10 Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore

The sandy shore dominates much of the open coastline of the Pacific Northwest, stretching uninterrupted for miles in many regions. These dynamic habitats represent the most physically controlled of all the nearshore marine habitats and are considered one of the hardest places to live. As such, understanding the nature of the habitat and the animals that live there is important.image of a teen walking on a sandy beach with text overlay "Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore: 10 Activities for Teens" @EvaVarga.net

Sandy beaches are in a constant state of change and motion. Animals on exposed sandy beaches must protect themselves from shifting, abrasive sand and heavy surf.

Hands-on Activities to Explore the Sandy Shore

My family and I have spent much time exploring the ecology of the sandy shore and immersing ourselves in nature discoveries. There are many opportunities to learn more about this environment. Here are few ideas to help you get started:

Collect samples of beach sand from different beaches and classify each into coarse, medium, and fine sand. Can you see evidence of animal life in the samples?

Send the kids on an scavenger hunt of the intertidal invertebrates – note that many of these are not residents of the shifting sands of the sandy shore but are found clinging to the rocks and along the margins shoreline.

Be ready for the unexpected; you never know what you might discover while walking along the sandy beach like these Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep. Finding an animal or plant that is unfamiliar to you is a great opportunity to seek out the answer. Can you find it in a guidebook? Do others know? Consider reaching out to local experts (remember to bring a photo) for help. Resource specialists at Fish & Wildlife offices are eager to answer questions and share their knowledge with the public.

getting started in 5 exercisesBegin a nature journal and showcase your discoveries. Here’s a peak at one of my son’s earliest entries, The Elusive Brittle Star: An Hawai’ian Nature Study. Need help to get started? Check out my tutorial, Keeping a Nature Journal: Getting Started in 5 Exercises.

You may also be interested in a college level course, Nature Journaling in the Classroom. The course is offered through the Heritage Institute and optional, university credit is available.

Do a little research to learn more about the animals that live in the surf-swept coastline. How are they adapted to life in this physically demanding habitat? Compare and contrast the means of mobility of two animals commonly seen on California’s Central Coast: Ventura Beach: the Pacific Mole Crab and By-the-Wind Sailor. Make a list of the adaptations you have observed.

image of two marine invertebrates: By the Wind Sailor (jellyfish) and Pacific Mole CrabChallenge your kids to design their own plant or animal specially equipped to survive on the sandy shore. Draw a picture of the organism or build a 3D model. Tell how it is adapted to life here.

Take Action to Protect the Sandy Shore

As a life long resident of the Oregon coast, the condition of our local beaches and ecosystems is very important to me. The idea of citizen science or “public participation in scientific research,” has also always been a passion of mine. Here are a few ideas in hopes of inspiring your family to get involved:

Take part in aBioBlitz –  an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. We took part in 2014 but they happen annually.

image collage of a young girl upcycling plastics to create artOrganize a family beach clean-up and do your part to spread the word about the dangers of single-use plastics like Washed Ashore

Feeling inspired? Collect plastic bottle caps to create a colorful mural and donate it to a local non-profit.

Just for fun, create a Labyrinth on the Beach and invite others to join you. Encourage participants to make a pledge to do their part to make a difference.

Guidebooks to the Sandy Shore & Other Habitats

The Beachcomber’s Guide to Marine Life in the Pacific Northwest by Thomas M. Niesen is one of my favorite marine ecology guides.  Each page is features incredible hand illustrations (by artist David Wood) that really capture the organism with a detailed simplicity.  Additionally, black and white images (though some are a little dark) and 16 pages of color photographs in the center of the book provide  excellent coverage.

Though this is not a pocket guide, Dr. Niesen writes in very clear language to help you identify what you are looking at, learn about its life habits, as well as its habitat. Organized with an emphasis on habitats and arrangement by type of organism within each habitat (sandy beach, estuaries, rocky intertidal, open ocean, etc.) is extremely helpful. Niesen also goes into great detail about the different tidal zones and the particular creatures you will find in each zone.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book ClubWelcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in July

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Seashore Observations Printable Activity from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study

Seashells by the Seashore | Notebooking Pages from Jenny at Faith & Good Works

Beach Scavenger Hunt from Emily at Table Life Blog

10 Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore from Eva at Eva Varga

Turtle in the Sea Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
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Using Film to Teach Animal Conservation: Elephant Poaching

My children and I have long been advocates for animals, the community, and the environment. When the kids were younger we were actively involved in Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots programs – undertaking a variety of animal conservation projects. Now as teens, we have turned our attention to scouting but the emphasis on conservation is still a major focus of our activities.

image of an adult African elephant on the savanna with text Using Film to Teach Animal Conservation: Elephant Poaching @EvaVarga.net

I was given an opportunity to preview this film for free before it’s release date and am being compensated for my time in preparing this post.
As always, all opinions are my own. This post may contain affiliate advertisement links to 3rd party sites.

As a family, travel is also very important to us. We have traveled to China, Peru, Ecuador, the Galápagos islands, and several countries in Europe.  Through each of these experiences, sustainable agriculture and trade practices are discussed. Presently, we are preparing for a holiday in Thailand later this year and we are carefully reviewing the numerous companies that cater to tourists – of particular concern are companies that advertise elephant rides or shows. Bafflingly, the nation has yet to implement laws to protect its captive elephant population. It is a complex issue.

There are thought to be fewer than 5000 elephants left in Thailand, yet a whopping 4000 of them are captive. Following Thailand’s 1989 ban on using elephants for logging, many mahouts claim that without charging tourists for rides and shows, they and their animals would starve – elephants cost a minimum of 1000B per day to feed properly.

In addition to the ban on elephant logging, the trade of ivory from elephant tusks has also been banned since 1989. However, the demand continues in many countries. Since a third of the elephant’s tusk is embedded in its head, poachers kill the animals in order to harvest the ivory. Unfortunately, studies have shown that many consumers do not realize this. Raising awareness is a huge step to help combat poaching and to ensure the survival of elephants.

Natural History of Elephants

Elephants have been part of human culture for thousands of years and are similar to us in many ways. They live in large, complex social families who communicate and interact daily. They are intelligent, having the largest brain of all terrestrial animals today.

Elephants benefit their ecosystem by fertilizing the soil with their dung, digging water holes which benefit themselves and other wildlife, and by creating paths through the landscape as they travel. As elephant and human populations grown, conflict for resources is on the rise. People will need to make important conservation decisions about elephants to ensure their future.

One of the major concerns of the ivory trade is the alarming changes in the behavior of African elephants. Those on the front lines studying elephant behavior witness the alarming effect poaching has had on the elephants that survive – scientists agree that survivors of poaching are stressed.

Their fears can disrupt the elephants’ complex matriarchal social structure, reduce their success in breeding, and increase their antagonism toward humans. Elephants mourn their deceased companions, demonstrating rituals that include touching the remains and carrying the deceased elephant’s bones or tusks with them.

movie poster for Phoenix Wilder: And the Great Elephant AdventureAnimal Conservation Lessons

Teaching children about threats to wildlife and animal conservation is not easy. Thought must be given to the age of the child as well as their individual disposition.

To introduce young children to poaching, you can start with a family movie night to teach about elephant poaching. Phoenix Wilder: and The Great Elephant Adventure is an excellent place to start as it is aimed at young children, introducing the subject in a gentle manner.

The film stars Sam Ash Arnold as Phoenix and Elizabeth Hurley as Aunt Sarah. It was written, directed, and produced by Emmy-nominated producer, director, and writer Richard Boddington (of Against the Wilds films).

My children and I enjoyed watching the film recently and it provided a great tie-in to our upcoming holiday. We particularly enjoyed the cinematography of the film and interview at the end with Dr. Richard Leakey, the second of the three sons of the archaeologists Louis Leakey (Jane Goodall’s mentor) and Mary Leakey.

Get Involved

After a family discussion, lessons and activities can be introduced to broaden the child’s understanding of elephant poaching. Young children can create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast Asian and African elephants and create posters to teach others about the ecological importance of elephants. Older students can debate poaching and wildlife conservation laws and create advocacy posters to raise awareness.

  • Instead of gifts, ask guests to donate to the International Elephant Foundation for the holidays or your birthday.
  • “Adopt” and elephant through an conservation organization or your local accredited zoo where your funds help protect elephants and their homes worldwide
  • Choose jewelry or souvenirs made from the Tagua nut – a great alternative – instead of ivory.
  • Write a letter to elected officials urging them to support animal conservation and a ban on ivory.
  • Have a sustainable palm-oil free bake sale to raise awareness and donate funds to a conservation group.

Seek out curriculum and materials in conservation biology, ecology, and natural resource management to further your study of elephants and animal conservation issues. Here are a few links I have gathered with free resources to help you get started:

Watch Phoenix Wilder: And the Great Elephant Adventure

Phoenix Wilder, And The Great Elephant Adventure will be released in theaters nationwide on April 16,  2018, at 6 p.m. local time, which also happens to be World Elephant Day.

To find out which theater nearest you will have the film, enter your zip code at this website. Then, pre-order your tickets for easy  film-going.

Phoenix Wilder: And The Great Elephant Adventure Trailer from Richard DC Boddington on Vimeo.

Win 5 Tickets for Your Family 

Enter to win 5 tickets to see Phoenix Wilder: And the Great Elephant Adventure on April 16th, 2018 in a theater near you. 20 winners will get 5 passes to see the movie at closest theater to them. The giveaway begins 03/11/2018 10:00 pm and ends 03/28/2018 03:00 am. Follow the instructions on the widget below to enter for your chance to win.

What Are You Doing for Others? Inspiring Youth to Make a Difference

There has been a tremendous amount of discourse regarding the current political climate in our nation. I have abstained from getting involved in these discussions as I do not wish to offend or make anyone uncomfortable.

The other day, however, my sister-in-law directly asked me for my opinion. In response to her question, I admit I was vague and I didn’t go into any detail about my political opinion. I did state though that it is my hope that through the events of the past year, perhaps our youth will be more engaged in politics and causes for which they feel impassioned.

“I have never been interested in politics myself,” I stated. “Yet, what I observe is that people are beginning to realize their voice – their vote – makes a difference. They are finding the courage to speak up and to speak out rather than stand by as ideal observers.”

What Are You Doing for Others? Inspiring Youth to Make a Difference @EvaVarga.netWhen we were traveling through the East Coast this past fall, we visited numerous national monuments and historical landmarks. Famous quotations were often inscribed in the granite and I would read these aloud as we walked. My daughter photographed many and copied her favorites into her journal including,

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I had carefully coordinated our history studies prior to our departure to align with this trip. Much of our family discussions thereby revolved around historical events and the impact of our nation’s past leaders.

Study Rhetoric and Fallacies of Logic

In the evening, we would watch some of the presidential debates. We also watched snippets of previously recorded presidential debates as well as speeches delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. We made note of their speaking style and the way in which they interacted with the other debaters and moderators.

When the kids were younger, we enjoying reading together The Fallacy Detective. It is fascinating to witness them continue to recognize these fallacies in others. It is especially humorous when the catch their own father special pleading.

Now that they are a little older, I look forward to incorporating more lessons on debate and rhetoric, a skill I feel is significantly lacking in most school curricula. As such, I have ordered a copy of The Discovery of Deduction which uses methods such as Socratic dialogue, discussion, and other subjects areas to teach dialectic students the art of rhetoric.

Legacy Dr MLKTake Action & Get Involved

A few years ago, I wrote a post for Multicultural Kid Blogs entitled, He Had a Dream: The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Throughout my post, I explore ideas and opportunities for today’s youth to get involved and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Consider also the example of Dr. Jane Goodall who stated Every individual matters, every individual has a role to play, every individual can make a difference

 

Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep: An Unexpected Nature Study

I grew up on the Oregon Coast in beautiful Bandon by the Sea. I spent many a day on the shoreline investigating the marine invertebrates under the rock crevices and walking the sandy beaches. My brothers and I longed for the minus tides, providing us the rare opportunity to go spelunking in the sea caves just off shore. These rocky islands are now protected areas for marine bird nesting habitat but back in the 70s, it was our playground.

dune geology tunicates

Dune geology features: foredune and deflation plain

Tracking Marine Debris

In all the years I have spent on the beach, I have found a diverse amount of debris and organisms in varying states of decay. I probably spend an equal amount of time sifting through the wrack on the high tide line as I do in wave zone digging in the sand looking for mole crabs.

I have found marine debris from Japan evidenced by the kanji script. An occasional flip flop or fishing net remnants are not uncommon. While immersing myself in marine biology courses at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology one summer, I even found several squid egg cases that washed ashore after a winter storm, providing my peers and I an opportunity to observe the development up close. Yet, once in a while, I am still surprised at what washes ashore.

tunicates

Walking along the ATV trail across the deflation plain

This past holiday weekend, my family and I enjoyed a leisurely walk on the beach near our home. Our goal was to field test a new marine debris app, a joint initiative between the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. The tracker app allows you to help make a difference by checking in when you find trash on our coastlines and waterways.*

We drove out to the North Spit and thereafter began our excursion through the deflation plain. We soon discovered, however, that there was too much standing water to stick to the trail that meandered through the wetland area. We thus walked along the ATV road until we reached the small foredune. Just a few feet up and over and we arrived on the sandy beach.

No sooner did we arrive at the shore and we immediately were captivated by the presence of a strange organic material that was strewn across the beach for miles. Upon first glance, it looked like a hard plastic tube resembling a sea cucumber. My first suspicion turned out to be incorrect, however. Upon returning home, I learned that what we had found were actually colonial tunicates. Fascinating!

tunicates rare creatures

Planktonic salps, Pyrosoma atlanticum, strewn across the beach.

What are Tunicates?

This bizarre and rarely-seen creature is called a pyrosome, a species of pelagic colonial tunicates. Their scientific name, Pyrosoma atlanticum, is derived from the Greek words pyro meaning ‘fire’ and soma meaning ‘body’ which refers to the fact that they are known for bright displays of bioluminescence.

Pyrosoma atlanticum are one of the few pyrosomes that make it to the west coast of the U.S. The species found here are less than a foot but can get as long as 24 inches. Largely colorless, they can show up as pink, grayish or purple-green.

tunicates invertebrates

A specimen of the colonial tunicate, Pyrosoma atlanticum 

These massive colonies of cloned creatures are related to a kind of jellyfish called a slap. A tunicate is a marine invertebrate animal, a member of the subphylum Tunicata, which is part of the Chordata, a phylum which includes all animals with dorsal nerve cords and notochords.

Each individual organism is about 1 cm long – less than a third of an inch. They are all connected by tissue and in turn form this colony that looks like a plastic tube. The recent winter storms have caused them to strand on the shores and have been found in all areas of the coast.

Usually found in temperate waters as low as 800 meters. The colony of animals is comprised of thousands of individual zooids and moves through the water column by the means of cilia (an organelle found in eukaryotic cells that project from the much larger cell body).

As they move through the water column, sometimes close to the surface and sometimes as far down as 2600 feet, they filter plankton out of the water for food. As it sucks water in, it then pushes it back out, thereby propelling it through the ocean. It does all this via one opening only, so it moves incredibly slow.

For more images of Pyrosoma, check out Bob Perry’s photographs. Included in his work are a few pseudoconchs (false shells) of the pelagic mollusk Corolla which we similarly found.zoologyIf you are interested in learning more about invertebrates with your students, I encourage you to look into the Amazing Animals curriculum unit I have written to introduce middle level students to zoology. This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

Due to our fascination with these rare creatures, we didn’t spend as much time with the debris tracking app as I had intended. We’ll give it a go another time.

Finishing Strong: Integrating Geography & History Activities

Welcome to Finishing Strong ~ a weekly link-up dedicated to families homeschooling middle & high school kids. Each Wednesday, moms just like you share their best tips, encouragement, advice, and more for teaching older kids at home.Finishing-Strong-500x500

Finishing Strong is hosted by me here at EvaVarga along with my friends – Heather from Blog She Wrote, Megan and Susan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight. Each week, we collectively highlight the post that received the most clicks. We also choose a few posts that most appealed to us as individuals.

Be sure to join us next week as we reach a huge milestone. We’ll be celebrating our 100th edition of Finishing Strong with a fabulous $100 cash giveaway!


In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein famously plays a high school teacher who drones on about the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act while his students slump at their desks in a collective stupor. For many kids, that’s history: an endless catalog of disconnected dates and names, passed down like scripture from the state textbook, seldom questioned and quickly forgotten.

Taught well, geography and history are fascinating topics and two that I love to teach. My favorite way to teach social studies is through travel. Nothing quite compares to seeing historic sites and walking in the footsteps of those who made history. These past couple of weeks, my family has been inundated with the history of our country as we’ve walked the Freedom Trail in Boston and talked with interpreters in Gettysburg and Philadelphia. I can’t wait to share it all with you.

Meet Historical Figures at a Living History Event @EvaVarga.net

I know it is not always feasible to travel, especially for large families. There are a variety of creative ways to enrich geography and history studies. One of my favorite approaches is through primary source documents – letters, interviews, etc. Providing students opportunities to research historical figures and develop an engaging presentation they deliver in first person, brings history to life.


The most clicked-on post was An Inside Look at Our 2016-17 Homeschool Plans by Sara at Classically Homeschooling. It’s always fun to take a peak into the decisions and choices other families have made. Often we find inspiration in new curriculum materials and approaches to educating our children at home.

finishingstrong-geohistory

My favorite posts this past week focus on activities to inspire you to integrate geography and history into your curriculum.

A Cemetery Scavenger Hunt Makes a Great History Lesson shared by Cindy at Our Journey Westward. What better way to dig in to the history of your community than to learn more about the actual lives of the people who have made your town their home?

Amber Oliver’s How to Teach High School Geography at Bright Ideas Press. I love her statement, “While it is indeed impossible to learn all there is to know about this planet, its territories, and its people in just one course, it is quite manageable to give your child a good look at this world we live in from the comfort of your own home.”

One of the things I love best about traveling is sampling the wonderful regional dishes and local favorites. It is a fabulous way to learn about history and geography. I’ve selected Teaching Kids to Cook: Epcot Food & Wine by Megan at Education Possible because it provides a great example of how families can integrate these cultural experiences at home.

@ @ @

As always, thank you for helping us to make Finishing Strong a key resource for families who are homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

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Develop Your Student’s Science Inquiry Skills with BirdSleuth

When we lived in California we had a tropical bird-of-paradise in our yard. While it was not a native flower, we could agree that it was extravagant. When we traveled to Peru, we enjoyed a nature walk at the Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu where we observed over 100 different native orchid species in their natural habitat.

Tropical species provide an interesting point of discussion in the classroom, sparking questions such as: “Why are our local flowers different?” or “What characteristics do the wildflowers we find here in North America share with tropical species?” These questions offer a perfect springboard into science inquiry.

inquiry-skills-birdsleuthWhat is Science Inquiry?

When most people think of science class, they picture classrooms of students all engaged in the same canned activity, following a scripted set of procedures that lead to a predictable outcome. Inquiry based science education is much more. Inquiry science engages kids in inquiry-based science lessons provides them with a way to explore on their own. It removes the teacher as somebody who is providing them with information that they need to memorize. Instead, the kids are experiencing, discovering, and developing their inquiry skills as they go. That is what real scientists do.

Although inquiry based instruction has been written about for decades, it is not widely used in science classrooms. Open inquiry, in particular, is often thought to be difficult to use in the classroom. Perhaps one explanation for this is the perceived difficulty in moving students toward the development of experimental questions.

Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.

Many home educators have experience in leading their children through guided nature studies and observations. Keeping a nature journal is a popular pastime amongst many.  When we take a group of kids outside, however, you will quickly observe that the majority of their questions are reference questions. Questions they can answer relatively easily with experience identifying and using reliable sources.

If your goal is for students to generate questions that inspire investigations, then you need to be able to guide learners into reframing their questions. The Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices online course is a wonderful guide designed to help you – the educator – do just that.

integrating-science-inquiryScience Inquiry Skills for Educators

If you wish to go further with inquiry and citizen science, I strongly recommend Cornell University’s BirdSleuth online course Integrating Inquiry for Educators. They have designed this self-paced course to help educators explore the process of science inquiry and investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation.

I was provided free access to this course in exchange for an honest review. Having completed the course, I would gladly have paid three times the course fee of just $49. I was very happy with the design of the course as well as how the material was delivered. The course text (eBook option is FREE), videos, assigned NSTA reading materials, case studies, interactive quizzes, and the application assignments were all nicely balanced.

The online course both challenged and piqued my interest in science inquiry. I am now – more than before – looking forward to engaging my kids in a inquiry based science explorations in the years to come.

You can also elect to earn two optional Continuing Education Units (CEUs) if you successfully complete the course. All online materials will be available to you for six months following your enrollment.

Whether you choose to enroll or not, you can support student inquiry by taking the opportunity to download their free Investigating Evidence lessons which will guide you towards supporting scientific questions through citizen science. To accompany these lessons, they have also compiled an extensive list of resources including power points and videos.

Enroll Today

Publish Student Work

In addition to the course materials and other online resources, their annual publication BirdSleuth Investigator provides students with an opportunity to share their research. You will find rich pieces of work done by students in grades K-12 throughout the country. Written by and for students, is also beautifully illustrated by youth.

The goal with BirdSleuth Investigator is to encourage students to pursue their scientific interests through inquiry and investigation by showing them that their hard work can get published. They accept bird-related submissions from all students. Submissions can take the form of artwork, poetry, or scientific reports; anything that a student has truly put effort into has the potential to get published.

To share your students’ projects with us, submit them here. Students certainly feel rewarded for their hard work when they find their work in a published journal! Read the submission guidelines for more details.