Monday, April 24, 2017

What Amazing Teachers Will Do! 17 Teachers Recognized for Long Term Leadership of Schoolyard Ecology Projects

Can you believe that 18 teachers have dedicated 5 or more years to leading HF LTER Schoolyard Ecology projects for children in grades K-12?

This on top of an ever changing and super challenging educational environment is truly something to celebrate.  I am so honored to work with such dedicated teachers who year after year go above and beyond what is required and do the work they believe will make a difference to both their students and our planet.   Please honor their work by taking a moment to see some highlights of the contributions they have made to the Schoolyard Ecology program and beyond.

Photos of Teachers who have dedicated 10 + years are shown here: 

The Post Retirement Team- Chuck Skillings has led  young children at the Davis Hill Elementary School  in collecting project data for the Buds, Leaves and Global Warming project for 10 years now. He and Project Ecologist, John O'Keefe are both participating in the project in their retirement.
J.R. Briggs Elementary Teacher Kate Bennett has contributed to our Schoolyard program for the longest of any teacher so far.  12 years of full on dedication, leading 2 projects, serving as a  HF mentor teachers: and as a  Research Experience for Teachers (RET) during summers; developing a series of lessons for using Phenocam in K-12 curriculum; presenting at National conferences in California, Colorado and Boston. Kate has been awarded numerous environmental education awards at the local, state and regional levels. Kate is pictuired here with Woolly Bully and the Hemlock Trees Project Ecologist David Orwig to the left.  

Austin Preparatory Teacher, Maria Blewitt has not only led students in contributing to the Buds, Leaves and Global Warming project for 10 years.  She has also served as mentor teacher and presented at our Spring Workshops on multiple occasions. Maria has contributed to HF Schoolyard Teacher surveys as well as surveys of  Undergraduates to learn what K-12 experiences were meaningful in leading them to pursue Science in college.  Maria has been honored for Excellence in  Environmental Education  at the Mass. State House

Please take the time to use the  link to slides to see Photos AND some of the contributions of all of the 11 teachers recognized the Spring Workshop.


 Schoolyard/Teacher Recognition Ceremony Presentation.pdf

Links to News Articles: 

Skillings-  The Landmark

Anderson, Levy,

Levy, Anderson-  The Sentinal

Farrow-Wicked Local Lincoln

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring=New Life; Schoolyard Ecology Spring Workshop Photos, etc.

Lightning Round 
 Local Land Use Maps 
 Teacher Recognition Ceremony

New Life for Schoolyard Program    

Teachers work with site specific land
Use Maps 

Harvard Forest Research Assistant (GIS) Joshua Plisinski from the  Landscape Scenarios team at Harvard Forest introduced map books (series of related automated maps)  of  specific areas and towns  around schools/field sites  participating in the Changing Forests project. This brand new effort, funded by Highstead Foundation, provides a conceptual bridge for students (and teachers) between what they experience and learn through their small plot study onto a broader scale- a 1 square mile area around their sites as well the entire town in which they live.  The goal here is for students to gain an understanding of  how the wider landscape is changing over time.  

Harvard Forest Site Manager and Senior Ecologist, Audrey Barker-Plotkin shows teachers how the  pastures and forests are revealing stories of past and present land use change.

Photo by Jenny Hobson
Teachers who Dedicated 5-12 Years of HF Schoolyard Ecology Project leadership at their sites were honored at a Teacher Recognition Ceremony during the Spring Workshop. 

Front row from left:  Maria Blewitt, Austin Preparatory School; JoAnn Mossman, Overlook Middle School; Robin Gurdak-Foley-Helen E. James Elementary School; Louise Levy, Belchertown High School; Jane Lucia, Williston Northampton School ; Sally Farrow, Drumlin Farm- Mass. Audubon 

Middle row:  Katherine Bennett, J.R. Briggs Elementary School; Melanie McCracken, Groton-Dunstable High School; John O'Keefe, H.F. Project Ecologist.

Back row:  Clarisse Hart, H.F. Director of Education and Outreach; David Orwig, H.F. Project Ecologist; Pamela Snow, H.F. Schoolyard Ecology Coordinator; Charles Skillings, Davis Hill Elementary School; Nora Murphy, Concord-Carlisle High School; Aaron Ellison, H.F. R.E.T. Mentor/Ecologist; Emery Boose, H.F. Information Manager; Karen Anderson, The MacDuffie School.  

Glen Urquart School Teacher, Emilie Cushing and Austin Prep. Teacher, Maria Blewitt Co-presented about incorporating citizen science in the K-12 setting.

 Overlook Middle School Teacher, JoAnn Mossman shared 8 Years of wisdom in leading an Schoolyard Ecology project at her school. 

Left: Project Ecologist, John O'Keefe, led Buds, Leaves and Global Warming Teachers on a field walk to help prepare for spring leaf out observations. 

Right:  Woolly Bully teachers led by Project Ecologist, David Orwig, witnessed the changes happening to Hemlock trees in the forest. Long Trail School teacher, Amy Newbold is pictured next to the Eddy Flux Tower which monitors exchanges between the hemlock dominated tree canopy and the atmosphere.

Explore More :

Coming Soon:

  • Teacher Recognition Ceremony Slides

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Communicating Harvard Forest Science Through Art; David Buckley Borden

How does one best communicate the complexity of the science being done at Harvard Forest?  

The reality is that scientists, educators, administrators and even artists at Harvard Forest are approaching the task of sharing the broader impacts of scientific research on many fronts.

Bullard Fellow and Artist,David Buckley Borden, has a very unique way of communicating the ecological concepts at the heart of Harvard Forest's research.  

Explore more of David's work through the following resources:

Harvard Gazette Article, Creative Path Through Harvard Forest

Davidbuckleyborden webpages on Harvard-forest

Come visit at David's Harvard Forest Open Studio:  

Where:   Harvard Forest (324 N. Main Street, Petersham, MA 01366). 
When:    Saturday, April 29, 2017 from 12 to 4pm. 
Who:      All are welcome 
What:     View and discuss ongoing work both in and outside the studio. Light refreshments.                   

Monday, March 13, 2017

Late Winter?

Out Like a Lion? 

Greater Lowell Technical School teachers, Tara Alcorn, Bryanna Hawkins, Kim Febres walked through light snow at Harvard Forest on March 10th.

The promise of an early spring seems to have evolved into a winter wonderland in mid March.
Frigid Temps have swept through New England, with a forecast of a major snowstorm for tomorrow.

Maple researcher Joshua Rapp has updated his observations of Maple sap timing to show that 2017 is following a similar pattern as the past 5 years, as of last week. 

Slower flows this week as the trees took their time thawing out from below zero temps last weekend. With the thermometer dropping again it looks like the sap will be locked up for the week to come as well.


Joshua M. Rapp, PhD

Harvard Forest, Harvard University


What next?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Early Spring? Yes and Maybe...

Skunk Cabbage by Sally Farrow, Drumlin Farm, Lincoln, MA

The awareness of early spring struck me almost literally in mid February as was skiing in Quebec through a thunder and lightning storm in pouring rain.   This was certainly not what I expected to find after months of preparing for skiing hut to hut through the "normal" below freezing  conditions northwest of Montreal in winter.  Rain in Quebec was not out of the question, as I had encountered rain in Quebec city in February years ago, but thunder and lightning, really???

Upon my return to New England on February 25th, I was greeted with 60 degree temps, and my Facebook feed and email inbox were reflecting a bunch of unusually early signs of spring.

Earliest snowdrops ever. Sighted in the hilly wilds of West Hawley, MA on 2/25/17!

Edite Cunha

Left:   Nature Log. Petersham, MA.  Thursday redwing blackbirds arrived. Satureday ice went out on the ponds. Fifteen min. later Canada Goose finds open water.  2-26-16
Tom also reported seeing 2 Eagles nesting by Quabbin Reservoir that week. 

Right:  Wood frog near the Swift River in Petersham on March 1!  Skunks also out tonight....
John Burk.

March 2, amherst ma

Audrey Barker Plotkin 

Aside from these casual observations,  here are some more scientific reports:

Definitely worth checking out an article and new set of scientifically backed maps produced by the USGS-led USA-National Phenology Network that shows just how unusually early spring is arriving in the United States.   

To see some specific examples of phenological changes occuring in Spring in the Northeast, check out: 

Back at Harvard Forest, researcher Joshua Rapp is busy collecting and measuring Maple syrup.  

This is what he's been finding since Feb. 18th about early spring harvest: 

This year I tapped the maples at Harvard Forest on February 18th and collected the first sap on the 19th, near the median day for the season start day around here. While the season started at the 'normal' time, the start of the season was anything but normal - 60 and 70 degree temps in the first week started the sap gushing and in less than 2 weeks have collected about half as much sap as we typically do in full season, and about the same amount as we did last year by this date even though last year's season started more than 2 weeks earlier. 

The colder temps predicted for the next few days will push the pause button for sap flow, but next week looks to be excellent sap flow weather again. The big question is whether the early season warmth foretells an early end of the season. If the season goes to the end of March as is typical, sap volumes may rival the high mark of 2013. If it ends early sap and syrup production may be more typical.

Stay tuned,
Joshua M. Rapp, PhD
Harvard Forest, Harvard University /

And from  Drumlin Farm's  field sites....

Silver Maple by Sally Farrow
Drumlin Farm, Lincoln, Ma. 

The skunk cabbage is blooming by preschool pond , the silver maples and pussy willows are blooming in Boyce field.

2/25 I heard peepers calling and 3/1 I heard and saw wood frogs in preschool and Ice pond.
The ponds have refrozen but there is a gentle rain and I hope for some movement tonight
Happy Spring!

Sally Farrow

Excerpt from Early Spring; An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World by Amy Seidl: 

While I have spent time in regions of the world where global warming is more rapidly affecting ecosystems, I want to emphasize the changes I see in my landscape close to home-in my garden, in local woods, and ponds. It is in this everyday context that I notice the world entering flux.  The timing of seasonal events, for instance, is shifting:  lilacs are blooming earlier; gardens remain prolific well into fall, and butterflies appear weeks earlier than previously recorded....and the the start of maple sugaring rarely begins in early March as it historically did.... 

   With each year I am compelled to ask: How are natural communities and ecosystems where I live responding to climate change?  What does a thunderstorm in January signal?  ...As these events collect, I a realize how more and more of my observations reflect the predictions that climate scientists are making for New England-greater single precipitation events, warmer nights, shorter winters, and overall more variable weather.  While it remains difficult to draw casual relationships between global climate change and local weather, we are able to see how our local conditions increasingly resemble the forecasted predictions.*

* pages XII and XIII in Preface, Early Spring; An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World.

So Are We Having an Early Spring This Year or Not? 

Certainly we are seeing signs of an early spring on most fronts this year, but much of our phenological observations are not complete yet. We hope that over a thousand students will begin observing study trees and recording the state of the buds to report to Harvard Forest soon.  Buds, Leaves and Global Warming Project Ecologist, John O'Keefe, has indicated to us that spring phenology is highly variable based on his 27 years of observing timing of the emergence of leaves. He has seen that local weather in the key months of March and April seem to be the largest drivers of timing of leaf out.  So while the mild spell in February has helped swell the buds on many species, we won't know about the timing of leaf out until we actually see the leaves emerge...and then there is always the chance that a late frost could kill those early emerging leaves, so the jury is still out on early spring for our local trees.  Please get out and start recording some data to track it for us, and we will look forward to hearing back from you soon.  

Explore More about Spring Phenology:

Early Spring by Amy Seidl, Goodreads review and links 

 I recommend this book highly to those who want to explore this topic further.
 While the author is an ecologist, she writes in a highly accessible way that
 is engaging and ultimately relatable.  Very relevant to our Buds, Leaves and
 Global Warming Schoolyard project.  


Find current images of tree canopies that are updated daily
from sites all over the world, including this one from the 
Boston Common, along with several sites at Harvard Forest
and some Schoolyard Ecology sites. 

Protocols, Photos of Buds, Related Teacher

Step By Step Phenology Activity.pdf

Lesson Plan for integrating timing of tree phenology with
other organisms in food web such as caterpillars and birds.

Sneak Preview of Budburst Activity

GLOBE program Lesson Plan for bringing branches inside to observe budburst in classroom prior to timing of buds opening outdoors in field site.
Involves sketching, observing, predicting...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Valentine for Those Who Love Trees

Getting To The 💗  Of What Drove Us to Do This Work 

I hope you will indulge me in taking some time to go back to the basics, and look at the feel good mission of this work in engaging students in Schoolyard field investigations.  In seeking the images that most inspire me about this work, I wanted to create something simple to share with you all in hopes that somehow it  can express the heart of all this work we do.  Knowing that you all share a love of trees or at least are all contributing to cultivating a love of trees in the over 3,000 students participating in our ecology projects this year, my daughter and I made this Tree Love image with the Pileated Woodpecker and Gray Squirrel  especially for you all. Mega gratitude to all of you who make up this very large team of folks contributing to our Schoolyard Ecology projects.  

Fifth Grader, Lillian Maxwell from the Petersham Center School designed the image above as a poster for the statewide Arbor Day poster contest. Some of you might recognize it from a previous blog.  It fit so well into my Love of Trees theme, I had  to include it here.  

When asked at school last year to think of one special place to evoke in 3- D, my daughter chose to create a sculpture of the Sugar Maple tree that holds her swing in our backyard.  

I  wonder  what forms the love for trees that your students or other children in your life are developing is taking? 

What forms is your own love of trees taking?  Please send me any images or words that show this.

Related Links:  

Books about Trees Worth Sharing with kids all of all ages:

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

There is also an  animated film version of this story, worth seeing. 


The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Witness Tree by Seattle Times Reporter and Harvard Forest Bullard, Lynda Mapes.  Soon to be Published

Mostly for secondary school students and adults.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Hemlock Happy

Fifth Graders from northern Massachusetts are happy about what they are seeing in their study of Hemlock trees.

Toy Town Elementary School Students have  collected 7 years of field data for the Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology Woolly Bully and the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Project, led by Ecologist, David Orwig.  They are among a network of students throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont helping to monitor the spread and impact of this tiny insect which is currently causing major changes in New England's forests. Toy Town students have not seen any adelgid in Winchendon as of yet, which indicates the hemlocks they are monitoring are still healthy.  Many hemlocks from Connecticut to southern NH, Vt. and Maine are not so healthy, as the adelgid is capable of sucking the life out of these sometimes giant trees.

Excerpt of Toy Town Elementary Fall 2016 data from Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology database

Toy Town Field Site in Red above, among Schoolyard Ecology Network field sites

Students are working in partner pairs to measure the new growth of the sample branches to the nearest .10 of a cm..  They double check their measurements and record them on their Data Collection Form.  Then we average the new growth for each tree and submit the data in the Harvard Forest Database.

-Toy Town Elementary School Teacher, Anne McDonald


The students also make observations about what they observe around the tree.  We discuss what species might grow in place of the Hemlock tree, if it were to die. *


In the classroom, we study the life cycle of the adelgid, and the attributes that make the adelgid invasive.  We also look at other invasive species and find commonalities.  Finally, we look at ways we can prevent the spread of invasive species and how we can inform others! *

Teacher, Anne McDonald, integrates activities from Project Learning Tree and other sources in order to deepen the understanding of the impact of invasive insects on the ever changing composition of our local forests.  

Toy Town Elementary Fifth Graders visit Lake Dennison and Otter River State Parks each year in the Fall to enhance the Forest Ecology unit.   


We Hike the MacKenzie Trail...observe and record our observations in Coniferous and Deciduous areas. *

 Students come back into the classroom and draw their observations in detail.  They identify the layers of the forest and the Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers in them. We also practice identifying leaves.

* Quotes and Photos provided by Toy Town Elementary School Teacher, Anne McDonald

Related Links: