Thursday, July 29, 2021

Reaching Underserved Populations with Project Based Learning- Innovation Academy Charter Teacher, Katherine Hinkle


 Teacher Name:  Katherine Hinkle                  

School:  Innovation Academy Charter School 

Schoolyard Ecology Projects:

Our Changing Forest

Woolly Bully and the Hemlock Tree

Grade Level:  9th Grade

Subject:  Environmental Science

Q: How did you decide to engage your students in a Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology project?

When I was tasked with developing an Environmental Science course for our 9th graders, I went hunting for authentic, real world problems and I was delighted to stumble over the Harvard Forest site.

Q: What aspects of the Schoolyard project fit well in the educational model you are working in? What parts are a  challenge to match up

A: Its a perfect match up! Our emphasis on real world problem solving and authentic projects is a natural fit for school yard ecology.

Q: Did you purposely set out to work in an alternative educational model?  Is so, why-what background exp. Led you to the school model you are currently working in?

A:  I got into teaching through an unconventional route--I trained as a geologist and then wanted to take a year off and try something new. I got placed at IACS through the New Teacher's Collaborative, a one year licensing program that places teachers in the classroom in a consortium of charter schools in Massachusetts who have a similar project based approach to teaching and learning. I've been here now for almost fifteen years.

I was drawn to the project based approach of my school, and I have found it to be an immensely rewarding model and one that lends itself perfectly to collaborating on citizen science projects like Schoolyard Ecology. I think my background in the lab and field has helped me translate real world science skills to my students. 

Q:  What aspects of the Schoolyard project work successfully with students from underrepresented populations?  What aspects are challenging with these students? 

A: The clear protocols and purpose of the project work are really wonderful. For some students time in the woods is new and really intimidating, so the focus of the data collection helps. Getting students who are not used to extended time outside in the woods requires a lot of acclimatizing. We will often visit our different field sites to just explore once or twice before I introduce the data collection, or we lose  too much time and can't get the data we need. After three years of doing this though, I can say that they all get comfortable by the spring! Its so gratifying. They stop asking about where the axe murderers and wolves are hiding usually by the end of October :).

My biggest challenge has always been getting them to be more comfortable just being outside. A handful of students are coming in with a love and familiarity with nature, but a number of them are very vocal and freaked out about bugs/dirt/bears/other threats perceived and imaginary. One of my favorite things about the spring semester is getting to see their growing confidence and familiarity with being in the woods here at school. By bringing them out every week--the habit just becomes normal to them and they relax into a more natural relationship with their environment.

* See Mass. Dept. of Education Demographic Information for this school below

Q: What ways could Schoolyard projects or environmental/outdoor education in general adapt to better serve underserved populations?

  A: Generating some prompts or low key observational  activities to do during our acclimatizing visits would be great. I just make up small things to do with sensory awareness and "Bio Blitz" activities, but I would love to know from other outdoor educators if there are best practices for introducing unfamiliar students to the woods.

Q:  How are you managing to adapt your project leadership techniques during COVID? 

A: This has definitely been a challenging year! In the fall when we were closed, I had small groups join me after school for voluntary nature walks/data collection trips. Having group projects in class to collaborate on has really helped build community in the class more than usual. I try to keep the projects really grounded in a real world problem or dilemma in our local community so that their work has a direct application that they can see. 

This past fall, since I couldn’t get the majority of my students out to the hemlock grove for the woolly bully study (only six out of 45 were able to come), instead of doing a lab write up like I usually do, I broke the students up into groups and they consulted with our head of school who had recently noticed adelgid on the hemlocks on his property. He took extensive pictures for the class, and they interviewed him about his long term needs for his property and they came up with an action plan/recommendations for him that they presented to him.

Students have lobbied the school to go solar, and collected data to certify a vernal pool.  Now that we are more fully opened, we get outside at least once a week. Students who aren’t in person have a nature journal that I sent home to them and they have been going outside in their yards/neighborhoods in order to keep practicing observational skills and getting some much needed screen free time.

* Note that IACS has one of the more diverse student populations in the HF Schoolyard Ecology program currently according to this School profile from the Mass. Dept. of Education website.

Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity (2020-21)
Race% of School% of District% of State
African American8.28.29.3
Native American0.10.10.2
Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander0.00.00.1
Multi-Race, Non-Hispanic4.74.74.1

Links Related to Katherine's 
Schoolyard Eco work:

Coming Soon!  new docs from LTER Graduate Student Amanda Suzzi will be shared soon on website and linked here

To learn more about the Woolly Bully and the Hemlock Tree  Schoolyard project, go to: 

To learn more about the Our Changing Forests Project go to: 

In photo above, by Tom Hinkle, students retrace part of Thoreau's trip along the Merrimack. They're in Tyngsboro in this picture, Lowell gets their water a couple of miles downstream of there. Katherine also piloted and provided valuable feedback for the  "Love that Dirty Water" Data Nugget
by   HF Schoolyard Teacher, Tara Alcorn.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Students in Ashburnham-Westminster Go Deep into Looking at Timing of Leaf Emergence/Drop and Length of the Growing Season through National Ecological Observatory Grant (NEON)

Long time Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology Educators, Kate Bennett and Tiffany Davis, have been taking a deep dive into Phenology studies with an extra boost from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)/Batelle.  

Kate  said that  "the project Tiffany and I did this year with the fourth and fifth graders "was a "Big success despite Covid!"

Some of you may remember that Kate Bennett had led her students in both Schoolyard projects:  The Woolly Bully and the Hemlock Tree, led by HF Forest Ecologist, David Orwig,  and Buds, Leaves and Global Warming, led by HF Forest Ecologist, John O'Keefe. Kate participated actively

in the Schoolyard program for over 15 years.  She also completed more than one paid summer research experience for Teachers, funded by the National Science Foundation  and NASA with researchers at Harvard Forest, including Aaron Ellison and Andrew Richardson.  While Kate (like Dr. O'Keefe), is formally "retired", she has co-led this Phenology education work through the NEON funding in the J.R. Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham as well as the Westminster Elementary School, along with Technology teacher, Tiffany Davis.

Tiffany Davis is a Digital Learning Coach with the Ashburnham  Westminster Regional School district.  Her role is to support the instructional use of technology through staff professional development, co-teaching, curriculum design, and technical assistance. Digital Learning Coaches also support implementation of the district's STEAM programs/goals, the District Technology Plan and the MA Digital Literacy & Computer Science Standards.*

Here is a list of some of the other grants that Tiffany has leveraged in this role. Notice the others that relate to using technology to support students learning about the natural world:

In addition to her grant funded projects, Tiffany has also contributed greatly to the schools' participation in Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology projects through the years.  She continues to work collaboratively with us at Harvard Forest from inside the schools in her formal school district role.

Harvard Forest Ecologist, Betsy Colburn, has supported the Phenology work through the NEON/Batelle grant by working with teachers and students at participating schools 

Meanwhile, Kate continues to work with Harvard Forest as a Project Coach for the Our Changing Forests project, as well as a mentor for the Phenocam education work with Andrew Richardson, formally of Harvard Univ., now based out of Northern Arizona University.

Their work with students in Ashburnham and Westminster, Ma. has been featured in this article from the  Sentinel and Enterprise newspaper. See the full article here:


The following summary of their NEON/Batelle funded work this past year is excerpted from the Sentinel and Enterprise article linked above.                                

Battelle provides STEM grants to schools with innovative ideas in the fields of math and science that include opportunities outside the classroom.

The grant that was awarded to Davis involved data collection by students in their pollinator garden and on the nature trails at the elementary schools and comparing it to ecological data from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

The school district was the only public school that was awarded this competitive grant.

The arts were integrated in the form of student photography aided by professional photographer and Ashburnham resident, Rebecca Sinclair.

          * Tiffany Davis role per

For More information:

Buds, Leaves and Global Warming Schoolyard Ecology Project at:

To see location of the JR Briggs Elementary School and the Westminster Elementary School as part of the Schoolyard Ecology Network go to:

To Explore fall data from this site, go to :


Explore spring data from this site. (

To see lesson plans created by Kate Bennett to engage students in exploring Phenology on a local and continental scale using Phenocam data, go to:


To learn more about Harvard Forests role with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) go to:

Other Phenology Lesson Plans and Teacher Resources developed by Kate Bennett:

Bennett. 2011. Phenology and student scientists: part I and part II.
Bennett. 2012. Phenology and student scientists (5th grade).
Bennett. 2016. Budburst Vimeo Movie Trailer.
Bennett. 2016. Autumn Vimeo Movie Trailer
Bennett. 2016. Green Leaves Vimeo Movie Trailer.
Bennett. 2016. Growing Season Vimeo Movie Trailer.
Bennett, Snow. 2016. Taking Phenology to the Next Level.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Teacher Spotlight: Maryann Postans Keeper of the Northern-Most Data Set

Hanover High School Teacher, Maryann Postans who has contributed 
9 years of Buds, Leaves and Global Warming data.  

Grade Level:  10

Course Name: Biology

How did you decide to engage your students in a Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology project?  

I was looking for a way to engage my students in authentic science and a few weeks after I started searching for a project an email came across my screen about the Harvard Forest Project.  It was June 2012.  I emailed Pamela Snow and that summer I went to Cambridge to do a workshop on “Buds, Leaves, & Global Warming”.

How did you choose the project (s) that you chose to lead at your school?

This citizen science project was my stepping stone into developing a climate change curriculum. The following year I took a course on climate change online at the American Museum of Natural History.  The common threads were beginning to appear and I used UBD (Understanding By Design) principles to design the course using the Harvard Forest Project as the main focal point.

Did you have any experience with Ecology before joining the Schoolyard Eco. Program? If so, please explain what previous exposure you had in working with/understanding Ecology?

I have a degree from Wesleyan University in Environmental Science so ecology was not new to me.  My first year out of college I was a field biologist for the Lloyd Center for Environmental Science studying endangered species, specifically piping plovers and Plymouth Gentian.  I loved working in the field, but I especially liked talking to school groups when they came to visit the marsh in South Dartmouth, MA

Did you have experience participating in Citizen Science before?  If so, please explain what experiences you have had in citizen science and whether your students participated in this also, or was it in a different context?   

When I worked at Santa Fe Prep School in Santa Fe, NM, I did citizen science with students with stream ecology.  We would go up to the streams above Santa Fe in the National Forest and collect macroinvertebrates as well as do water testing using Hach kits.  I think the program was called Project del Rio, but I can’t remember where we sent the data.

How long have you led a Harvard Forest Schoolyard Project at your school?

  I have been participating in the Harvard Forest Schoolyard project since the Fall of 2012.

What keeps you engaged in Schoolyard Ecology over time? 

It’s really helpful to go to the workshops every year.  The team of scientists have inspired me to learn more every year.  Emery Boose is great about making the calculations easier and easier and using the database with students is a great way.  John O'Keefe has been great about answering questions as they come up and Pamela is the glue that holds it all together.

Note that the date of  leaf emergence in the spring in Hanover NH is trending upward here which shows that spring is a few days later. This trend is counter intuitive and doesn't seem to support the Ecologist's hypothesis that the growing season is extending due to climate change.  We would expect that spring would be coming earlier due to a warming trend, but these results are consistent with Ecologist John O'Keefe's data which show that April temps have been actually getting cooler during this time period even as year-long temps are increasing.

Note that the timing of leaf fall in autumn in Hanover NH are trending upward which are consistent with the hypothesis that the growing season is extending in relation to climate change. This is based on September and October temperatures and weather conditions.  Again this is consistent with Ecologist John O'Keefe's findings at Harvard Forest.

Note that the entire growing season (leaves on trees) has increased slightly over the study period in Hanover NH so far.  This is consistent with John O'Keefe's findings at Harvard Forest and mildly supports the hypothesis that the growing season is is extending. However, due to cooling of April temps, this increase is less consistent than expected and will require longer study to see if this will be an impactful change over time.

What excites your students about Schoolyard Ecology?

This project comes up every year as one of the students' favorite things to do because they get to watch “their” tree change throughout the season and they like going outside in groups to collect the data.

What are  some challenges that you have faced in leading Schoolyard Ecology at your site, and how you are overcoming those challenges or not? 

Lots of challenges! All the trees from the first few years were either cut down, killed by snow dumps, or increasingly isolated. There is only one tree that has been in the study for all 8 years.   When you go out with a group of teenagers you need to have the trees all in the same area so we kept shifting trees to accommodate biology classes and the project. There was also the year that the chosen trees had poison ivy patches underneath and we had to establish new areas.  Choosing trees with long term goals in mind is the best course of action so that you can see how the growing season has changed over time.  One year we split the trees up by classes and this became an issue because we would collect data for the morning class and then weather would keep us from collecting data in the afternoon and suddenly when you are figuring out % budburst you have 1 branch for tree X one day and the 2nd branch for tree X the second day and this affects the data in the long run.  When you go out to collect data, complete all the branches of the tree to avoid this issue.

Describe some challenges that your students face in doing field ecology and/or classroom work associated with Schoolyard project(s) and how you are supporting them in overcoming or working with those challenges.

Inclement weather is sometimes seen as a problem by students, but I bring umbrellas and put plastic over the clipboards and tell them that,  although they think I am a witch, I will not shrivel with water and neither will they.  On those weather days we took different routes to the trees so we didn’t have to walk down hill to avoid the possibility of slipping.

Some examples of ways that you have you have integrated project themes in           teaching:


Ecology KUDos:

Observation Lab:

Exploration and Graphing of Data:


Do you see/hear any evidence that your students are having positive learning outcomes from participating in Schoolyard Ecology projects?    

Students are paying attention to trees and how they are different and how they change over time which is a huge plus especially in this day and age where they don’t go outside as much.  They remember species and descriptions of different types of trees so they can use keys to identify trees.  Students also tie in the Buds, Leaves and Global Warming Project when they write their climate essays and anything that  builds understanding of climate change is a plus.

How are you managing to adapt your project leadership techniques during COVID?   Tell us what you have tried doing and how it has been working, and whether you plan to continue what you are currently doing or adapting further? 

When school was shut down last spring I had a lab technician who was willing to continue taking data with me weekly which was really helpful. We have been in school since the beginning of this year so going outside with masks and social distancing was not a problem.

   Do you have suggestions for other teachers leading Schoolyard Eco. Projects during COVID? 

If you can’t get help from students, then ask your friends to help, but ask students ( if your administration allows it) as this gets them out of the house.  It was great to go outside with my friends on beautiful days and chat while taking data when students couldn’t help.  Make it a social time! 

 Is there anything else you would like to share with other teachers; HF staff; LTER Educators at other sites, and/or Funders who make up most of our Blog Audience?

Yes!  Thank you to all the funders who see value in helping to create these opportunities for students.  These authentic projects are what the students will remember when they think back to their school experiences.   Having access to this database gives students the opportunity to explore their own questions and experience, first hand, what scientists do on a daily basis. 

 Congratulations on your retirement Maryann!  You will be missed for sure!

We are super grateful that you have prepared your colleague, Julia Gartner, who will be continue to track the timing of budburst and leaf drop at  our Northern Most field site !

Keep in touch and enjoy your next adventures....

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Introducing a New Schoolyard Eco Blog Feature: Teacher Spotlights!

Shining the Spotlight on 

Elisa Margarita



  School:  Brooklyn Technical High School,  in New York City

HF Schoolyard Project:  Buds, Leaves and Global Warming

Grade Level: 11 and 12th grade 

Courses:  AP Environmental Science, Science Research


Let's learn more about Elisa's work with HF Schoolyard Ecology


Q:  How did you decide to engage your students in a Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology project?

A: The nature of science is the topic that starts of the school year in the science courses. The goal is to help students think about questions such as how scientific inquiry answer questions about the natural world? How do observations lead to scientific inferences? How do scientific processes lead to a greater understanding of the natural world? How can data be analyzed to determine the outcome of an experiment or a set of observations? How do scientists share information and build upon others' work? Guiding the students through observation exercises and helping students discuss their thinking works well when they have a storyline that hooks them. The students become curious and learn more because they are engaged, which means something personal to them. The storyline I present is, how are our trees responding to climate change? What is happening to the growing season of the trees in our urban forest? The students build up-on this and begin forming their questions and thinking about the hypothesis.

I take the students outside on nature walks to observe and notice the abiotic and biotic factors around them in our urban setting. We continue with the nature walk and work on tree identification. I weave the HF study into the curriculum because I can dovetail science as a process with observations, data collection asking questions, and proposing a hypothesis. By participating in the tree study, students become invested in the research, and we expand the study to include ecological services, biomes, and climate change topics.

Q:  How did you choose the project (s) that you chose to lead at your school?

A: I chose HF Budburst from a random computer search while looking for citizen science projects to involve the students in real-world applications relevant to them.

Q:  Did you have any experience with Ecology before joining the Schoolyard Ecology Program? If so, please explain what previous exposure you had in working with/understanding Ecology?

A:  I have been teaching AP environmental science for seven years now. Before teaching this course, I have always been passionate about the natural world. In 2006 I became a master composter through the NYC Department of Sanitation and Queens Botanical Garden. I gained a more in-depth understanding of soils and health and sustainable practice through this experience. I volunteered on composting projects throughout NYC. I co-founded the eastern Queens Community Composters, and I was awarded a grant to create a compost education center at the Queens Museum farm Bellrose, NY.

Through Math for America, my science fellowship allowed me to participate in professional learning teams with themes involving the natural world and New York City's natural resources. I have learned from top-notch scientists in the field with boots on the ground research that applies to my content. Working with experts deepens my ecology knowledge, and this transferred into the joy of staying in the classroom to share students' learning process.   

Q:  How long have you led a Harvard Forest Schoolyard Project at your school?

A:    5- 6 years

Q:  What keeps you engaged in Schoolyard Ecology over time?

A:   I enjoy working side-by-side the scientist from HF as they guide me in the data analysis and help me gain a deeper understanding of the study. The whole experience reenergizes me.

Q:  What excites your students about Schoolyard Ecology? 

A:  The students love the idea of going outside regularly. They like how they get to slow down and notice what is happening with the trees in a way they never did before. 

The students like being part of a more ex-tensive network contributing to science. The students also like that they are passing a legacy down to the next class to continue the data analysis from where they left off.

 Q:  How you are supporting your students in overcoming or working with the challenges that they face in doing field ecology and/or classroom work associated with the Schoolyard project? 

A:  Some students rarely get to go outside and are afraid of bugs, they do not dress appropriately for the weather, and some are not familiar with the terminology. Some students have never been part of a project like this before. I try to bring extra coats and supplies with me to make students comfortable outside. I try to slow down my instructions and chunk tasks out in a doable fashion. I try not to make any assumptions and clearly explain and model what we are doing.

Q: Can you provide examples of ways that you have integrated project themes in your teaching? 

A:  I have the students work on data collection in the Fall and Spring. I then have the students write a report on their tree and the tree's ecological services to the urban setting. We use ITree/Mytree app to calculate the ecological services provided by the trees. We calculate the carbon sequestration for the tree. We 
analyze the types of lichen growing on the trees as a biological indicator. We also do a land use analysis and include the benefits of green spaces in an urban setting; we decide which trees we should plant in our urban green space through an urban planning activity.

Q:  Do you see/hear any evidence that your students are having positive learning outcomes from participating in Schoolyard Ecology projects?  

A:  I ask students to write a reflection at the end of the school year and to mention three positive experiences from the class. Every student mentions the HF study as one of their top favorite experiences. They love going outside weekly. The students say it changed the way they view their neighborhood, and where they were once tree blind now they see. Some have decided to pursue 
environmental science in college because of the experience.

Q:  How are you managing to adapt your project leadership techniques during COVID?   

A:  In the Spring, I took photos of our trees and the four branches every week and posted the photos to Google Classroom for the students to make observations. I also had the students do the backyard field study of a neighborhood tree if they could go outside. Many students were not allowed out-side, so the pictures were the primary way for me to carry on the student and include everyone.

This fall, I am fully remote, and my students are hybrid. I got permission to meet some of my students at the site, and we did an initial tree walk. We live-streamed the tree walk and introduction to the study via Zoom to the students who could not attend. I had 15 students attend in person, and 50 attend on Zoom.
We took photos of the trees, and I have been taking photos once a week and sending the photos to the students on Google Classroom.  I upload photos once a week.  I created teams of  3- 4 students, gave each student a role, explained the rules, and gave them a time frame for the fall portion of the study. 
Before meeting in person, I did a live stream about the study. I explained what phenology is and why it is essential. I did an introductory tree identification lesson, and I had the students do some observational drawings on leaves I collected from our site.

Q:  Do you have suggestions for other teachers leading Schoolyard Eco. Projects during COVID?  

A:  I would suggest to break the steps down into chunks. I would model and explain each step of the study. I would have students practice coding tree canopy and tree leaves. I would have students practice counting  leaves they are counting on each branch.

Q:  Which aspects of Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology have helped you to be successful in leading your project? Check all that apply and comment on how these have helped you specifically.

A:  Elisa checked the choices below re: forms of support applying to her work:

  • Intro to Schoolyard Ecology Workshop-Field practice; background science; Mentor Teacher presentations 
  • Looking at Data Workshop- Levels 1,2 and 3 Support with Data submission, graphing tool practice and graphing on excel, by hand, Sheets, etc.
  • Spring Workshop for Teachers- lightning slides; 5 and 10 year teacher recognition; field walks; teacher presentations; student work “poster session”
  • Online and/or paper Protocol overviews, step by step methods, field data sheets
  • Online Database – Data submittal, download data, graphing tools
  • Online presentations by Harvard Forest Scientists and Information Manager
  • Online Lesson plans from Schoolyard Eco Teachers
  • Data Nuggets-Eddy Flux Tower and Tree Ring 
  • Email and phone contact throughout the year via Schoolyard Coordinator and Scientists as needed

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to share with other teachers and our overall Blog audience? 
A:  The HF phenology study is authentic scientific experience students feel excited about. The students realize the connections between trees and our changing climate, and they want to contribute and take action. The students involved in the study are the next generation of environmental stewards and leaders. It is thrilling to see how the student's love and appreciation of the natural world grow out of this experience. 

Link to Elisa Margarita's Work:

Fall Phenology Remote Observations-Margarita-2020.pdf

Remote Buds Observations by Photos-Margarita-2020.pdf