Monday, September 26, 2016

The next Generation of Citizen Scientists are Ready to Monitor A Forest Giant on the Edge

Harvard Forest Ecologist,David Orwig, and Mentor Teacher, Kate Bennett, prepared a new group of teachers to get students out tracking the tiny Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an insect that is causing a major shift in New England's forest right now.  

Teachers practiced labelling study trees and measuring new growth of hemlock trees at their branch tips to record on the Harvard Forest field data sheets that their students will use at their schoolyards this fall. 


The white "woolly" egg sacs of the invasive Hemlock Woolly Adelgid were barely visible this time of year.  These egg sacs will be easier to spot from November through early Spring, when students will go back outside to record presence of woolly Adelgid to report to the Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology study.

Dr. Orwig showed teachers the thinning of the Hemlock trees at Harvard Forest that has occurred since the Woolly Adelgid arrived several years ago.  

Teachers were able to see the new growth of  black birch saplings beginning to replace the dying hemlocks. We hope they will bring back the message to their students that "the forest never doesn't change".  As one species declines, another fills its place in the forest. Change is the one constant.


What Woolly Bully Teachers valued about the Summer Institute:

  • Being able to go out and actually look at the trees and experience what we will do with the students was key for me. It's so helpful for me to actually do what I will be doing with the students instead of just reading a protocol .
  •   Many things. 1.Observation crosses many areas of study. 2.So much specific, scientific knowledge that I find fascinating.
  • I learned so much in a short time during today's workshop. The most valuable thing I learned is the importance of the hemlock to our environment.
  • How easy it can be to implement a field study. How important the preteaching, set-up, and demonstrations will be before heading out into the field.
  • I gained the knowledge I need to implement this study in my school. I especially valued the time we spent walking in the forest and talking about the woolly adelgids and hemlocks.

To learn more about Woolly Bully Schoolyard Ecology, go to: 

 Woolly Bully Schoolyard Ecology Webpages

Senior Ecologist, Dr. David Orwig's Webpages

Hemlock; A Forest Giant on the Edge  

Graph of Survey Results from teacher survey at the Summer Institute for Teachers at Harvard Forest

Thanks to all who contributed to guiding teachers to prepare for getting students doing real science based on real issues with help from real scientists....

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Our Changing Forests Schoolyard Ecology Project Is Growing

New Beginnings for the Our Changing Forests Project

With an expanded online database and project coach on board, a new group of teachers participated in a 2 day Our Changing Forests Schoolyard Ecology Summer Institute at Harvard Forest.

After spending 2 days at Harvard Forest learning from experts such as project ecologist, Joshua Rapp and author, Tom Wessels, teachers are beginning to bring students out to monitor their study plots in woodlands throughout Massachusetts.   Students in grades 6-12, from as far southeast as Middleborough and as far northwest as Charlemont  will be joining forces to paint a picture of our region's changing forests.

Ecologist, Joshua Rapp introduced the Our Changing Forests Protocol and driving scientific questions to teachers in the Fisher Museum

 A cow in this wooded pasture was a great window into how historic land use has impacted the New England landscape we see today.

Ecologist Josh Rapp showed examples of Wildlife sign such as these woodpecker holes that can be reported on the site survey data included on the Harvard Forest online database.

The group looked at an example of beech bark disease
 as an example of pathogens to be reported on the
 site survey.

Teachers practiced measuring 
diameter at breast height.

Teachers practiced aligning plot lines with cardinal directions using a compass. 

Tree diameter and Species I.D. are among the data students will be collecting in order to monitor species composition, density, carbon biomass storage, etc. of their local woodlands.

Each teacher had an opportunity to participate in practicing setting up study plots in small groups,
with assistance from project staff.

What Teachers said about Day 1 of the Our Changing Forests 

Summer Institute:

  •  I am very excited by all the aspects of this research with regards to my curriculum.
  • Interacting with ecologists and colleagues interested in the same topics has given me suggestions for activities that I can implement in the classroom in addition to the Changing Forests program.
  •  I appreciate that every opportunity was taken by the staff to give us the most pertinent information in order to get started.
  • I am looking forward to using the many opportunities for students to experience real world science practice with all of its challenges and pleasures.
  • I love that you already have identified the new MA ST/E standards that connect to this project
  •  I think it is great that Carrie (Project coach) will be available as I think that having that help will be useful as we start off. 
  • A much more finely honed sense of how to frame the project for my students, and how to integrate the Changing Forests project into my curriculum, and how to flex my curriculum to be inspired by the project!
  • The ability to set up a plot and the confidence to have my students identify and track the trees in the area. I feel confident that I understand what is asked of the program and that my students will enjoy the process of being out in the field.
  • The ability to set up a plot for a field study and the tools necessary to accomplish that.
  • All 3 parts were valuable, the background knowledge, practicing the protocol and looking at the database.
  • Participation in a LTER (Long Term Ecological Research site).

Reading the Forested Landscape with Tom Wessels

Day 2 of the Summer Institute for Teachers was spent immersed in interpreting the Forest with author and Professor Emeritus, Tom Wessels

Teachers were busy writing notes at each of the 
many stops in the forest.  

Teachers told us what they appreciated about their time with Tom Wessels

All participating teachers rated their time with Tom Wessels as "Extremely Useful".
  • Exploring forests gives you an infinite subject for study. I love the idea of land-use history as a mystery that we can solve, in this case using Forest Forensics
  • Hints on what to key in to when determining previous use of the land.
  • EVERYTHING!!! I learned so much in that session!
  • The talk of land use over time and how the species all interact, no species lives independent of others
  • Better able to identify trees and more knowledgeable about their characteristics. Understanding land design and history. 
  • The skills, equipment and access to knowledge and support to create a meaningful field research experience for my students.
  • Split the plot into 4's. Use Oliver for land use through time. Changing Forests protocol may be discrete, localized data collection, but the opportunities to branch out (changing climate, land-use planning, biodiversity, etc.) are infinite!
  • I appreciated the emphasis on observation skills and the intelligence of the trees which we can use to build upon the data collection and analysis
  • Confidence that I can teach children about our changing forests.


Teachers are now set to begin marking study plots and  engaging their students in collecting forest data tracking change over time in their local woodlands. Project Coach, Carey Lang, is visiting school based field sites this fall to help teachers get started.  We look forward to supporting these citizen scientists throughout this school-year and hope that  we will be working with these schools for years to come.

The expansion of our outreach capacity for this project is made possible with support from the Highstead Foundation in addition to ongoing support from the National Science Foundation's Long Term Ecological Research program and other private funders.  

Learn More about the Our Changing Forests Schoolyard Ecology Project: