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 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.:  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.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

This is what Schoolyard Eco Looks Like from Westwood to Westfield

Don't you love it when you have students who help do your job for you?!!

I definitely do...and in this case, it is Schoolyard Teachers doing my work for me ways of showing what Schoolyard Ecology looks like on school grounds  and in the classroom.

Many thanks to teachers, Michael McCarthy from Thurston Middle School in Westwood and Mary Reed at St. Mary's Parish School in Westfield for sharing these views! 


Michael has put together a wonderful combination of images and links related to the 2 Schoolyard Projects he leads in Westwood.  

I  love the way he put it all together and so I have cut and pasted it all and provided you the link to his site below.  

 To see this in larger and original form, check out Michael's  class web page online at:  Westwoodmccarthy-science/project-bud-burst-2018


Schoolyard Teacher, Mary Reed, sent me a "care package" that I want to share with you. 

  This is some of the contents I received in a large manila envelope via snail mail from the  Saint Mary's Parish School in Westfield:  

Sample student graph of  Tree Color and Leaf Drop

Completed Worksheet focusing on Research questions of the Buds, Leaves and Global Warming  project.  This worksheet embedded the Julian Date Calendar on it to make it easy and concrete for students to do this calculation successfully.  

Here is a closer look at a student response to the more open ended question about the growing season.  Notice that this is an important way to see what students understand and specifically where misconceptions lie.  I highly recommend using both concrete growing season question and this open ended one as Mary did to scaffold  and  develop student  understanding and to assess what was understood and what wasn't.  

Mary Sent these photos separately
 to contribute to the field site

 This is a graph Mary created during the Data Workshop for Teachers at Harvard Forest which shows the species composition of her schoolyard field site in a different way than the photos.

 Explore More:

Find and download Buds project Graphing Templates and Summary Questions by Mary Reed for use in your classroom at:  Elementary-Buds-Graphing.pdf

See Project Data from these sites on our database by clicking on their locations on our  Interactive Schoolyard Site Map

See what more teachers  throughout the region shared about projects at their individual schools on our Lightning Round Slide Presentation at: Lightning Round-4-6-18.pptx

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Writer Lynda Mapes shares a glimpse of a spring walk in the snow with Ecologist, John O'Keefe

Just wanting to point all those interested in Schoolyard Ecology to Lynda Mapes' recent blog entry featuring our own Buds, Leaves and Global Warming Project Ecologist John O'Keefe as he begins his 29th year of studying the timing of spring budburst. Beautiful photos and writing by Lynda.

Worth Checking Out at:

Into Spring...Workshop Review Part I

Photos and Teacher Comments about 

Spring Workshop 2018

Hemlock Woolly Bully Group
 on Hemlock Hospice Trail

Forest Ecologist, David Orwig showed Hemlock Woolly Bully teachers the current state of the impact of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid at Harvard Forest and regionally.  

Woolly Bully teachers were shown artist, David Buckley Borden's sculptural interpretation of impact of this insect on the region's forests as they visited his Hemlock Hospice installation.  Dr. Orwig showed the impact of another insect, the Hemlock Borer as well.  Teachers viewed the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid and it's "woolly" egg sacs under the microscope indoors.

Teachers took a closer look at the Adelgid under the scope
Bark from Borer damage on Ground
Forest Ecologist, David Orwig updating Woolly Bully Group
Rule Breaking Teachers!
 One teacher reported that  going over data collection methods and looking at Adelgid was her favorite part of the workshop.

A new teacher reported:  I’m excited to start working on this project!

Another teacher commented:  Hands on is always the best

One teacher rated going over data collection methods and looking at adelgid as the most valuable part of the workshop.


 Forest Ecologist, John O'Keefe shared results of his study of the timing of Spring Budburst and its impact on the changing length of the growing season as related to the Buds, Leaves and Global Warming Schoolyard Ecology study.  Dr. O'Keefe also prepared teachers to lead their students in observing the stages of bud opening as the buds expand and open before the new leaf fully emerges in the spring.  Teachers also practiced tree identification using branches of a wide variety of native tree species both indoors and outdoors.

Buds Teachers found the following most valuable from the field walk and breakout session:

              I learn something new every time I go outside on the walk- example: noticing the difference between                      flowers and leaf buds, especially for Maples.

              This really gives me new energy as our classes head out to observe and collect data!
John is always amazing at helping us with any question!!!

Looking at Buds at different stages. Learning some info about how different species go through the process.

 Getting logistical ideas from teachers on the project.

seeing stages of puffiness in buds

Recommitted to going out in the field, making observations, analyzing data, and asking scientific questions.

Looking at trees and showing buds on different species

Forest Ecologist and Site Manager, Audrey Barker Plotkin, introduced Our Changing Forests teachers to the Soil Warming plots in order to see a unique way in which scientists are studying about the climate change at Harvard Forest.  Researchers have been monitoring effects of warming soil in a series of small plots over many years as a way of modeling impacts of climate change on future forests.  

Audrey shared the story of the unexpected  results of this study.  Initially there was a distinct downward trend in the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere from the soil. After several years, the carbon seemed to be depleted and amounts hovered around zero for a few years. Surprisingly, in the past several years, the amount of carbon being released has increased steadily again.  Researchers are working to understand what mechanisms are to explain for the unexpected patterns in carbon cycling in warmed plots.  They are particularly focused on microbial activity in the soil.  

Audrey showed teachers graphs of 
carbon release from soil in warmed plots
 versus control plots. This data illustrate
 the importance of doing long term

Teachers found the following valuable about the Our Changing Forests walk and breakout group:

So many connections that go beyond the project itself. Real Science!

Helped me expand my thinking, to help students understand the importance of research that goes long-term

It was very informative to listen to Melanie and Louise describe the work they are doing with their classes. I am looking forward to seeing it on line. I learned so much

Got so many ideas from Melanie and Louise that I will use! Geo Maps!!

I am eager to look for maps on my town and am most likely to do something similar to M. McCracken's activity

Yes! Loved Melanie and Louise's Projects

I am planning to incorporate more on carbon calculations with our trees this spring.


Thanks to all who joined in celebrating 15 years of Schoolyard Ecology with me at Lunch!

8 Schoolyard Teachers Honored for 

Long-Term Project Leadership

Anne McDonald, Toy Town Elementary School
10 Years

Colleen Casey, Trinity Catholic Academy
5 Years

Sally Farrow, Drumlin Farm, Mass. Audubon
10 Years
Lori Primavera, Trinity Catholic Academy
5 Years
Karen Murphy, Amherst Regional H.S.
5 Years
Robin Gurdak-Foley, Helen E. James Elementary
10 Years
Jana Matthei, Notre Dame Academy
5 years


High School and Graduate Students, 

along with  Formal and Informal Educators Led Afternoon Presentations.  

Stoneleigh Burnham H.S. student , Bri Rook showed how she went about setting up  her individual project focussed on the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid.  Woolly Bully Project Ecologist, David Orwig supported this effort by serving as a resource for setting up and interpreting her ambitious study.


Woolly Bully Teacher-Mentor, Meghan Lena, shared how she mentored  her student, Bri  in fulfilling her International Baccalaureate  (I.B.) program requirements.

LTER Graduate Student, Fiona Jevons  debuted our  Eddy Flux Data Nugget Activity 

All workshop participants took on the role of  High School students working in small groups to follow the instructions in graphing the simplified data set taken from Harvard Researchers William Munger and Steven Wofsy's signature Harvard Forest Eddy-flux dataset which measures carbon exchange between the tree canopy and the atsmosphere.   

Teachers said this about the Data Nugget:

I am very excited about gaining easier access to authentic data sets!  Although the information is good it needs rewriting.

I will use this in my climate change unit for AP environmental science as well as other units throughout the course.

I think if the text were simplified, I could use it in the classroom   

I will have my students graph the LTER data

I will use the whole thing in along with my Trees and Carbon Unit.

simplify it to tell stories about trees and carbon sequestration

I would use Version B with my students with moderate disabilities.

I would use it in my 7th grade classroom to teach data analysis and climate change

Yes. I think it is really great to have "classroom ready" materials related to the projects

Sally Farrow, Susan St. John, and Martha Slone shared the  work they've been
 doing with Schoolyard Projects  in Lowell Public Schools.

Glen Urquhart School Teacher, Emilie Cushing engaged workshop participants
 in a learning activity using  GIS maps of a schoolyard and town to calculate the carbon storage of
 forests in  that town.  This activity was designed to help students understand the impact of forests
on our landscape in broader terms than the data collection activity at their "Our Changing Forests
" schoolyard study plots. 


What Teachers found valuable in afternoon presentations:  

I enjoy hearing how the other teachers are using the protocols in their classrooms and I always come away with strategies to use in my own classroom.

The activities that Emily and Louise described were great.

I will take pieces from all, and tailor the activities to my particular "audience

Listening to Mass Audubon people share, getting ideas from Louise and Melanie!

The map plotting sounds intriguing. I also like the idea of planting trees. I had not thought about that. I wonder if my class can ask the school committee about planing some hemlock saplings along this stream near our playground.

hearing about the Lowell programs was really inspiring, it was also nice to hear about I.B.

I will figure out how to scale up the mapping activity with my students. I will have my students map our site and create questions similar to the exercise we did today on carbon sequestration.

I am now thinking of how I can use mapping and Data Nuggets in my classroom


Lightning Round Slides from Multiple Schoolyard Ecology Sites throughout the Region

Forest Cover Change Maps  Lesson Plans and Learning Activities 

Eddy Flux Tower Data Nugget final draft

Ecologist Presentations

Date for our Summer Institute for Teachers

Gratitude Notes