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 29, 2012

Another SIFT Prairie Work Day?

SIFTers from session 2 were given the chance to help the Tyson Prairie Team with some plant sorting this week. To start off this SIFT work day, project leader Dr. Tiffany Knight gave the students a presentation on what the prairie project is all about. Once the presentation was over, SIFTers got a chance to go see the 102 prairie plots for themselves and also other research sites at Tyson Research Center.

Dr. Tiffany Knight explains how each plot has a different treatment.

 Super-Uber-TERFer Taylor Rohan teaches SIFTers about plants found within prairies. This is Taylor's third summer at Tyson and she is an expert.

Once the tour was over, everyone headed back inside the LLC for a day of plant sorting. By assisting the Prairie Team, the students were able to get a feel for what real data collection inside a field research project is like. SIFT students also had a chance to meet the Tyson community and talk to current TERFers about their experience in this program. 

 Jonathan and Louis weighing their plant sample.

 Trey sorting prairie grasses.

 Working together, Adam and Ben get ready to record the weight of their plot sample.

Uber-TERFer Brendan Hellbusch expresses his excitement for prairie plants! This is Brendan's second summer working on the experimental prairie project.

Glade Team

Maddie Willis and Julia Steger in one of the experimental Tyson glades.

This year the Glade Team took on two TERFers to help with this large scale experimental restoration project. Maddie Willis and Julia Steger were very involved in the numerous glade research projects throughout the month of June. While helping collect data about the species of plants and animals in the glades, they also helped write up a curriculum for middle school students. The curriculum will educate students about the importance of glades and how restoration works.

The glade project is led by Dr. Tiffany Knight and Holly Bernardo and is aimed at better understanding of management techniques for restoring glades. The project includes 32 experimental glades of various shapes and sizes, both on site at Tyson and off site at Beaumont Scout Ranch and Claverach Farm and Winery. By investigating different sizes and shapes, they hope to see how edginess (area to perimeter ratio) might play a role in the number of species inhabiting the glade.

TERFers Teach SIFTers About Fire Ecology

This past Wednesday, the TERFers on the Fire Ecology Team had the chance to teach the new SIFTers about the projects they have been working on. The large group met early Wednesday morning and headed out to Shaw Nature Reserve for the day. Under the guidance of Dr. Rae Crandall and Dr. Alex Harmon-Threatt, the SIFTers were taught proper protocol for collecting seeds of Penstemon digitalis.

 Dr. Crandall and Dr. Harmon-Threatt looking very happy during their 
day of working with SIFT and TERF students.

The task for this SIFT work day was to help collect seeds of Penstemon digitalis. To do this, the SIFTers had to locate flag markers in the glades. Each flag had a colored string attached,the color of that string determined what colors they needed to look for on plants that were in a 1 meter radius of the flag.

Once the plants were found, the workers were instructed to carefully clip the seed pod off of the plant and place it in a labeled envelope.

With temperatures in St. Louis reaching into the one hundreds this week, the mentors made sure everyone was drinking plenty of water and taking breaks when needed.

Once all the collections were done for the day, everyone made their way to Tyson for the evening seminar. Despite being a hot day, the high schoolers seemed to have a good day.

One special part of this day was that the Fire Team TERFers were also able to experience being a mentor to younger students.

"I really liked how I was able to teach the project to the SIFTers even though I had just learned it myself a few days before." said Tyler Pokoski during the TERF debrief.


"It was awesome to work with the SIFTers knowing that was me a year ago." Nithya John said.


SIFT & TERF National Dissemination Workshop - June Session

During the last week of June, Shaw Nature Reserve hosted the first SIFT & TERF National Dissemination Workshop for Year 5 of the NSF Informal Science Education project (second workshop coming in July). The purpose of the 3-day workshop is to showcase the SIFT and TERF program models, share lessons learned from working with high school students, and present the results of the informal science education research.
June participants of the SIFT & TERF National Dissemination Workshop in the forest plot at Tyson Research Center

Participants were invited from all around the country and from a variety of professions related to environmental biology and education. The June group consisted of five high school teachers, one graduate student, and four faculty research scientists interested in learning more about engaging pre-college students in authentic field research. (The July group will have a different mix of participants.) The workshop was designed to lead the participants through activities to get them thinking about the logistics of having a similar project back at their home institutions. Throughout the three days they had unlimited access to Project Director and TERF Program Director Susan Flowers, SIFT Program Director Lydia Toth, Evaluator Kathi Beyer, and Shaw education staff. There were also moments for discussion with other people who have been engaged first hand with both programs.

The workshop opened at noon on Wednesday with lunch, introductions, and goals. During the afternoon there was an overview of the SIFT & TERF programs followed by a tour of SIFT programming sites at Shaw. Later on in the early evening, the workshop group made their way to Tyson Research Center for two special seminars with the Tyson community. The two presenters for the night were workshop participants Dr. David Wise (University of Illinois-Chicago) and Dr. Stephen Blake (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Washington University).

Once the Wednesday evening seminar was over, the group made their way back to Shaw to have dinner with SIFT & TERF alumni and Dr. Tiffany Knight, who shared her journey from skeptical scientist to enthusiastic mentor of high school students. Former TERFers were invited back to serve as a panel for the teachers and scientists to get the participants' perspective. All the responses we received showed that the participants really enjoyed meeting with alumni of the program and hearing about their personal experiences.

TERF alumni out on the deck of the Shaw Assembly Building: (l to r) Sarah Harrington, Emily Stein, Brendan Hellebusch, Alex Samuels, Taylor Rohan, Cassandra Gallupi, Tess Rogers, and Alicia McCabe

The Thursday morning agenda included group work sessions designed to address program logistics, barriers to implementation, and budget issues.

Travis Plume (Jefferson City High School, MO) and Steve Juliano (Illinois State University) talk about what kinds of research tasks may be appropriate for high school students.
Kay Gamble (Ada High School, OK) and Brant Reif (Valley High School, IA) discuss the use of tablet technology with high school students.

The afternoon included a tour of Tyson during which participants were introduced to large-scale Tyson research projects that have had support from SIFTers and TERFers.

Dr. Jonathan Myers gives the workshop participants an overview of the Forest Ecology and Dynamics Plot at Tyson.

The workshop participants were welcomed in by the Tyson community for the usual Thursday evening seminar and barbeque dinner. The two presenters for this night were Dr. Steven Juliano (Illinois State University) and Dr. Emily Minor (University of Illinois-Chicago).

Friday included a final work session, reflection, and survey before the participants made their way back home. The surveys results were very positive and showed that the teachers and scientists are interested and willing to create similar programs back at their institutions.

Kay Gamble, Brant Reif and Cori Coate (Georgetown Day School, DC) share their action items for when they get back to their high schools.
Dr. Emily Minor, Dr. David Wise, and graduate student Kellen Marshall-Gillespie talk about ways that they can engage more high school students with their research projects at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Forest Ecology Dynamics Plot - June


TERFers on the Forest Ecology Dynamics Plot (FEDP) Team have been hard at work during the month of June. The two high schoolers, Adil Hassan and Alex Duchild, have been helping the Forest Team plot out and sample a 11 hectare plot here at Tyson. Led by Dr. Jonathan Myers, this project is surveying a forest plot that was apart of a thesis project 30 years ago.

Adil Hassan taking a break in the forest during a long day of work.

The goal of this project is to ID every tree within the plot to create a new census to compare to the one from 30 years ago. Creating a new census will allow for a large scale model of the forest to be made. This would be a unique creation seeing as there has not been much investigation into temperate forests such as this. Most forest studies on such a large scale have been conducted on tropical forests.

Since this project requires so much data to be collected, Adil and Alex have been such a huge contribution to the team. They have helped gather and record data as well as create new tags for trees that need to be identified.

Adil and Alex creating metal tags that will be nailed into the identified trees.

Alex stringing a newly made tag onto it's metal string.

While this project is still young and will be on going, there has already been some data gathered to compare to the results from the 30 year old thesis. An invasive tree, Alianthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) has decreased in prevalence within the plot. This could mean that a healthy ecosystem could show resistance to an invasive species. Another piece of interesting data has been in the introduction of the invasive Lonicera maackii, better known as Bush Honeysuckle. The team is excited to see the role this invasive will play throughout this project.

So even though they have been extremely busy, the 2 forest TERFers have expressed how much they enjoy this work.

"There's just something about being in the forest early in the morning when no one else is around that is just so amazing and relaxing," says Adil Hassan.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Aquatic Team - June

One of the more messy teams out at Tyson has got to be the Aquatics Team. This team works on a variety of projects all focused on aquatic ecosystems. The TERFer on the Aquatic Team this summer is Jacqueline Sotraidis. Being on this team, Jacqueline has gotten the chance to work on multiple research projects. The projects she has been on has varied from aquatic plant biodiversity to survival rates with prey species insects and predators such as amphibians.

Jacqueline has expressed how much she's enjoyed working with the Aquatics Team. The team is fun to be with and they always have a good time even though they are doing messy work. Besides just getting the chance to play with frogs, she has taken an interest in one project in particular. The project she has been most interested in is Dr. Kevin Smith's, assistant director of Tyson. He has been working on a project that studies the concentration of prey species in large and small ponds when a predator is introduced into the ecosystem. Jacqueline helped not only set up this project, but she will also be working on sampling the experimental ponds.

Jacqueline samples out of a chimney in this duck weed infested pond.

 Jacqueline happily sorting aquatic plants.

Prairie Team

One of the larger research projects going on at Tyson involves the 102 experimental prairie plots. The head researcher of this project, Dr. Tiffany Knight, is a strong supporter of the SIFT & TERF program and has always been willing to have SIFTers and TERFers helping out. Her project involves creating experimental prairie plots to observe which treatments are best to preclude the invasion of Lespedeza cuneata.

The Prairie Team makes a plan of attack for their data collection.

This year there is one lone TERFers assisting on this project. Tom Collins has been working with the Prairie Team during his time here at Tyson. He is a Cohort 3 SIFTer who took a year off in between SIFT & TERF before coming back into the program as a Cohort 4 TERFer. The work he has been doing includes collection data on the prairie's health through biomass sampling and percent coverage.

Tom Collins crouching in a prairie plot as he removes a sample for sorting.

 After a morning of collecting samples, Tom heads out of the
 prairie with bags of plants to be sorted later in the afternoon.

The Prairie Team sorting samples to later be dried to determine biomass.

TERFers Mix It Up a Little

During the last week, several TERFers had the opportunity to work with research teams other than their own. On Wednesday afternoon, Tom Collins and Julia Steger had the chance to work with Dr. Brian Allan, a former post-doc at Tyson Research Center. Brian Allan was the lead researcher on the "Tick Team" here at Tyson and has worked with former TERF cohorts. He studies the effects of changing habitats in various urban and rural areas in relation to tick abundance. So Tom and Julia were given the chance to put aside the glade and prairie plants for an afternoon and learn about tick research.

Tom and Julia were given the task of re-taping the tick traps that 
Dr. Allan uses in the field.

On Thursday the Glade Team TERFers, Maddie and Julia, went to work with the Prairie Team. Being in a natural outdoor environment, a lot of work must be done to maintain the experimental prairie plots to ensure that the data is not compromised. One job that must be done is the removal of unwanted plants, such as invasive thistle and vetch and even tree saplings. That was the job for Maddie, Julia, and "Uber-TERFer" Brendan Hellebusch Thursday morning. Once the unwanted plants were removed, the Prairie Team plus the two glade TERFers, sorted plant samples from a few of the plots.

 Maddie Willis in the prairie.

Julia Steger scanning one of the plots for any sign of tree saplings.

Maddie Willis cuts down a tree that has grown in an experimental plot.