monomers. Not all molecules can link up in this way to form polymers, however.

The atoms that make up a polymer chain essentially line up and repeat all along the length of the polymer chain. For example, look at polypropylene:


Polypropylene is made up of just two carbon atoms repeated over and over again. One carbon atom has two hydrogen atoms attached to it, and the other carbon atom has one hydrogen atom and one pendant methyl group (CH3).

In this example, the pendant group hangs from the carbon atom in the chain backbone. As you can see from the example, pendant groups usually repeat along the length of the chain as well.

But enough of the mumbo jumbo. Let’s get to the fun stuff. What is better than reading about chemistry? Doing the labs, of course!  Here are three tried and true recipes for polymers you can use in the classroom.

Polymer Recipes ~ Get Messy!

Basic Polymer Putty

This is a fun and easy polymer to make (and the one featured in the photographs).

Materials

  • Elmer’s white glue
  • Borax (find in the laundry detergent aisle of the store)
  • Water
  • Two bowls
  • Food coloring (just for fun)

Procedure

  1. In one bowl mix 1/2 cup (4 oz) glue and 1/2 cup water. Add food coloring if you want colored slime.
  2. In the other bowl, slowly mix borax into 1 cup of water until the borax will no longer dissolve (this is a saturated solution).
  3. Add the glue mixture to the borax solution, stirring slowly.
  4. The slime will begin to form immediately; stir as much as you can, then dig in and knead it with your hands until it gets less sticky.  Don’t worry about any leftover water in the bowl; just pour it out.

The glue has an ingredient called polyvinyl acetate, which is a liquid polymer. The borax links the polyvinyl acetate molecules to each other, creating one large, flexible polymer. It will get stiffer and more like putty the more you play with it.

Store it in a plastic bag in the fridge, to keep it from growing mold.

polymer recipesA Firmer Polymer

This recipe makes a firmer, dryer slime that will even bounce if it is kneaded enough.

  1. Mix 4 tsp. (20 ml) water with 5 tsp. (25 ml) Elmer’s or other white glue in a small bowl.
  2. Add 1 tsp. (5 ml) talcum powder and stir until thoroughly mixed.
  3. Add 1 or 2 tsp. (5 or 10 ml) saturated borax and water solution. Stir four a few minutes.
  4. Remove the glob from the bowl and stirrer. Knead it for a while and it will become drier.

You will probably need to wipe off some of the excess moisture from your hands with a paper towel from time to time. Don’t be tempted to wipe the glob with a paper towel as it will only stick. You can add a little talcum to the surface if you are having trouble getting it dry enough. Store in a zip lock in the fridge.

plastics lab activityTake a closer look at plastics & polymers

Super Slime

This slime is similar to the one above, but creates a less rubbery and more transparent slime. This is the real gooey deal! (This slime is non-toxic, but still keep these chemicals away from unsupervised children and wash your hands after playing with the slime.)

Materials

  • Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA)
  • Borax
  • Water
  • Graduated cylinder or measuring cups and spoons
  • Food coloring (just for fun)

Procedure

  1. Make a 4% solution of polyvinyl alcohol: Stir 1.5 teaspoons (approx. 4g) of PVA into 1/2 C (approx 100 ml) of water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl and microwave for 1 minute, then stir. Microwave another 30 seconds and stir. Continue until all the PVA is dissolved. A slight film may have formed on top; you can remove that with a spoon. You can add food coloring if you want colored slime. Allow the solution to cool.
  2. Make a 4% borax solution by stirring a little less than 2 teaspoons (approx. 4g) of Borax into 1/2 cup of water.
  3. Pour the cooled PVA solution into a ziplock bag and add 2 teaspoons (10ml) of the borax solution.
  4. Zip the bag and knead it until the chemicals are mixed into slime. Then scoop it out and play with it.

While water is a liquid made up of individual H2O molecules, polyvinyl alcohol is formed of long chains of connected molecules, making it a liquid polymer. The borax acts as a “cross-linker,” linking the individual PVA chains to each other. The borax molecules form hydrogen bonds with molecules present in the PVA chains. The partial positive charge of hydrogen atoms attracts the partial negative charge of oxygen atoms. Since hydrogen bonds are weak, they can break and reform as you play with the slime or let it ooze on a flat surface.

Your slime will last for a while if you seal it in a plastic bag and keep it in the fridge.

Misconceptions in Chemistry @EvaVarga.net

Learn how to dispel children’s Misconceptions in Chemistry & Physics.

Helpful Hints for Success with Polymers

Gel type glues

Over the past few years several brands of gel type glues have been introduced. Most of these make excellent slimes which are very elastic and have a nice color and consistency. I have personally experimented with Elmer’s School Glue Gel, but there are several similar products available from other manufacturers. Try substituting a gel glue in the Basic Polymer recipe, above.

Slime overly sticky or runny?

If your white glue or gel glue based slime is too sticky or runny, first try kneading it for a while. Working it in your hands will help to mix things up better, as well as remove some of the moisture. If it is still not quite right, mix 1 part borax with 10 parts water. Dunk the slime into this solution, remove and knead.

Precautions

  • Polymers can wreak havoc with plumbing, so don’t throw them down the drain.
  • Always wear a mask when mixing PVA.
  • Use distilled water for all solutions for best results.
  • Keep polymers away from anything they could damage. They can dry into fabric and the dyes can stain surfaces, including wood.
  • Supervise small children when playing with polymers so they do not ingest any.
  • Some people are allergic to Borax powder. Wearing rubber gloves when mixing should help.
  • Polymers using Borax solutions work best if you pour the Borax solution into the other solution, rather than the other way around. Coloring should be added before the Borax.
  • Use metric measurements whenever possible. This will make it simpler to experiment with different concentrations and ratios.

Cool Chemistry

For more hands-on chemistry lessons like this one, check out Cool Chemistry is a ten-week multidisciplinary, hands-on physical science curriculum that incorporates scientific inquiry and a long-term project. Available today!