Science Bloggers for Students DonorsChoose Challenge

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Planting Trees for Peace - The Green Belt Movement


As an additional celebratory nod to Arbor Day, I would like to bring your attention to an International effort called the The Green Belt Movement. I first learned about this amazing program my first year of graduate school when my department co-sponsored a lecture by Dr. Wangari Maathai, the founder of this movement. She is a biologist, an environmentalist, and a human rights advocate. What started as a simple program, to get the women of rural Kenya to plant trees to address their dire needs for clean drinking water, stable soil for growing food and safety, and fire wood for fuel became a worldwide phenomenon. Before the Green Belt Movement, women were walking for hours to get to water sources and to gather fire wood, only to have their commute increase more and more each day. Trees, which were once more prominent in the landscape had been removed for new developments, were sorely missed and the ecological impacts (and the related political unrest) were growing. The recent NPR’s Speaking of Faith episode had and an interview with Dr. Wangari Maathai . At the lecture I attended years ago (before she won the Nobel Peace Prize) and on the radio, I must echo Krista Tippet’s sentiments, she is an awesome personality. I am honored that I had the opportunity to hear speak in person and meet her.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Plant and nurture your trees

Trees often seem so stalwart and strong. But they do require some tending, too. Newly planted trees are especially important. Young trees are vulnerable to animal predation or nibbling from deer, rabbits, field mice and insects.






This is a young tree that is infected with a colony of tent catepillars. I got this picture just in time, because the neighbors that take care of the trees and plants on this street and the medium where this street grows were planning to kill these 'pests' in the coming days. These insects -though apart of the natural process and food web - will kill young trees.





So you might need to help out young trees at first, but it is worth it.




If you are planting trees on your property be sure it is the Right tree in the right place. Also make sure you check on the health of tree and take care of it. And if possible, definitely plant trees and shrubs that are native to your region. Planting native trees require less care because they are adapted to the environmental conditions – the heat, humidity, cold, amount of water, and insects. Non-native trees have to be watered and perhaps pruned to control their growth.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why Trees are so great!

To follow up on the National Arbor Day post, I want to share

8 Reasons why city trees are so great



1. Trees provide shade on a hot, sunny day.

2. Trees provide our wildlife neighbors with homes, food, and hiding places which makes bird watching easier.


3. Can lower our utility bills because they block the sun and wind, therefore we need to burn less energy to keep our homes comfortable.

4. The roots of trees stabilize the soil and dirt to help reduce erosion from wind and rain.

5. Trees bring forth beautiful and fragrant flowers in the spring.


6. Some trees bear delicious fruit and nuts - for free.

7. Trees help bring up the property value of your home.

8. Trees make your neighborhood look beautiful and inviting.



To learn more about why trees are so great, Check out this news article about trees.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Childhood memories of my outdoor education

I think it is important for young people, heck all people, to understand the whole world around them. For me, I am passionate about young people learning about the science in everything around them. Science is everywhere not just the fancy science lab class - that they won't let you in and use. Science is ubiquitous, but so many kids avoid it not realizing that everything they do, observe, and experience are examples of "Everyday Science".

Here's an experimental school that doing things a little different. German Kindergarteners Answering Call of the Wild. It's an outdoor school! Not a classroom, but the whole school. Kids are outside, in elements, all day - rain or shine. It's a wild and crazy idea but it's actually not that different from my summer experiences as a child. My mother worked for the city parks division. She was one of 2 adult workers at a neighborhood city park that would attract over a hundred kids a day. There were a few structured activities, but mostly the kids (including me) played games like tag and not it, jump rope, ball games like basketball (mostly the big boys), 4-square, wiffle ball, dodge ball, kickball. About once a week a roving city park worker came by for a fun structured activity - to learn a dance routine or walk on that giant planet ball or something.

But it was a blast. I credit my mother to getting me hooked to being outdoors - rain or shine - and getting dirty. I experienced nature in an urban setting every day. Some neat tricks she introduced me to included 4-leaf clover hunting and nature crafts. This was especially popular among the girls who tended to play fewer team sports than the boys. We'd collect wild flowers and tall grasses and make nature bouquets. My park included a little run-off tube (read artificial wetland) so cat tails and weeping willows were there.

Though I didn't learn any scientific names and I was horrible at remembering even common names of things, I began to develop a connection to this place, this park and its many microhabitats. I had a visual and aesthetic vocabulary, but being all of age 6, 7, 8, I didn't yet have the word vocabulary. But I knew under the big tree (probably an oak, now that I think back) everyone would hang out and eat lunch and cool off. There was no grass there, only silky light colored dirt and June bugs could be found. By the run-off tube, there were ALWAYS mosquitoes and dragonflies. The plants were taller and itchier there, too.
Out at the playing field it was a mix of grass, clover, dandelions, and 'regular grass'. On the plains of the park, it was mostly clover - white clover I would later come to know - and when it got tall and thick, I had to watch out for hiding garter snakes. But this field was always my favorite. (maybe that's why I LOVE prairies. to this day, prairie grasslands are my favorite biomes.) I'd hunt for 4 leaf clovers all day... and make clover flower garlands, jump ropes and hair wreaths. And there were ALWAYS small fuzzy bees there. Not the big bright yellow bumble bees -- smaller, but just as fuzzy. I was always worried about stepping or lying on one and getting stung. But it never happened.

Hmm, I didn't know it then, but I was young naturalist. And it is those memories that I think back on when I remind myself that urban ecology is a great and worthwhile area of study and foundation of life science for inner-city kids.

I hope everyone spends the rest of this gorgeous spring making memories while having your own Urban Science Adventures! (c)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Happy Arbor Day!

Today is National Arbor Day. Since 1872, Americans have celebrated trees and their beauty and benefits. And communities are encouraged to plant and nurture trees on this day.


I have included several photos of beautiful tree-lined streets. Trees are a great addition to a community. In fact, several communities have even earned the distinction of being Tree City, USA.
Trees are the foundation of mini urban oases. Trees offer shade, cool respite and even reprieve from wind and rain. In the spring, the flowers are visual and olfactory tree and offer habitat to our ‘wild neighbors’ –squirrels, raccoons, opossums, bees, ants, butterflies, moths, and birds.




bird nest in a young red bud tree













Be sure to get out and enjoy the trees in your neighborhood.








trees in an empty urban lot

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wildlife in the News


Turkeys stroll through in the inner-core suburbs of St. Louis, MO. Is that a wild turkey on my roof? Yes it is. Earlier this month, residents in nearby subdivisions were startled to see an adult male and companion female turkey slowly meandering northward through back yards, crossing streets and walking over houses.


photo credit - reader submitted photo to the St. Louis Suburban Journals.



This is an interesting news story about memory and response - in an invertebrate! One things I won't forget is my first encounter with crayfish. I was helping to rebuild a stream in the George Washington National Forest. I was standing in the medium flowing stream with water up to my hips. I was attending Natural Resources Career Camp with 29 other high school kids from the Southeast United States. As I was reaching in the water to move, place and secure rocks and boulders, my gloves would get pinched by these "little lobsters". I'd have to carefully removed each one, but everytime I reached in the cool water, another would grab ahold. By the end of the day my pants were ticked all over with crayfish. It was an amazing experience.





Oh, this is a must see. Researchers had hidden cameras up in the forest and found bears scratching heir backs on trees. But it looks like a cure little dance. They spliced and set the footage to groovy music.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Urban Wildlife Watch - Redbuds

I visited the Missouri State Nursery a couple of weeks ago to pick up some tree seedlings for a public program. We picked up 1000 Redbud tree saplings. Its common name is Eastern Redbud and the scientific name is Cercis canadensis. Since learning about these trees and how to identify them, I'm suddenly noticing them everywhere. They are in bloom now and they have a very pretty and distinctive flower.

Maybe the buds of the tree are red, but the flowers, even in the early stages are a very pretty purple and lavender. And the flowers come right off of the stem. I've noticed them as yard trees, ornamental trees along streets and in parks. Most are small, but they can get big, up to 30 feet or so. I noticed many larger trees along the highway. It is a very pretty sight to see the brilliant purple against the green grass and loosely leaved spring trees.

















Redbud is a Missouri native tree and growing native plants, grasses, trees, and flowers is encouraged. Redbuds are lovely trees are nice additions to the urban landscape. Consider planting this beautiful tree (that also provides habitat to other wildlife like birds) instead of non-native ornamental trees like barren pear trees.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Recommended Children's Science Literature - Book Reviews 2

The month of April celebrates National Library Week (April 13-19)! To celebrate, I will post Book reviews of Children's Science Literature.
Here are three books, each a finalist in the 2007 Animal Behavior Society Children’s Book Award for best Animal Behavior book.


Octopuses
by Sandra Markle

Maybe it’s me, but I’m still learning so much about invertebrate sea animals. This trade book is the perfect primer for Octopus behavior for youth and adults alike. Octopuses have so many cleaver ways of escaping predators – color camouflage, can change color and pattern and texture to resemble habitat surfaces, and they can morph shape and color to resemble other sea animals. Plus the glossary section is complete and perfect. The Pictures are phenomenal!

B&N Synopsis
Octopuses are predators. They use their eight arms to catch crabs and all kinds of shellfish to eat. But octopuses are prey too. To defend themselves, they distract enemies by squirting ink into the water, and then quickly make their escape. They can change color and shape to blend into their background or resemble another less-tasty animal. Some octopuses are poisonous and warn would-be predators by sporting bright colors. These special abilities help octopuses survive and thrive in the warm coral reefs and the cold depths of the ocean.


Where in the Wild: Camouflaged Creatures Concealed…and Revealed.
by David M. Schwartz, Yael Schy, Dwight Kuhn (Photographer)

This a great book for elementary students. The authors use poetry to cleverly describe how some animals hide in plain site. It’s amazing and so are the illustrations. It shows a picture of the camouflaged animal in its habitat. Then you open the flap it is reveals where the animal is in the shot. Great for inter-disciplinary lessons, too – Science and Language arts.

Naturally Wild Musicians: The Wondrous World of Animal Song
by Peter Christie

This book was great! Not like most other trade books. It provides perfectly described scenarios of animal communication through songs and singing. Many different species of animals, such as birds, katydids, frogs, toads, even fish use song to communicate with each other. They sing to attract mates, defend territories, duel with rivals, and hunt prey. It is a quick read and each section can be tackled on its own for shorter bursts of reading. And the illustrations are great.

Synopsis from B&N
Well-illustrated with photographs of animals in action, this book looks at how animals use music to communicate, to proliferate and to stay alive. The text is structured like a thesis, with each section stating and then supporting a fact about animal song. There are several funny anecdotes throughout the text, but no continual narrative line for those looking for an actual story about animal song. This text would be a good reference tool for lessons about animal behavior or music in nature.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Urban WIldlife Watch - Flying Squirrels


Photo credit: National Geographic and http://www.nassaucountyny.gov/


How do Flying Squirrels Fly?

As the name would imply, flying squirrels are better suited for air travel. Scientists from Missouri studied these animals and found that their bodies, from their legs and hips, to the extra skin along the sides of their bodies, to their tails, reveal that these little squirrels are built for gliding across the sky.

Flying squirrels, Glaucomys sabrinus, are small rodents about half the size of the more familiar tree squirrel. Like the tree squirrel they live in trees, preferably older hardwood forest habitats of hickory and oak, because older trees provide the ideal habitat they require. They live in tree cavities and rotten snags and eat lichens and fungi on the forest floor.

They are called flying squirrels because they can leap from a tree branch, sail across the night sky, and land on another tree branch or the ground more than 100 feet away. The extra fold of skin that runs from their front legs to their back legs is called a gliding membrane. The squirrel uses the gliding membrane like a sail and its long tail like a boat rudder to maneuver across the night sky. So flying squirrels don’t actually fly, they glide.

The scientists wanted to learn how flying squirrels are able to glide such amazing distances in the air. The objective of the study was to learn more about how this animal moves both in the air and in the trees. Scientists examined the dynamics of gliding locomotion such as take off or launch, gliding, and landing components and looked at its walking behavior on tree branches. Launch speed, landing speed, and glide distance were measured for each squirrel in the study. Using frame-by-frame digital photography, the researchers were able to slow down the action and measure the angle of the jump and landing. They also measured launch and landing forces using specially designed launching and landing branches. To analyze flying squirrels walking behavior, they used wooden dowels that simulated tree branches of different diameters to see if squirrels responded differently when walking on larger or smaller branches. Using frame-by-frame digital video they were able to closely examine each squirrel’s walking behavior. The researchers measured speed, stride, how much weight each foot supported with each step, and the amount of time each foot is on the dowel when the animal is walking.

The team of researchers found that the aerial locomotion of flying squirrels is quite impressive. Squirrels can take off at speeds of nearly 10 yards per second, meaning they can glide very long distances. The farther a squirrel glides, the faster it glides. They actually take off at higher speeds if they are gliding longer distances. And they speed up faster as they approach landing in longer glides. Typically, squirrels land at a 45 degree angle, but the landing angle increases with distance. Moreover, the average observed landing force is about 2.9 times the subject’s body weight. This is true for both heavy squirrels, like pregnant females, and smaller squirrels like juveniles. A squirrel’s size has nothing to do with how well or fast it glides. Furthermore, when flying squirrels aren’t flying, they’re walking, on tree branches, that is. No matter the size of branch, large or small, they walk. As the squirrels travel along a branch, they maintain a steady, relatively slow pace.

Why do flying squirrels fly, or rather glide? The authors did not directly test this question but they think that gliding gives these squirrels a great advantage in patchy forests habitats. Firstly, gliding requires less energy than walking, which allows for travel from one place to another very quickly. Second, long distance gliding is a great way to escape a predator. If a flying squirrel spots a predator, it can distance itself from that predator very quickly. Finally, gliding reduces travel time between food patches. Squirrels are able to visit more food patches over greater distances. In complex habitats, like the ones flying squirrels live in, getting from one patch to the next and escaping predators as quickly as possible is always a plus.

As a confirmation, the scientists also examined the lower anatomy of flying squirrels. They examined the hip and thigh bones of flying squirrels. Based on size, shape, and position of these bones the scientists found that flying squirrels seemed to be better designed for leaping and less for walking along branches. They believe this is one reason why these squirrels are able to achieve such strong take offs and able to glide so far.
ResearchBlogging.org
Scheibe, J., Paskins, K., Ferdous, S., & Birdsill, D. (2007). Kinematics and Functional Morphology of Leaping, Landing, and Branch Use in Glaucomys sabrinus Journal of Mammalogy, 88 (4), 850-861 DOI:

Monday, April 07, 2008

Urban Wildlife Watch - Robins are building nests


I was reading my MDC Natural Events Calendar and for today it reads “Robins and other backyard birds begin making nests”. Robins are very common urban wildlife habitants. I remember hearing as a child “if you see or hear the Robin sing, then you know it is spring.”
These birds do very well in city areas and are very common spring time and summer residents of urban areas.














This time of year, when they are building nests, you can catch them gathering twigs from fallen bushes and little trees. Shorts grasses are their ideal habitat, so they love lawns. Backyards and city parks are offer lots of lawns for them to occupy and that may another reason why they do so well in urban and suburban areas. Prior to mating, several male and female robins gather on open lawns. I suspect the males are displaying to attract females.














Robins are nest builders. They prefer building nest in the bend of a medium or small tree. The bend is that point where a branch comes off from the main trunk. The nests aren’t very big, about the size of a large cereal bowl, but not as large as a salad or serving bowl. The other neat thing about robins – they have the most beautifully colored eggs – a turquoise blue.


After young hatch free the female will discard the shell pieces, so you may be able to find some on the ground nearby if you know where a robin’s nest is.When the young arrive, lawns are perfect hunting grounds for nutritious juicy worms to feed the young. And females usually have 2 broods of young.
Keep your eyes open!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

National Public Health Week - April 7-13. The Environment and our Public Health. It is time to Take Action!

The National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) is proudly joining the American Public Health Association (APHA) as a cosponsor of

National Public Health Week 2008

This year's theme is Climate Change: Our Health in Balance.


National Public Health Week 2008 - April 7-13, 2008

Our lives are connected to the larger world. City and sub-urban living, with all of its conveniences can really remove us from the rest of the world. Our sturdy homes and shelters and office buildings make us feel safe from the outside elements. Appliances make daily life less physically taxing and give us more time for leisure. And our electronics keep us entertained and free from boredom. The NCSE and the APHA, one is an organization of environmental scientists and the other of public health researchers and administrators, have come together for one purpose --to promote awareness about the interconnectedness of the health of our planet and its people.

It's time we make the connection between the way we lead our lives, our impact on the planet, and the planet’s impact on our health.


TAKE ACTION! Sign the pledge. You can go online starting Monday, April 7, 2008.

During National Public Health Week 2008 APHA is encouraging individuals, families and communities to change their behavior in five important ways. Each day a new focus is addressed.

Monday: Be Prepared.
Inform yourself about the health impacts of climate change and climate change issues facing your community, and take actions to prepare for possible emergencies.
Tuesday: Travel Differently.
Leave the car at home one day, and take public transportation. Walk or bike, but if you need to drive, carpool – and telecommute if you can.
Wednesday: Eat Differently. Buy food from a community farmer’s market that doesn’t travel across the country to get to you. Eat more vegetables, and less meat.
Thursday: Green Your Work.
Use recycled paper if you don’t already, and even if you do, print less often and on both sides of the paper. Set your computer to energy-saver mode and buy eco-friendly office furniture.
Friday: Green Your Home.
Seal and insulate your home and replace air filters frequently to cut costs and save energy. Reduce your use of wasteful products, and reuse or recycle the products you do use. Conserve water whenever possible.



For more info:
Visit the website
Check out the Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance Toolkit. The toolkit includes fact sheets, media outreach materials, suggested community events, legislative information, resources, and activities for children and teachers to use throughout NPHW

Friday, April 04, 2008

Happy April - Environmental Awareness Month

April showers bring May Flowers. It's the month of spring and sunshine and rain puddles and fresh green field with flowers blooming.

April is the best, no wonder this month hosts so many Environmental Awareness Days, such as Arbor Day and Earth Day.

Even if you live in the city and your little green heaven is only your neighborhood park, that's great. Celebrate it. Urban Ecology is inclusive of ALL of the plant and wildlife that shares space with human dwellings. And these small little oases are important, very important to the one or two animals or plants that call these spots home. But if you want to get more involved, promote these habitats. Yeah, it starts off small, but many small little plots and lots of lawns, wild flower gardens, and side walk trees add up. After a while, neighboring backyards, open-green lots, those little patches of grass by the side walk, create a green quilt of habitat patches. These patches are places for bugs and worms and insects to gather in the grass and soil. Soon, birds like robins, jays, and sparrows will visit these patches for food. Anywhere there are trees and bushes squirrels and chipmunks and rabbits are sure to follow.


Keep your eyes open, and I'll bet your neighborhood is already host to it's own Wild Kingdom of Urban Wildlife.
photo credit: www.cityfarmer.org

Happy Environmental Awareness Month!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Recommended Children's Science Literature - Book Reviews

The month of April celebrates National Library Week (April 13-19)! To celebrate, I will post Book reviews of Children's Science Literature.

I am featuring two books, companion books actually, both published by Scholastic , 2007 as a part of their Undersea Encounters Series.


Synopsis from B&N:
Experience an underwater adventure! From sea dragons and octopuses to coral reefs and kelp forests, Undersea Encounters takes young readers to the ocean depths like never before. Featuring stunning close-up pictures by award-winning National Geographic photographer David Hall, each book has an eye-catching design for maximum kid appeal. Also included are quick facts and sidebars, table of contents, glossary, index, and books and websites for further reading. More than any other series, Undersea Encounters paints a complete and fascinating picture of the marine environment.

Predators of the Sea
by Mary Jo Rhodes, and David Hall,(Photographer)


This Trade book provided great descriptions of the predatory behavior of several species. Everything is covered from the brute strength of starfish to the cleverness of scorpion fish, this book introduces young readers to the variety of tactics different sea animals use to catch dinner. The book is filled with excellent color photos that are sure to engage students. Plus, the book is very easy to read.


Survival Secrets of of Sea Animals by Mary Jo Rhodes, and David Hall, (Photographer)

This book is great. I loved it. As a companion to Predators, it explains all of the ways different sea animals avoid and wriggle their ways out the clutches of the most clever sea predators. The photos are excellent and the text is engaging. I highly recommend this book for young readers and environmental educators, too.

These books are a great way to introduce the ecological concept of predator-prey dynamics to students in intermediate grades (3-5). It's a perfect way to get students apply and evaluate what they comprehend. Students can compare and contrast the adaptations and behavioral tactics of these sea "foes".
The Student Reviewers of Clay Elementary really enjoyed the up-close and detailed pictures of the animals. The colors and adaptive weapons and tactics of the sean animals were very interesting to them. They found the book very easy to read and understand...That's always a good thing to hear.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Improving outreach - Growing the Blog

I've been concerned about growing the reach of this blog. I realize that my original focus is falling short. That's not a bad thing. I am learning something important about outreach. I have failed to reach out to other kindred spirits - science educators, environmental educators, outdoor educators - who blog. Not as easy as I thought it should be. I can't yet find a directory or aggregate for science education related blogs. Even technorati bounced back alot of stuff that seemed off base.

I finally googled it, here's what I've come up with.

Citizen Science Projects - Real people, doing real science.
Science Fair Projects Blog - A blog of science fair projects, experiments, how-to information, sources for supplies.
science-projects - http://science-projects.blogspot.com/
Squidoo : Lens : Demonstration Science Projects - Need to demonstrate a science project in front of the class? Here's some science projects that make great demonstrations! #1 Overnight Science...
Squidoo : Lens : Science Projects - Overnight science projects - projects for science fairs that you can start and finish in 24 hours - links to more involved ones too!


I'll check these out and let you know what I think. Also, I realize that commenting on other blogs is a big deal too. The thing is, most people comment on controversial topics. If I tend to agree with post, I usually nod, but don't post. I suspect that happens with my entries. I get traffic, but comments are low.

It's all about finding an audience.

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