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.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ant Study and Goodbyes

Everyone packed up early and had breakfast before we started with the last few activities. James described the day's ant behavior study and students gathered bait and went out to find their study subjects. After a few hours of observation, students returned to report what they had discovered. After lunch, we watched a slideshow of images from the week's activities and Lydia explained the next step in the SIFT program: summer and fall projects. Then students went out on a scavenger hunt using their GPS skills, and were happily suprised at what they were able to bring back. It was a lively bus ride home as the SIFTers exchanged e-mails and planned ways to keep in touch with their new friends.

Terrestrial Ecosystems and Overnight

We started the day with a short powerpoint about scientific communication and the three basic characteristics of good figures (clear! concise! honest!). Next James gave students an overview of terrestrial ecosystems and described plant forms and leaf shapes that the students would have a good chance of observing. Then we took a short trip out to the Dana Brown Center's prairie, where students in small groups got to practice the hula-hoop method of random sampling, and take a closer look at the plant life there. After lunch, it was back out the the Trailhouse where we did the same sort of sampling and looked at the plant life of the glade and woodland.

Tonight was the overnight, so after debriefing the day's activities, students moved into the lodges and had a break to read, talk, and play games (soccer!). Before dinner, scientists from Tyson Research Center arrived and the students had a chance to travel around in groups and get to know them better. Conversations continued during dinner. After dinner, students went out without flashlights on a night hike, which ended up being one of the group's favorite June memories. When the hikers returned, James had set up a white sheet and light to collect night insects. There was also a campfire where SIFTers could continue to get to know each other while eating S'mores.

Aquatic day!

Things got off to a quick start as students packed up for a full day in the field. First, we packed equipment and took the wilderness wagon off to Wolf Run Lake. Students collected and identified macroinvertebrates and ran the water quality chemical tests they practiced earlier in the week. After lunch at the Trailhouse, we hiked down to Brush Creek to repeat the biotic and abiotic testing. At the end of the day, students worked in groups to report their data and discussed the health of the two bodies of water.

Honing Observation Skills

After a lesson on nature sketching, SIFTers visited the Dana Brown wetland and took some time to sit on the boardwalk and practice sketching. Next, Lydia led an isopod observation and students came up with researchable questions based upon their observations. Then the students worked in teams to build branching keys using leaves. After lunch, students had a chance to practice using chemical tests for water quality that they would be taking into the field on aquatic day. Each team moved from station to station, learning the quirks of each chemical test and solving water quality mysteries. Luckily, we had time for a few team-building games before boarding the bus, which were a big hit (Thanks Aileen!)

SIFTers get acquainted

On day one of this past June's weeklong SIFT training, students focused on collaboration. After playing some games aimed at finding out what students had in common, Lydia explained plans for the week and Aileen talked about outdoor safety. After lunch, students learned how to use GPS units, topographic maps and compasses, and were sent out in small groups to follow a course. Each group followed a different path, and along the way met with some interesting challenges (high water, lizard up the pants leg) and were able to see some interesting features and wildlife of SNR (the cave, frogs, turtles... an armadillo...)

Students also worked on assignments at points along the way, including stopping to draw some flowers. SIFTers learned to work together and spent some time getting to know each other while they hiked. By the end of the day, all the groups made it back to relax at the glade overlook and to grab some lemonade and reflect on the day at the trailhouse.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

SIFT returns to the blog

With the September meeting of SIFT just around the corner, it's definitely time to revisit highlights from this summer's SIFT program, from the week of field training to the various projects that have been going on.

I'm Catrina Adams, an instructor at Shaw Nature Reserve, and I'll be adding SIFT-related posts to bring the blog up to date in that department. To all the 2009 SIFTers reading this blog...hope this brings back some good memories from the summer! For anyone else stumbling in or interested in the program...hopefully the next series of posts will give you a better idea of how the SIFT program is evolving.