Monday, May 09, 2016

Community Support: Budding Naturalists & Standards-Based Science Study

A tank in each classroom hosts
 13-14 spadefoot tadpoles
Thanks to the support of so many, our curriculum is focused, in part, on our budding naturalists. What will we do to inspire these young scientists, and how will all of this science, naturalist, and STEAM study help them to reap inspiration from nature, study Massachusetts' state science standards, and lead them forward to care for and protect our natural environment too?

This is the current stage of our endangered spadefoot tadpoles.
Our efforts start with our spadefoot toad tadpoles. Thanks to our local Wayland Public Schools Foundation, (WPSF) we were able to buy three five-gallon tanks for the tiny tadpoles. The PTO chipped in too and funded the pumps, tubing, and other necessary equipment. They also paid for a related chapter book for read aloud, Night of the Spadefoot Toads, and the fee to have ecologist and local endangered species expert, Brian Wyndmiller from Grassroots Wildlife Conservation come in and talk to us. In addition, the SUASCO Rivers Study Grant from Nyanza awarded to Drumlin Farm and Massachusetts Audubon is further supporting our efforts with classroom visits, a field study at Great Meadows in Concord, and a naturalist guide training for high school students, parents, and colleagues. Hopefully we'll successfully nurture these tadpoles into toads and have the opportunity to release them into their natural habitat before the school year ends. This study matches an overall focus of the State's science standards that notes, "Students study that organisms do not exist in isolation and that animals, plants, and their environments connect to, interact with, and are influenced by each other." Also we hope to "use a a flow cart or diagram model to describe that the food animals digest contains energy that was once energy from the sun, and provides energy and nutrients for life processes including body repair, growth, motion, body warmth, and reproduction." I have also learned that the decomposer, fungi, is a terrific way to clean up an oil spill and when we do that STEAM project we will likely include fungi as one of the potential cleaning agents.

The Town's Green Team has done a terrific job creating
a garden and starting composting efforts at our school.
The next focus of our naturalist study focuses on composting. Composting is part of the fifth grade science standards for the State of Massachusetts. A local Wayland enthusiast and Transition Framingham are supporting our efforts in this regard. They will come to our school to introduce students to what it means to compost and begin our efforts as part of the overall school composting endeavor, an endeavor that's associated with our successful school garden. This project ties nicely with our upcoming STEAM biodome project.

This effort also matches the following fifth grade state science standards:
  • "They also learn about the connections and relationships among plants and animals, and the ecosystems within which they live, to show how matter and energy are cycled through these.
  • Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among producers, consumers, decomposers, and the air, water, and soil in the environment to show that plants produce sugars and plant materials, show that animals can eat plants and/or other animals for food, and show that some organisms, including fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms and recycle some materials back to the air and soil... emphasis in on matter moving throughout the ecosystem."
  • Compare at least two designs for a composter to determine which is most likely to encourage decomposition of materials. Measure or evidence of decomposition should be on qualitative descriptions or comparisons.
Transition Wayland will support our efforts too by introducing students to the details of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recover. Leaders from Transition Wayland will involve students in lessons and activities to raise awareness of what the three R's mean and how we might better respect and participate in those efforts regularly. We will focus this study, in part, to the standards, "Obtain and combine information about ways communities reduce human impact on Earth's resources and environment by changing an agricultural, industrial, or community practice and process."

Nets will help students to capture small
animals for study. Later students
 will release the animals.
These child-friendly magnifiers help students
to study insects, animals, and plants in the
The naturalist guide training will result in a number of outdoors naturalist adventures. Again, this is where the WPSF grant has supported our efforts by funding great magnifying lenses, nets, and a bucket of fake scat. The Nyanza grant's funding of the naturalist training means that parents, educators, and high school students who lead our students' explorations will have a good idea about our focus and how to help students experience, learn about, and contribute to the environment with care. Later, some of these naturalist guides and the students will have the chance to go on an "Amazing Adventure" at Concord's Great Meadows. The local mapmaker from the Town building further supported this work by creating a number of maps that connect to our naturalist study. He has agreed to come in and talk with the students about his work as well. In part, as students embark on their "Amazing Adventure" they will study these standards:
  • "They also learn about the connections and relationships among plants and animals, and ecosystems within which they live, to show how matter and energy are cycled through these."
  • "Use a model to describe the cycling of water through a watershed through evaporation, precipitation, absorption, surface runoff, and condensation."
  • "Examples of changed practices or processes include sewage, reducing the amounts of materials used, capturing polluting emissions from factories or power plants, and preventing runoff from agricultural activities."
Fake scat helps student to learn to
identify the animals that make up
the natural habitat.
Finally, our STEAM projects to find ways to clean up an oil spill and make water filters will also support their naturalist skills and interests. These activities match the following State standards:
  • "Ask testable questions about the process by which plants use air, water, and energy from sunlight to produce sugars and plant materials needed for growth and reproduction."
  • "Test a simple system designed to filter particulates out of water and propose one change to the design to improve it."
Spring is a great time to embark on this naturalist study and adventure. I look forward to the exploration as well as sharing both the unexpected and expected learning that occurs.

We are fortunate to live in a community where support for student learning abounds. I am grateful to the Wayland Public Schools Foundation, Wayland Transition, Framingham Transition, the Happy Hollow PTO, Drumlin Farm, Massachusetts Audubon, Wayland Conservation and Geology Department, Wayland's Green Team, and the Wayland Public Schools for supporting such wonderful, engaging study and learning.