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, June 28, 2010

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ANTS! (Gotcha, huh?)

Friday started nice and early, with what has to be the first time nobody had to be forced from their beds in the morning. After a nice breakfast, it was Jame's day to shine! Yes, today was Ant day. It started with James handing out an ID guide to common ground foraging ants in Missouri, and the kids broke into groups. They were all given 2 kinds of bait, a cookie and some bologna, and set out to observe what ants they could find. The better part of the morning was spent examining the adorable little critters and trying to decide which ants were which (Well this one's small and black, wait, they're all small and black... well shoot). Then before lunch Lydia talked about composing a research questions and the SIFTers made up their own. After lunch they shared their research projects and as a group reviewed and and did trouble shooting with them to see how they could get the best results and the all important FUNDING. After lunch the dreaded SURVEY!!!!! As well as filling out other paperwork that was a lot faster and was for them getting paid, which I guess is why they didn't mind it as much seeing as there were no complaints about that part of the afternoon. Finally, after much exchanging of emails we wrapped up the week with an ice cream sundae bar (get the title now? Get it? Get it?!). The bus arrived and we said farewell to Session 3, to return again over the summer on various research projects and for the winter overnight!

Overnight :)

After a hard day in the field, we moved out SIFTers into their cabins and let them relax with some free time. This was spent generally chatting and playing some frisbee. After a little while we corralled them all back to watch the ever-popular Ant Video. We got through half of it before we were forced to pause it (to much protest) so that the kids could get a chance to talk to the visiting scientist before dinner. Rotating through in groups, the SIFTers leaned about the research being done with clover, mosquito populations in response to bat kills caused by White Nose, Ants from our own Dr. Trager(James), and glades. This was followed by a WONDERFUL dinner and the rest of the Ant Video. The kids learned what the word Crupuscular meant on the night hike as well as witnessing some animals(the "rare" swamp rabbits, frogs, and a bull frog that was a leaf that was a frog that was, indeed, alive) while walking through the wetlands and prairie. And who could forget the visit to the graveyard! A good time was had by all, and the SIFTers returned to black lighting with James and a roaring bonfire with s'mores. We all went around the circle and talked about our favorite parts of the week before retiring to the VERY popular shower house and bed. Well, and the required talking and card games before sleep of course. Overall it was a very nice evening.

A look on the Dry Side with Terrestrial Ecosystems

Never have we ever had as much luck with weather as we did on Thursday! The humidity broke and the temperature only hit the 80's. Needless to say it was a wonderful start to a wonderful day! The morning started with James giving an overview of what kinds of plants would be found in the field today and a practice session in identifying them. Then it came the time to actually use these skills! Out SIFTers headed out into the tall grass prairie and using highly scientific equipment(hoola-hoops, soil samplers, and their eyes) proceeded to sample the soil and plants found there. Then after lunch the students hopped into the van and truck and headed off at a raring 15 mph to the Glade! The flowers were in full bloom here and the SIFTers went out to sample once more. Many discoveries were made here (the soil in glades smells AMAZING, watch for the scent to come out bottles. We're all waiting anxiously Amun!), and a new, well I won't say enemy, was made. The SIFTers, brave things, met one of Shaw's overly friendly inhabitants: the dreaded Sweat Bee. They made it through remarkably well, and they weren't alone. Aileen helped them out by attracting the bulk of them to her, way to take one for the team Aileen! While by the glade the students also got a chance to sample some woodland, and then back at the Dana Brown compiled graphs and charts of all this new data.

June TERFers

Back row: Amy Fjerstad, Jason Zhang, Franklin Warner
Front row: Alex Samuels, Jessica Plaggenberg, Adrienne Ernst, Chloe Pinkner, Taylor Rohan

Sigh. The June session of TERF has come to a close. However, high quality work and high demand from researchers has put many TERFers on-call for work this week!

It's all about Moose Tracks and Double Strawberry ice cream!

The end of TERF session debrief in the cave tradition continues...

A Very Humid Aquatics Day!

Ah, Aquatics Day! The much awaited, highly anticipated day where the SIFTers get to get their feet wet. The day where we would be outside virtually all day. They day where the heat index topped 100 degrees. Oh well, didn't stop us! If anything, the heat let the students get more time with our much beloved Wilderness Wagon, the limo of Shaw Nature Reserve. After arriving and filling up snack containers, the SIFTers wasted no time and went to board their sweet ride down to Wolf Run Lake. Here, the students divvied up into 2 groups and tested both the water quality and sampled some of the many macro invertebrates living in the Lake. Special attention was paid to the conditions of the water samples as well as location, and on the biotic side of things a MONSTER fishing spider was captures and put on display until we left (it STILL gives me chills and this was a week ago... it was huge). SIFTers also got a good look at at the fish, most notably the very large catfish, during the fish feeding and then it was off to the trail house for lunch (no air conditioning though, they were too tough for that!). After a nice lunch we all packed off to Brush Creek, where the kids got there feet wet water testing and collecting what seems to be an inexhaustible number of crayfish. The water was nice and cold and I heard more than one murmuring of "Think I could just say I fell in?", but everybody stayed dry for the most part. The day was wrapped up in the nice cool air conditioning of Dana Brown with a debrief and posters compiled of the data collected that day.

Observing Isopods on a Warm Tuesday Morning.

Tuesday was a day set aside to observe the noble isopods. SIFTers were given two types of these little critters and set about observing physical and behavioral characteristics. I have never seen so many teenagers looking up into clear ups before in my life, it was truly a sight to behold. Of course, how else cold you get all the details of them! After a discussion of what questions could be researchable and other simply looked up, our students got a chance to stretch their legs with a little excursion to the Wetlands. Aileen led a lovely stroll to observe this interesting habitat and many questions were asked and a few tracks of water-loving mammals found. Then back to the nice air-conditioned Dana Brown to have lunch. A communication kills activity was played, where upon the students had to get into an line alphabetically by their last names. Without talking. Also not being able to step off the rope they were all standing on. It was interesting to say the lest. Then that afternoon our SIFTers learned how to do water testing and had some practice interpreting the what the data could mean for that water source. There was a wildlife encounter for one water-testing group that was cut short (literally) when after FINALLY catching the Blue-Tailed skink that had been slinking around the porch it's tail came off and well, we just didn't have the heart to pass it around to other groups then. He was released to go re-grow his tail and much hope was made that the other skinks wouldn't make fun of him for his shortened rear-end.

Session 3 Has a HOT Start!

Session 3 of SIFT started out much like Session 1 except for the fact that it was about 20 degrees hotter. But these students didn't let that stop them! The morning started out as usual with some getting-to-know-each-other activities which produced some very interesting results (for once Lydia wasn't the only gardener!). So after a lovely morning spent getting to know one another, learning about outdoor safety, and discussing wether or not science is complete the kids also got a chance to practice their nature sketching! Catrina led a talk over how to do quick sketches that could still be recognizable later, a skill many people overlook and live to regret doing so. Lunch was then had, and then the real fun began. Aileen taught a crash-course in GPS units (not the car kind) and compasses while Catrina taught the SIFTers all about topographic maps and what they can learn from them. Our students were then divvied up into 6 teams, given directions, and then sent out into the wilderness to... navigate! While the first three groups got a head start, the other three got the chance to put together a large wooden puzzle, blindfolded. Oh don't give us that look! Only half of them were blindfolded, the others helped them put it together. All 6 teams successfully made it to the trail house using their recently accuired navigation skills with only a few wrong turns here and there, and were met with cold lemonade and posters. The groups all complied lovely lists of the skills they learned, content they covered, and ways in which they collaborated (the first on the list being tick removal. Yay teamwork!). Then after making up short stories using vocabulary words (oh that Turkeytoe!) our brave, hot, and weary SIFTers headed for home.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Session 1 SIFTers get to work!

The first field work opportunity for newly-trained SIFTers came early this year. The prairie research team at Tyson Research Center put out a call for help and six SIFTers and one former TERFer answered the call on Monday, June 21st!

Dr. Tiffany Knight (Washington University) and Dr. Michele Schutzenhofer (McKendree University) are investigating the effects of different experimental treatments in 102 separate prairie plots in the south field area of Tyson. Right now they are conducting a biomass sampling of each plot and need help sorting the plant clippings by species.

Loading up to go see the prairie plots

Dr. Knight points out plants to Tom Collins.

Monica Lee gives a thumbs up as the SIFTers run uphill through a new experimental glade

(Foreground) Bryan Rosinski and Milena Kanak work together to separate plant clippings from a single plot, while (background) Tom Collins gets instruction from McKendree undergraduate student Kaitlyn

Dr. Schutzenhofer (left) works with Kenn and Lynn Vattathara on the last plot sorting of the long day

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ants, Ants, Ants!

The final day of SIFT Session 1 had finally arrived. After a breakfast filled with bleary-eyed SIFTers, it was James' time to shine. Students were broken up into groups and were given bait as well as a guide to help identify different species of ants. The teams set off to bait and observe the ants as they arrived to take away the food. The better part of the morning was spent observing ants. Who knew they were so intriguing (other than James of course)?

After lunch, Catrina led a discussion about how to set up your own experiment. Using what they had learned about ants, the SIFTers then split up and had a go at designing their own experiments and then going over them as a group to fine tune them.

Lydia talked about signing up for projects over the year, and after cleaning up the cabins the students wrapped up their SIFT experience with an ice cream bar before much exchanging of emails and planning of get togethers.

In some cases, it wasn't just the ants that were being observed. Kathi, mistress of the surveys, enjoyed watching the SIFTers as much as they enjoyed watching the ants!

Terrestrial Ecosystems and Overnight

Today we looked at different terrestrial ecosystems. James talked about the different kinds of plant life that were likely to be in the areas we would look, and then the SIFters went to to survey plants in the prairie, glade, and woodland. To do the surveying, the students got to practice their hula-hooping skills (throwing, not twirling) and took core samples of the earth from each survey plot. After compiling charts and graphs of the data they gathered, the students talked about the best ways to display data with Catrina.

The SIFTers watched a video about James' specialty, ants, in preparation for Friday and then had some time to move into their cabins and unwind with a little Ultimate Frisbee.

After Frisbee local scientists arrived for dinner and the students rotated between them in groups to hear about the kind of research they each did. Then we had a wonderful dinner and had more Frisbee time. The SIFTers went on a night hike sans-flashlights and learned some cool tricks with night vision and ice breakers. After getting back to Dana Brown we had a bonfire after a little trouble with lighting it (Thank you Team Monica!) and had s'mores. Before bed, James set up a black light sheeting, which attracted this lovely little creature, a female dobsonfly.

After showers everyone toddled off for a nice, calm evening... no wait. There was of course the mandatory talking, card games and well, sleep was had.

Aquatics Day!!!

Today was the much anticipated aquatics day! SIFTers got to use their water testing skills to test the water of two different freshwater ecosystems, Wolf Run Lake and Brush Creek. Along with water testing, the students also fished for macroinvertebrates with nets and got to walk around in the creek (actually getting their feet wet!). They took the Wilderness Wagon from Wolf Run where they also got to meet a friendly terrestrial animal (a charming box turtle), as well as witness some monster catfish during a fish feeding. Next stop was the trail house for lunch, and then down to Brush Creek. At the creek the students discovered different creatures than those living at Wolf Run, such as crawfish and a rare look at a darter minnow in full mating colors. Once again on the Wilderness Wagon, the students returned to Dana Brown to debrief and interpret their findings.

Tuesday is for Isopods and Sketching

Tuesday's theme was all about observation. In the morning Catrina talked about how to do field sketches and had the students practice sketching natural items in smaller and smaller time increments (much to the dismay of the artists). After the sketching lesson was over, Lydia broke out the isopods and the SIFTers got to practice taking good observation notes about both appearances and behaviors. The morning wrapped up with the creation of their own branching and stacking dichotomous keys for leaf identification. After lunch, the students broke into groups and rotated around to different water testing stations. Based on a simulated scenario the teams used various water quality tests to determine the source of each station's water problem. The day wrapped up with a comparison of results from the different stations and a debrief of the day. Not to mention a reminder to bring shoes that could get wet for the next day.

Monday is Collaboration Day!

So Monday started bright and early with the arrival of the SIFTers and the distribution of their day packs. They were welcomed by Lydia with a quick overview of the week and some games in which students were able to find out what they have in common. Aileen gave a talk about outdoor safety and then it was time for lunch.

After lunch was over the students were given a crash course in using GPS units, compasses, and topographic maps. After their lessons in navigation, the SIFTers were broken up into groups and were each given a different course through Shaw, which required them to use their recently acquired navigation skills. Along their little adventure they encountered some challenges (ticks, mosquitoes, upside-down maps), unexpected treasures (tepee, cave, long abandoned outhouse) as well as several stations where they sketched or learned about a part of Shaw Nature Reserve. The day wrapped up at the Trailhouse where the kids debriefed and brainstormed the skills, collaboration, and content they gained that day.

SIFT 2010 Session 1

It's now been a week since the first session of SIFT for 2010 has passed through, and we feel recovered enough to start up the blog once again. My name is Tess Rogers, and I'm the intern for SIFT this year. Having been through the first ever sessions of both SIFT and TERF I have returned this summer to help out the program that I enjoyed so much.

I hope that any SIFTers reading this will be revisted by fond memories of their week here at Shaw, and that anyone else passing through this blog with mild curiosity will be able to learn more about what we do here at SIFT.