Environmental Science: How Species Respond to Environmental Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural Environmental Changes

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

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

Why Should We Care?

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

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

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

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

How Do Caterpillars Respond to Stimuli?

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

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

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

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

How Do Aquatic Organisms Respond to Stimuli?

Materials

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

Procedure

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

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

Environmental Science Endangered SpeciesEnvironmental Changes & Endangered Species

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


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

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 in my post, Environmental Science: How Species Respond to Environmental Changes.

Finishing Strong #130: Middle School Curriculum & Traditions

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-500x500I am delighted that families homeschooling middle and high school age students are coming together and finding inspiration in one another. That has been the goal of Finishing Strong since its inception. Thank you!!

Finishing Strong is hosted by me here at EvaVarga along with my friends – Heather from Blog She Wrote, Megan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight.

I know you will find the posts that have been shared with us inspiring! Grab a cup of tea, kick back, and take some time to check out the wonderful posts shared below. What are your favorites

riparian area studyEcology Studies for Middle School

As the kids have grown and become more independent in their studies, the delivery of lessons has also changed. I no longer coordinate a STEM Club for my kiddos but I do periodically teach lessons to my son’s boy scout troop as part of their rank requirements or for a merit badge.

In the post, The Many Parts of a Streambank, I share an activity I recently taught in which we learned about the ecology of a stream bank. One of their favorite parts of this lesson was calculated the stream flow rate.

In the month of September, each Sunday I will share a post relaying the activities I used to teach the Environmental Science and Soil & Water Conservation merit badges. Follow along to put together a  Ecology unit for your middle school students.


Finishing Strong

We hope you’ll take some time to check out the amazing posts that have been shared with us. We are so thankful to all of our readers and contributors who help make Finishing Strong a key resource for everyone homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

The top posts shared last week

Below are a couple of the posts I most enjoyed from last week. Additionally, we celebrate our first tie – two posts each received the most clicks. How cool is that?!8th Grade CurriculumOur 8th Grade Homeschool Curriculum Choices

from Megan at Education Possible ~ I love the literature Megan and her daughter Marianna have selected for history. I hadn’t previously considered a literature based study but now I am so intrigued. I want to put something together of ourselves.

7th Grade CurriculumOur 7th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

from Michelle at Freely Learned ~ She and her son are using Writing & Rhetoric books 7 and 8 – just like my son. I look forward to following along.

5 Days of STEM Activities – Solar Cars

from Pat of Pat and Candy ~ This first post from a series of 5 is a review of a kit from Pitsco Education. She walks you through their experience … these little cars look like a lot of fun! I look forward to reading the other STEM posts in her series.

Back to School Traditions for Middle School Homeschoolers

from Latonya at Joy in the Ordinary ~ Latonya shares several ideas for new back-to-school traditions. I particularly liked the time allocation chart and will most certainly be adding this into our lessons – perhaps on a quarterly basis to just check in. As she says, we [both students and adults] “aren’t always cognizant of the ways that they use their time…”

@ @ @

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.

What are you going to share with us this week?

Guidelines:

  1. Link up to 3 posts from your blog. Make sure you use the exact URL to the post, not to your home page. You can add any post related to homeschooling middle and high school students. Posts unrelated to that will be removed.
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  3. Grab our button to add to your post after you link it up. Each week we will be choosing our favorite posts to highlight on all 4 sites. If you were featured, we would love for you to use the “I was featured” button.
  4. The linky will go live on each co-host’s blog each Wednesday at 6am EST, and will be live until Tuesday at 11:55 pm.

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Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

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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.

 

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.