Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Athol-Royalston Middle School Experiences Our Changing Forests Field Trip Style


Athol-Royalston Middle School Seventh Graders in Mr. Sautter's Science classes visited Harvard Forest this Spring to learn about how forests change over time.

Our Changing Forests Field Work

Students measured the diameter of trees
in  10 x 10 meter study plots at Harvard Forest
 for the Our Changing Forests
Schoolyard Ecology project. 

Some interesting discoveries near the study plots included a tree frog, mushroom, Red Eft Salamander and oak gall.


We learned about major changes happening in this part of the forest.  In looking up to estimate the percent of canopy cover for the field survey, we saw that many of the biggest trees in the plot were dying.  This was an old Red Pine plantation that was planted when Harvard Forest was a Forestry School.  As the the old plantation trees are dying and other species are finding enough light to sprout and grow

 Hemlock and Oak are some of the new species growing as the dying Red Pine open up the forest floor.


We looked at the difference between red and white pine cones and needles.

We recorded whether we saw snapped trees and/or uprooted trees as indicators of weather damage in our study plots.

Left: We recorded signs of Wildlife such as this stash of pine cones indicating that a squirrel or chipmunk has been looking for pine cone seeds.  

Right:  We tasted the wintergreen flavor of the  inner bark of the Sweet Birch trees near the plot.  

Fisher Museum Dioramas

Students also had a chance to learn more about Land Use Change by seeing the story of how the forests were cleared in the 1700-1800s and began to grow back again  after farm abandonment later on.   First dominated by White Pine, cut again and then grew as Hardwood dominated forests. 

Thanks to ARMS PTO representative, Stacey Bellabarba and staff person, Elaine Gauthier for photo contributions.

What does the Data Show?



 Red Pine, Red Oak and Red Maple are storing lots of Carbon presently as Red Pine continue to dominate this area of the forest.  Also there is not much species diversity in these plots due to its history as a plantation.  It will be interesting to see that as the forest is left unmanaged by humans, how the species dynamics and growth will change over time.  As we collect data over time, I would expect that Red Pine bars will become shorter and shorter, and other species will become larger. I would also expect that some species not yet represented here, will begin to sprout and grow in these plots. Therefore I would expect more bars to appear on future graphs. However disease and weather can cause unexpected "disturbance" in the forest at any time, so stay tuned by checking our database over time to track future changes.

Thanks to Highstead Foundation for Supporting this field trip with funding for the Our Changing Forests Field Trip Scholarship.

Explore More:

To Graph More Data choose Our Changing Forests project and choose field sites 5-8 on our online database.

Download Data to see the data in table form. 

Check out our Interactive Field Site Map to see all Schoolyard Ecology Field Sites that are contributing to our studies. You can select Our Changing Forests to see only those schools participating in this particular study.

Go to  Our Changing Forests Project Webpages to learn more about the Our Changing Forests project and protocol.

Attend our Summer Institute for Teachers on August 22, 2018.  
To join our Network of Schoolyard Ecology, we invite teachers from throughout the North East to 

 Apply for a   Field Trip Scholarship 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Our Changing Forests Project in Lincoln

Birches School Students Got Busy in their Field Study Plot 

Teacher Katherine Parisky shared these photos showing students doing their field work after sending this update:

We look forward to beginning our spring citizen scientist unit next week! I am thrilled to be finally kicking off Our Changing Forest collaboration with Harvard Forest for our final thematic unit of the year. Although we have not yet moved locations, we plan to use our new campus and the field site plot that Josh helped us map last yr. (Project Coach, Joshua Rapp) I will send photos (and data) as the project is underway. 

Students measured Diameter at Breast Height
(DBH) of all the trees in their 10 x 10 meter
study plot.

Students identified trees using field guides and recorded diameter (DBH) and Tree ID on field data sheets to be entered onto the Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology  Online Database.

In the fall, teacher Katherine P. and Harvard Forest Project Coach, Joshua Rapp set the plot site, including the initial tree identification and circumference measurements.  

Students collected the  data during their spring citizen science unit.

Data has been submitted to Harvard Forest's Online Database which allows schools from throughout New England to enter, manage, and graph student data from their site as well as to compare results across the region.

Katherine provided this background of the Birches school and their particular approach to integrating outdoor learning opportunities such as Schoolyard Ecology:

Birches School is a small independent nature-based school committed to educating youngsters about the interconnected nature of all living things. Over the summer months our faculty design three thematic units that weave each of the academic subjects around essential questions and enduring understandings. For example this fall 2017, we are planning our first unit of study to be focused on storytelling: through the lens of the natural world. The essential question for this unit will be "How do I connect to the earth?" We are looking forward to continuing our work with the LLCT People for Pollinators Project in Lincoln. This is a photography and pollinator count study, comparing two field meadows; soil treated and untreated plots, and involves students using iNaturalist to document pollinator count data.

I am now looking for additional citizen scientist opportunities for our students to be involved in, later in ...during the spring 2018 unit.  As a former research scientist myself, I am looking to provide our middle school students with exposure to and participation in current scientific research. I hope to modify any field protocols/lessons to make them accessible and age appropriate for our younger students. My science classes this year are multi-age groups ...6th/7th graders.

Graphs Showing Birches Study Trees by Density, Basal Area and Carbon Storage:  

Explore More:  

This work was featured on the school blog. Check it out at: 

 Birches School Blog/our-changing-forest

Birches School Changing Forests Data on Harvard Forest Online Database

Find the Birches School on our 

Interactive Schoolyard-field-site Map  

Choose "Our Changing Forests Project and scroll to "The Birches School". 

Learn more about this project at 

Our Changing Forests Project Webpages

Join one of our projects by registering for the

Schoolyard Ecology Summer Institute for Teachers

Thursday, May 24, 2018

2018 Excellence in Environmental Education Awardees; Jana Matthei and Emilie Cushing

Harvard Forest Schoolyard Teachers, Emilie Cushing and Jana Matthei were honored at this State House ceremony last week.  To see the wide range of ways they achieved excellence read the summaries below.

Glen Urquhart School Teacher, Emilie Cushing,  shows the rest of us what is like to put one’s beliefs into action and to back it up with science. She doesn’t just like to tell her students or peers about the importance of understanding and protecting the environment. She shows them how to get boots on the ground in the schoolyard and the local community measuring, observing, recording data, interpreting GIS maps, etc.  Her audience is not only her science students at Glen Urquhart School in Beverly but also teachers from the North Shore, Massachusetts, and throughout New England. 
Here are some examples of how Emilie uses local resources and partnership to engage both students and other teachers in active citizen science projects. 


Birds in Our Backyard... Emilie leads her students in monitoring 2 areas of their choosing around campus...one they feel is good habitat for either food, water, or shelter for birds, and one they feel is poor.  They document the number of birds seen in each area every week, and the species seen. They started in January, and will continue for the rest of the year.   Emilie hopes to tie this into a recent report done by Mass Audubon documenting bird species projected to be impacted by climate change (one being the chickadee, which they see and hear a lot of!)

Salt Sleuths... Emilie designed this investigation to determine if salt levels in the small pond (that's close to the road) behind their school go up after a rainy winter storm (when roads have been salted).  They did an initial survey, looking at macroinvertebrates living in the pond, as well as determining salt level using a refractometer, and dissolved oxygen content.  They measured levels after the first rainy storm, and will do one more measurement.  They hope to tie into what Beverly could do to reduce the amount of salt used, or any alternatives.  

MITS- North Shore Region One-Week Institute for Grades 3-8 Educators; Investigating Ecosystems and Assessing Human Impact
Emilie is cohosting this 1 week Summer Institute through the Museum Institute for Teaching Science (MITS) with Liz Duff of Mass. Audubon.
Collaborators:  Mass Audubon’s Endicott Sanctuary; Glen Urqhart School ; Plum Island Ecosystems LTER; Harvard Forest LTER.  They invite teachers to join them to learn:  How are humans helping or harming local habitats? Explore ways to investigate this question in your own schoolyard, and in the world around you. Support your students’ active involvement in achieving a positive impact through citizen-science projects that will have them collecting real, local data that can be used by scientists.

Our Changing Forests:  Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology, Harvard University
 Emilie’s work leading the Our Changing Forests project was featured in an article in North Shore Magazine, highlighting the wonderful Schoolyard Ecology work we’ve made possible at a middle school in Beverly, Mass.: http://www.nshoremag.com/September-2016/student-scientists/.  Emilie has also presented at 2 of Harvard Forest Spring Workshops for Teachers in order to teach other teachers how to best integrate environmental projects into Middle School curriculum. See some of what she has shared on the web below. Currently Emilie is one of 3 teachers participating in a mini grant through Harvard Forest to develop a curriculum unit using a series of GIS maps of her schoolyard and the town of Beverly to understand how land in Beverly has changed over time.  The intention of this work is to get students to see how past choices humans have made in how they use land has impacted the way that the town looks and functions now. They will place a strong focus on how forest cover has changed on these maps and discuss what choices the town can make currently and in the future for the greatest good.  In this way, students will be able to make the conceptual link from a 10x10 meter ecology plot study to the civic responsibility of how we manage the environment around us at the town scale. 

  "Connecting Students and Disciplines through Real Science" at the AISNE (Association of Independent Schools in New England) Conference…Not only has Emilie taken a lead in sharing her work with teachers on the North Shore and statewide, she has also shared with teachers throughout New England.


Notre Dame Academy High School Science Teacher, Jana Matthei, is recognized for her outstanding work both in the classroom and as a mentor for other teachers who strive to provide their students with opportunities to delve deeply into thinking and acting in ways that will improve our natural environment; This is especially important for High School students as they prepare to become decision makers and steward Massachusetts’ earth, sky and waters. 

Jana has creatively pulled together a rich mix of active learning experiences for her students. These experiences allow students to be active in planning for energy efficiency and sustainability; being citizen scientists; and performing civic duties. She has gone on to share some of this work with other teachers at teacher workshops, on the internet, and as a MAST Conference Presenter. In this way she is able to reach her science students every year as well as over 100 teachers who in turn can provide similar experiences for hundreds of other students each year.

Below is a brief description of the many ways that Jana weaves together these learning experiences, often leveraging local community resources as an avenue for promoting the program and/or educating students about energy and the environment.
Ms. Matthei’s environmental science classes study energy efficiency and renewable and nonrenewable energy sources.  Students complete a multidimensional project about green buildings and sustainable architecture.  The students research a green building (LEED certified or living building certified), write a long group paper about the heating systems, water systems, and other "green aspects" of the building, and then build a 3D model of the building.  The honors class does a similar project, but apply it to their own home so they have to research a bit about their own house and how energy efficient it is now, and then how they could remodel or upgrade it to be greener.  

See an excerpt from the assignment below to get a better sense of what this project involves:

 CP Environmental Science Energy Project
Description: For this project, you will work with one or two partners. You have to pick a partner that it will be easy to work with outside of class for some time (at home or after school at school).
Part 1: Study a LEED Platinum certified building or a Net Zero or Living Building with a partner. Read through the information about the building, focusing especially on how the building is energy efficient. You will create a thorough report explaining the building overall with pictures, diagrams, and information in some detail on the “complicated systems” it uses to be so green.
Part 2: Imagine that you are a rich land owner with a bit of an architecture background and are interested in building a green building right here in our area. You build a 3D model of a building design INSPIRED by your case study that you would like to pitch to a local building developer. You can study a house, a commercial building, a school, there are many different kinds of energy efficient buildings. The model should look professional and come with a quick brochure explaining its features (some figures and facts can be borrowed from the original case study report).
 Honors Energy Project
Description: There are 2 project options. Choose one.
Option 1: In this scenario a terrible hurricane came through your area and your house, along with a few others in the neighborhood, was destroyed. (note this is VERY unlikely – just need to set the stage for designing a new house). Your parents had insured the house in case of floods and have a decent amount of money from the insurance company. They want to rebuild a house on the same property. Draw up 2 “greener” proposals for them for a new house plan that involves more renewable energy while still being affordable. Each plan should include a plan for electricity, heating and cooling, and hot water. You can consider energy sources and house design based on energy conservation. You can also consider water conservation in the design and other fun green elements. One plan should be more affordable (conservative amount of change) and the other plan should be more expensive, more of a reach, but more green. For both, explain how this new house will be better than your old house (cheaper in the long run and/or better for the environment) and explain some basic information about differences in costs between the 2 new proposals.
Basically required for each proposal (2 total):
 *New house design* (can include some pre-made inspirations but should include your own final draft – it can be hand drawn) FOCUS CONTENT VISUALLY
 Electricity, heating and cooling, and hot water plans (include energy sources and infrastructure)
 One should be “safer” with lower initial costs and “less green”
 One should be “edgier” with higher initial costs and VERY GREEN
Final comparison: *Weigh the pros and cons between the 2 options, consider cost and impact an
 *New house design* (can include some pre-made inspirations but should include your own final draft – it can be hand drawn) FOCUS CONTENT VISUALLY
 Electricity, heating and cooling, and hot water plans (include energy sources and infrastructure)
 One should be “safer” with lower initial costs and “less green”
 One should be “edgier” with higher initial costs and VERY GREEN
Final comparison: *Weigh the pros and cons between the 2 options, consider cost and impact and in general how either is “better” than the old house* FOCUS CONTENT in SUMMARY TABLE(S)
Formatting: include text, tables, and pictures in your final format. Include a diagram of the house for each.
Option 2: In this scenario your house is intact and well, but you are looking to make some green updates. Your parents have some money to invest but they want to see a return on investment at some point (make their invested money back in energy savings). In order to do this, you really need to understand how your house uses energy currently. Research this and begin the report with the current state of things at your house. Draw up a “greener” proposal for them for housing renovations that involves more renewable energy while still being affordable. Consider electricity, heating and cooling, and hot water. You can also consider water conservation in this design and other fun green elements. You should not be destroying a lot of your house for this proposal, but you can alter it, replace utility appliances, or add to the house. Explain how this modified house will be better than your old house (cheaper in the long run and/or better for the environment) using clear numbers to explain the current costs for electricity, heat, and hot water and comparing them to the future costs. Calculate the return on investment in new water boilers, furnaces, or electricity generating investments (plan to install at least one major investment and describe how long it will take to pay back the investments based on energy savings – and when you will start to actually make money).
Basically required for the proposal:
 BASELINE - The current state of electricity, heating and cooling, and hot water generation at your house. Include what energy sources you use and how new the utility appliances are.
 PLAN - Explain the new electricity, heating and cooling, and hot water plans (include energy sources and infrastructure) in comparison to the old ones. OLD/NEW COMPARISON USE A SUMMARY TABLE. Include at least 2 new boiler, furnace, or other large investment plans (include a picture and hyperlink to an actual model on the market right now)
 Include return on investment (ROI) analysis (or analyses you can break it up by investment) that clearly compares costs to current costs at your house, describing the initial costs for at least 2 large investments in the green plan, and then overall how long it will take to pay them off and start making money compared to before. FOCUS ON DETAILED ROI for 2 INVESTMENTS USING TABLE(S).
Students in Jana’s classes participate in a Vernal Pool Project each spring combining field study and civic action.   Students visit a vernal pool 2-4 times over the course of the spring (March - May) and observe and collect data ; Activities include: measuring the pool, mapping it, looking for biological evidence that would help officially certify it through the state of Massachusetts.  They usually use the obligate species method to certify pools that are not yet protected (potential vernal pools).  This means they are looking for breeding evidence of species that only breed in vernal pools (spotted salamanders, wood frogs) or any evidence of fairy shrimp, who only live in vernal pools.  They also make sure there is no permanent inlet or outlet, and that the pool dries up over time (ensuring that there are no fish, and it truly is vernal).  Students present their research as a class in a presentation to the town conservation commission for the town where the pool is located (Norwell or Hingham).  The class submits all of their evidence to the state to apply for official certification of the pool.  Typically in Massachusetts this means it gets protected for an extra 50 feet out from its edges compared to other wetland areas (wetlands - 50 feet of protection buffer; vernal pools - 100 feet of protection buffer).   In Jana’s 5 year tenure at Notre Dame Academy (NDA), they have officially certified 6 pools (3 are in process, being reviewed by the state).   This project does not require funding.

Ms. Matthei’s students participate in the Buds, Leaves and Global Warming field science project in collaboration with Harvard Forest, Harvard University.  Students observe and measure tree buds and leaves in order to track the length of the growing season for trees in their Schoolyard.  Students collect data each spring and fall. Jana contributes project data each season to the region-wide study involving over 1,000 students each year.  Harvard manages the database for the network of over 50 schools and regularly hosts teacher workshops which bring together scientists and teachers to enhance professional development and support teachers in continuing to build depth and breadth to the learning experiences for students in the Schoolyard and classroom.  Jana has contributed 8 years of data to the online database and has shared her work with a broader audience at the Mass. Assoc. of Science Teachers (MAST) conference.  Given that this program is a long term project run through Harvard Forest, this will expect to continue indefinitely.

 All of these educational experiences nurture civic responsibility.  Students get to practice making decisions on what features contribute to sustainable design of homes and public buildings which give them a foundation for making decisions about what kind of home to build or purchase and what kind of public buildings are suitable for their local communities and beyond.  Students become directly part of local and state government in pursuing certification of a vernal pool.  This experience will undoubtedly empower them to be active agents in civic activity in the future.  The Buds and Leaves project allows students to understand what role Carbon plays in Global Warming and how that impacts our trees locally.  Students can then better understand how decisions about whether to plant trees or keep forests intact in their local landscape impact air quality and overall sustainability which will presumably impact personal and civic actions they will take as adults.  

Links to teacher resources contributed  by Emilie and Jana   

Blewitt,M. and Cushing, E.  2017. Why do Teachers Engage in Citizen Science?  Oral Presentation.

Matthei. 2016. Tree Identification.                                      
Matthei. 2016. MAST Presentation.