This educational collaboration between Washington University's Tyson Research Center and the Missouri Botanical Garden's Shaw Nature Reserve is designed to engage St. Louis area high school students in scientifically-based exploration of the natural world. Linked programs of field training (SIFT) and field research (TERF) provide teenagers with experiences that realistically reflect research in environmental biology. Participating teens learn a variety of field investigation skills and then have the opportunity to put those new skills to work assisting career scientists with real research projects.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

SIFT Session 2 Day 3

Today the rising sun quickly burned through the morning cloud cover, causing a rise in temperature and some standard St. Louis summer weather conditions. Hot. Hazy. Humid.

The SIFTers started their day with a discussion of the previous night's reading. They did a great job of deciphering the old-fashioned language of Lewis and Clark and debated the correct course of action when coming to a river fork. One SIFTer suggested sending scout groups up both forks and then regrouping to compare notes. This is in fact what Lewis and Clark decided to do! They collected more evidence (data) before settling on a single course of action (making a conclusion)...

The schedule for Session 2 Day 3 was similar to that for Session 1 Day 3, the "all day in the field" day for investigations into aquatic ecosystems.

The morning was spent using new skills to assess the abiotic and biotic conditions at Wolf Run Lake.

"I notice..."

"I wonder..."

Observations of pond organisms during biotic sampling

Dr. James Trager handles a very large Fisher spider

Gently setting everything free...

After cleaning up the gear from the morning, a ride in the Wilderness Wagon ended with lunch at the Trail House.

Catching a ride on the Wilderness Wagon

The afternoon was spent on SIFTer-designed assessments of the conditions at Brush Creek. Small groups set up their own investigations modeled on the morning activities. They completed both abiotic and biotic samplings, and compared/contrasted their results with those from the pond.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

SIFT Session 2 Day 2

Day 2 of SIFT Session 2 brought an overcast sky and high humidity. We kept a close eye on the weather radar map as a storm front headed up the I-44 corridor.

The schedule of activities was almost identical to that on Day 2 of Session 1, with the exception of much improved opening activities that kept the sleepy SIFTers awake.

Tim led a discussion of the reading and journal prompt from the night before, and there was quite a thoughtful response from the group. One SIFTer wondered, "What was going on at the time to make the author write this way?" Good question!

Lydia led the teens through an expansion of the SIFT concept map based on their reflections from the previous afternoon. They worked together to group activities from Day 1 into the categories of collaboration, skills, and content.

Ah, the power of the concept map...

The isopod inquiry activity brought smiles to the group

Creating a good dichotomous key for a few simple leaves is not as easy as it sounds!

We finally had a bit of a downpour during lunch, but no winds or significant thunder and lightning. And nothing kept the SIFTers from heading out to the field in the afternoon!

SIFT Session 2 Day 1

Wow, what a different group of teens! Where the first group was fairly quiet and contemplative on Day 1, this group of 22 has verbally engaged with the SIFT instructors and each other from the moment they met at the various bus stops. Very different group dynamic...

The activities for Session 2 Day 1 followed the same schedule as during Session 1 Day 1. However there was the addition of more information on ticks (and ticks in viewing boxes!) during the morning outdoor safety session (Tim) and the addition of whole group GPS unit training and practice (Tim/Lydia) before the afternoon "challenge."

There was also a change in teaching strategy with the use of concept maps during the introduction to field biology (James) and during the afternoon wrap up (Lydia).

GPS practice

Something about putting Red in the Shed???

Learning the Shaw Nature Reserve map

Finding their way...

Checking in with Lydia on the radio

Group listening/communication puzzle challenge

Interestingly, the afternoon navigational challenge from the Dana Brown Center to the Trail House was particularly challenging for these SIFTers. One group became lost early in the trek, retraced their route, and then went off their assigned route to make it to the Trail House in time. Two groups had to abandon their field exploration tasks to make it in on time. And Tim had to go out to lead another group in. There were many lessons learned about collaboration and navigation skills, but all agreed that it was fun.

Between the SIFT Sessions

On Wednesday, June 18 all of the SIFT staff met to debrief the first session. While we were fairly happy with how the week-long curriculum was implemented, we all agreed that there were places where we would like to make adjustments. Interestingly, the comments from the first group of SIFTers supported this and seemed to align with our identification of weaker areas. Thanks to Kathi for providing timely formative assessment!

The biggest change we decided to make was in our "wrapping" of the curriculum in the bigger picture. We found that the first group didn't seem to "see" the point of some activities and we must have lost the communication of each day's theme in our quest to get the SIFTers up and doing things. We did find ourselves "reading" the group as needing to stay active in order to keep their interest, but it may be that the group was just more quiet and less likely to appear engaged during presentation moments.

Lydia came up with the idea to introduce concept mapping to the morning intro and afternoon wrap up. This is a potentially powerful teaching tool that we think will make the big picture of the SIFT curriculum more transparent to the SIFTers. We decided to place even more emphasis on the key words of collaboration, skills, and content by placing them as the three key components of the SIFT concept map. And, we decided to reinforce use of the concept mapping tool by using it in additional activities, like during the introduction to outdoor safety (Tim) and introduction to field biology (James) on Day 1. It will be interesting to see how this process is received by the second group of SIFTers and if we see a corresponding difference in the climate survey responses during Session 2.

Feedback from the first group of SIFTers indicated that they would really enjoy more time learning and mastering the use of the GPS units. So, we rebuilt sections of the Day 1 activities to incorporate GPS training for the whole group and added use of the GPS units into all field activities for the whole week. It is an increasingly critical skill for field scientists to possess, so it makes perfect sense for the SIFTers to have as much exposure to it as possible. And the GPS points are also something that we can build into the content of the SIFT and TERF wiki...

A major logistical change between the SIFT sessions is the change in bus transportation providers. There was not a single bus run during SIFT Session 1 that did not result in a late program start or a late return trip. It was very frustrating to have the one thing out of our direct control have so many problems. We have fired First Student and contracted with Durham for SIFT Session 2. We may investigate renting two 15-passenger vans for summer 2009.

Next post will report on the second group of SIFTers and how they handled Day 1...

Monday, June 16, 2008

SIFT Session 1 Day 5

Unfortunately, we awoke to very cloudy skies on Day 5. We made it out into the field briefly, but had to switch over to backup activities as the rain fell in a steady downpour for the rest of the day. The SIFTers took this in stride and stayed in good spirits. They were exhausted, so it was not hard to keep them indoors...

7:30 Wake up
8:00 Move overnight gear to Assembly Building
8:15 Breakfast
9:00 Ant baiting behavior study - SIFTers work in pairs, set up bait sites in field (James)

Observing ant behavior at cookie bait site

Watching ants run from the rain

SIFTers confined to the porch

10:00 NOVA program on ants with E.O. Wilson
11:00 Organism observation (simulation) - SIFTers divided into three groups; each group must find, observe, and record information about assigned "organism" and its habitat; each group must make inferences regarding "organism"; groups share observations and conclusions (Barb)

Discussing inferences

12:00 Lunch

1245 Post-program survey
1:30 Photos, blog, and wiki - share photos from week; show project director's blog site; show collaborative wiki site and explain that it is a place for the SIFTers to document/share their experiences (Susan)
2:30 School year activities - review dates for GIS/GPS session in August, fall and spring Saturdays, and winter weekend overnight; discuss work projects (Lydia)
3:00 Something FUN - SIFTers write positive messages to each other and make ice cream sundaes (Karen, Katie Z.)
3:45 Final sharing session - review big picture from the whole week; SIFTers share best things about the week and give advice for the next session (Lydia, Susan)
4:00 Bus loads up

SIFT Session 1 Day 4 Overnight Activities

The SIFTers got to experience and investigate Shaw Nature Reserve in a very different way by staying overnight on Day 4.

8:15 Prepare for night hike
8:30 Night hike - SIFTers divided into two groups (James/Aileen, Tim)
9:45 Black light insect viewing - insect identification (James)
10:00 Campfire and S'mores - Sharing session, SIFTers go around circle to thank someone and rate their experience so far (Aileen)
11:00 Lights out

Listening to frog calls

James identifies EVERY insect attracted to the light

An overnight out in the field would not be complete without a campfire and S'mores...

SIFT Session 1 Day 4 Dinner with Scientists

After a much needed late afternoon break, the SIFTers had dinner and discussion time with five practicing field scientists from Tyson Research Center. Despite our concerns that it might make for an awkward interaction, the conversations flowed freely. The scientists did a great job of putting the SIFTers at ease and answered questions about their research projects, their lifestyles, and their future plans.

Dr. Jon Chase, director of Tyson Research Center and project PI, tackles the "puffin or penguin" debate as an ice breaker with the SIFTers.

Post-doctoral fellow Dr. Jean Burns explains her journey to becoming an ecologist.

Graduate student Wade Ryberg talks about his studies of collared lizards.

SIFT Session 1 Day 4

I've gotten a bit behind as Day 4 and Day 5 went by so quickly and then the weekend hit. Here is a recap of our incredibly busy Day 4 terrestrial communities investigations...

9:15 Intro to plant growth forms and leaf shapes (James)
9:30 Plant forms challenge - find and identify plant growth forms and leaf shapes around the Dana Brown Center (James)
10:00 Prairie and wetland habitats field observations - intro to each habitat (James); SIFTers investigate soil depth, rockiness, amount of bare ground, detritus, dominant plant growth form, hairy plants, sunlight reaching soil, etc; debrief and compare results (James)

Taking a soil core sample

Assessing a soil core sample

Comparing two soil core samples

They do smell different!

12:00 Lunch
12:30 Glade, woodland, and floodplain habitats field observations - intro to each habitat (James); SIFTers investigate; debrief and compare results (James)
1:45 Break
2:00 Vegetative investigation in woodlands - SIFTers walk Jane's Trail investigating burned and unburned areas (James); pairs describe/measure/estimate growth forms present, # species, plant density (% cover), plant height, litter depth, pH and particle composition of soil samples; debrief and compare results (James)

Tim explains an ephemeral pond

Quick tick check!

3:00 Move into lodges - housing groups and rules (Aileen); SIFTers move overnight gear into lodges

3:30 Break - showers, rest, relax

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SIFT Session 1 Day 3

Yet another good weather day! We are beginning to doubt that we are still in St. Louis in June. It was a hotter day, but still not nearly as humid as it normally is this time of the season.

One highlight of the day was coming across real field biologists in their natural habitat! We met up with a bumble bee research team from the University of Illinois and they were kind enough to share information about their project with us. A few SIFTers asked if there was a way for us to get them involved! I will follow up with James and his contact on that particular project. Hopefully we can coordinate an opportunity for some SIFTers to help.

9:00 Review previous day - go over last night's passage (Tim); review activities (James)
9:15 Prepare for whole day in the field - pack lunches, water bottles, field notebooks, etc.;
9:40 Walk to Wolf Run Lake
10:00 Aquatic Ecology at Wolf Run Lake - observe pond, sketch/write descriptions (Tim); macroinvertebrate sampling and abiotic investigations (Tim, Aileen, James); "I notice... I wonder..."

12:00 Wilderness Wagon to the Trail House
12:15 Lunch

12:45 Debrief morning investigation - What do the results mean? Conclusions about Wolf Run Lake? (Tim/Aileen); review "I notice... I wonder..."; explain creek investigation and setting up student-led studies (Tim)
1:15 Walk to Brush Creek
1:30 Aquatic Ecology at Brush Creek - SIFTers set up own investigations modeled after the morning pond investigation (Tim, Alieen, James)

3:00 Wilderness Wagon back to Dana Brown Center
3:15 Debrief afternoon investigation - compare and contrast pond and creek (Tim, Aileen, James)

3:45 Review schedule for tomorrow
- what to bring for overnight, questions for dinner with scientists (Lydia)
4:00 Bus loads up