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.

 

STEM Club: Introduction to Body Systems

As many of you know, I teach a science class for local area homeschool students that I have come to call STEM Club.  Our focus this cycle is human anatomy or human body systems.

Each week, I will be sharing with you the hands-on activities and inquiry based labs that I use with my students. If you follow along with me and do the suggested extension activities, the material covered will be equivalent to a full semester course.

This post contains affiliate links.

humananatomy

Getting Started – Printables

The biological levels of organization of living things arranged from the simplest to most complex are: organelle, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms, populations, communities, ecosystem, and biosphere.

To review this with my STEM Club students, I created a levels of organization printable chart and asked that they complete it as homework in advance of our first class.

The purpose of this unit is to understand that there are different systems within the body and that they work independently and together to form a functioning human body. At the middle school level, students should begin to view the body as a system, in which parts do things for other parts and for the organism as a whole.

To assess the students’ prior knowledge, I distributed a black outline master of the human body and asked them to draw and label the parts of the body that they knew.

I also created an accordion style mini-book of the body systems that we will use throughout the unit. Students were asked to print it and secure it in their notebooks for easy reference and note taking throughout the course.

Lastly, they were asked to complete the vocabulary worksheet.

The FREE download link for each of these printables will be available to my newsletter subscribers.

anatomyprintables

The Human Body Systems

Integumentary System – the organ system that protects the body from various kinds of damage, such as loss of water or abrasion from outside.  Major organs include skin (epidermis, dermis, hypodermis), hair, nails, and exocrine glands.

Nervous System – consists of the brain, spinal cord, sensory organs, and all of the nerves that connect these organs with the rest of the body. Together, these organs are responsible for the control of the body and communication among its parts.

Endrocrine System – includes all of the glands of the body and the hormones produced by those glands. The glands are controlled directly by stimulation from the nervous system as well as by chemical receptors in the blood and hormones produced by other glands.

The endocrine system works alongside of the nervous system to form the control systems of the body. The nervous system provides a very fast and narrowly targeted system to turn on specific glands and muscles throughout the body. The endocrine system, on the other hand, is much slower acting, but has very widespread, long lasting, and powerful effects.

Head to Toe Science by Jim Wiese is a collection of demonstrations that illustrate scientific principles about the human body. The projects are geared to 9-12 year olds and arranged by system (nervous, digestive, respiratory, circulatory, muscular, skeletal, reproductive, and integumentary).

Each project includes an introduction, a list of materials, procedural guidelines, and an explanation of the science involved. It is a great resources for hands-on activities and demonstrations. The instructions are easy to follow and include fun facts to keep kids interested.

It is definitely worth buying, even though the activities are not inquiry based, as it provides background information and vocabulary. Some of the activities in the book are too simple for even junior high but most are perfect for middle school age learners.

Skeletal System – includes all of the bones and joints in the body. Each bone is a complex living organ that is made up of many cells, protein fibers, and minerals. The skeleton acts as a scaffold by providing support and protection for the soft tissues that make up the rest of the body.

Muscular System – responsible for the movement of the human body. Attached to the bones of the skeletal system are about 700 named muscles that make up roughly half of a person’s body weight. Each of these muscles is a discrete organ constructed of skeletal muscle tissue, blood vessels, tendons, and nerves.

Digestive System – a group of organs working together to convert food into energy and basic nutrients to feed the entire body. Food passes through a long tube inside the body known as the alimentary canal or the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). The alimentary canal is made up of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestines, and large intestines.

I highly recommend Human Anatomy Coloring Book by Margaret Matt (geared for ages 13-16).  I know what you are thinking. “A color book? Really?! “

Yes, really.  Each detailed illustration in the Human Anatomy Coloring Book is accompanied by concise, informative text and suggestions for coloring.  Numerous views, cross-sections, and other diagrams are included for each of the body’s organs and major systems.

Combine inquiry based activities and demonstrations that illustrate scientific principle, the memorization of vocabulary, and daily practice tracing the organ systems with the aide of this book and will discover your students will not only understand how their body works but will be able to illustrate the organs as they share what they know.

For younger students (ages 3 to 11), I recommend the alternative, My First Human Body Book by Donald Silver and Patricia Wynne. It includes 28 fun and instructive, ready-to-color illustrations that explore the human body systems. The illustrations are detailed and yet simple enough to not be overwhelming.

Excretory / Urinary System – consists of the kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, and urethra. The kidneys filter the blood to remove wastes and produce urine. The ureters, urinary bladder, and urethra together form the urinary tract, which acts as a plumbing system to drain urine from the kidneys, store it, and then release it during urination. Besides filtering and eliminating wastes from the body, the urinary system also maintains the homeostasis of water, ions, pH, blood pressure, calcium, and red blood cells.

Respiratory System – provides oxygen to the body’s cells while removing carbon dioxide, a waste product that can be lethal if allowed to accumulate. There are 3 major parts of the respiratory system: the airway, the lungs, and the muscles of respiration. The airway, which includes the nose, mouth, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and bronchioles, carries air between the lungs and the body’s exterior.

Cardiovascular / Circulatory System – consists of the heart, blood vessels, and the approximately 5 liters of blood that the blood vessels transport. Responsible for transporting oxygen, nutrients, hormones, and cellular waste products throughout the body, the cardiovascular system is powered by the body’s hardest-working organ — the heart.

Blood and Guts by Linda Allison is written for the middle school aged student and is organized well. The author devotes a chapter to each of the following topics: skin, bones, teeth, muscles, heart, lungs, cells, digestion, kidneys, eyes, ears, balance, brain and nervous system, and reproduction. She provides a basic but informative narrative for each as well as illustrations.

Numerous hands-on activities and demonstrations are described for students to try. Most are relatively simple but some are difficult and require adult supervision; others require materials that may be difficult to find.

The book uses cartoon illustrations (as shown on the cover). I would suggest supplementing with models, more accurate drawings (the Dover Publication mentioned above, for example), and photos

Lymphatic / Immune System – our body’s defense system against infectious pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and fungi as well as parasitic animals and protists. The immune system works to keep these harmful agents out of the body and attacks those that manage to enter. The lymphatic system is a system of capillaries, vessels, nodes and other organs that transport a fluid called lymph from the tissues as it returns to the bloodstream. The lymphatic tissue of these organs filters and cleans the lymph of any debris, abnormal cells, or pathogens. The lymphatic system also transports fatty acids from the intestines to the circulatory system.

Reproductive System –

The female reproductive system includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, vulva, mammary glands and breasts. These organs are involved in the production and transportation of gametes and the production of sex hormones. The female reproductive system also facilitates the fertilization of ova by sperm and supports the development of offspring during pregnancy and infancy.

The male reproductive system includes the scrotum, testes, spermatic ducts, sex glands, and penis. These organs work together to produce sperm, the male gamete, and the other components of semen. These organs also work together to deliver semen out of the body and into the vagina where it can fertilize egg cells to produce offspring.

Next week we will explore the integumentary system in depth. I will share a few demonstration activities as well as an inquiry science activity that tests our sense of touch, or somatosenation. You won’t want to miss it! 

 

The Galápagos Across the Curriculum

This fall, our family will be taking a journey to the Ecuador and Perú. I am so very excited as we will be traveling to the Galápagos and Machu Picchu – two locations on my dream list.

In preparation for this excursion, I have created a multidisciplinary unit study, Galápagos Across the Curriculum,  and am delighted to share it with you.

Please Note :: This unit study includes lessons and activities on Darwin and evolution.

Galápagos Unit Study

The Galápagos islands were originally called the “Enchanted Isles” because the capricious meandering of the Humboldt Current had the effect of making the islands disappear and reappear to passing ships. The islands were discovered accidentally in 1525 by Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, who wrote of the strangeness and mystery of the Galápagos, “such big tortoises that could carry a man on top of itself, and many iguanas liked serpents … and many birds like those of Spain, but so silly that they do to know how to flee …”

galapagos unit

Come along and discover the mystery of the Galápagos for yourself. The Galápagos Across the Curriculum unit study incorporates lessons in history, literature, writing, biology, ecology, geology, taxonomy, meteorology, and oceanography.  Specific unit vocabulary is defined and an extensive list of additional reference materials is provided.

Scavenger Hunt

To help build excitement, I have also created an online scavenger hunt for my newsletter subscribers. All correct responses will be entered into a drawing to win a fun surprise package from our travels this fall. I will reveal the winner on September 29th, so if you haven’t yet entered, there is still time.

Simply hit ‘Return’ or ‘Enter’ on your keyboard to submit your email address and subscribe to my newsletter. 

New Life Science Curriculum Available!

I am so very excited! I have finished the life science curriculum series I envisioned so many years ago, Life Logic: Dialectic Stage Life Sciences.

A complete full year life science curriculum … Botany, Zoology, and the previously completed Ecology!! botanyLife Logic 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, hands-on, inquiry based science and service learning experiences through tangible curriculum, shared resources, and real-world contexts.
zoology
The curriculum was originally field tested in the public school classroom and more recently in the homeschool or co-op setting. Life Logic is comprised of three disciplines (Botany, Zoology, and Ecology).
ecology
The units can stand alone or can be combined for a complete academic year curriculum.

They are available for purchase today!

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?

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.