Winter 2015 California Project WET Gazette
Volume XX, Issue I
I can already sense the hackles rising with the tone of disgust escaping the lips of the most hardcore science advocates among us at the mere sight of the article title. What a ridiculous concept; the idea that one can predict future weather by dragging a hibernating rodent out of its lair and observing its reaction to the current above ground conditions… as the late Tom Magliozzi of the NPR ‘Car Talk’ program would say, ‘Boooooogus!’ However, it is not as crazy as the media spectacle around Punxsutawney Phil, nor as scientifically invalid as the scoffers opine – in fact, the observation and study of organisms and their interrelationships in the environment have been and continue to be used to monitor and deepen our understanding of ecosystems – a field of study known as phenology.
Macroinvertebrates are routinely used in stream monitoring programs to assess water quality. Many of us have used the Project WET Guide 2.0 activities ‘Macroinvertebrate Mayhem’ (p: 343) or ‘Water Quality? Ask the Bugs! (p: 421) to introduce students to the concepts and skills involved in using macroinverbrates as indicators of water quality at a given point in time. The characteristics of an organism are key to its value as an indicator species in any research. Thus, external gills and a diet dependent on the vegetation in and around a stream creates a category of organisms that are very sensitive to changes in water temperature, dissolved oxygen level and or other chemical imbalances resulting from events in and around the stream. Internal breathing mechanisms and an ability to prey upon other organisms or thrive on the dead, decomposing muck at the bottom of a stream are adaptations that place other members of the aquatic community into categories that allow us to assess the severity of the damage to water quality. Organisms are also studied in order to assess longer term ecosystems trends through time – and the quantity, state and quality of water available through time is a key factor in all of these relationships.
California is a global ‘hot spot’ of phenological research due to the wealth of endemic species and biodiversity of habitat types generated by the convoluted geography and Mediterranean climate. California condor are a poster child for research into the effects of lead in the environment, but a feeding system reliant on large, dead animals also brings research questions regarding a species in decline and past climate change events. Plants like coyote bush and manzanita grow in ecosystems throughout the state and each has the ability to morph its growth form in response to light, wind and soil properties. California quail occupy many of the same ecosystems, eating seeds and invertebrates and locating the necessary shelter in accordance with their adaptations – and providing an additional layer of knowledge to deepen our knowledge of shared ecosystems through time.
Using the adaptations of an organism to identify the habitat it needs is the focus of the Project WET activity ‘Water Address’ (Guide 1.0). It engages students in a clue card activity to ‘identify plants and animals and their habitats by analyzing clues that describe water-related adaptations of aquatic and terrestrial organisms’ – concepts and skills at the very core of phenology research. The organisms included in the activity as written were chosen to allow use across the nation, but this should not stop one from using local examples as suggested in the Assessment section of the activity. California clue cards have been developed to allow you to focus on our state from the get-go, including the California organisms mentioned above and a dozen others. You’ll need to adjust the activity point system, as the California clue cards have 6 instead of 4 questions to provide added heft to the activity.
The California cards include a shell-less, gastropod that produces lots of mucus to help it slide across the floor of damp temperate forest floors and a plant with grooved needles that helps channel fog to the ground – a source of water that can provide up to 40% of the hundreds of gallons it needs per day. The first is named for the cylindrical shape and bright yellow color reminding people of a certain fruit; the latter is the tallest organism on the planet, named the deep red of its heartwood and thick, shaggy bark. Banana slugs play a key role as decomposers in our coastal forests, cleaning up rotting plant and animal material and feasting on lichen, algae and fungi. Coast redwoods and banana slugs are both sensitive to extended cold or dry conditions, with banana slugs used as indicators of environmental parameters within the forest, while the trees are studied as indicators of environmental change throughout their range from Monterey County north to just inside Oregon.
Students will discover adaptations to hoard water and conserve its use in the extreme are common among desert plants and animals. Cacti, Joshua trees and desert tortoise all have internal structures to store large quantities of water. The tortoise gets most of its water through the vegetation it eats and has flattened, claw-like scales allowing it to dig underground, where its spends a large portion of its life to avoid temperatures that range from freezing to 140 Fahrenheit. Cacti and Joshua trees also share the adaptation of wide, shallow root systems to capture water, spines to keep animals at bay and the ability to stop daytime water loss by disengaging the photosynthesis process. Solid adaptations to the desert environment make each an obvious candidate for phenology studies, but so do other factors affecting each: A number of issues have afflicted the desert tortoise population for years, but it suffered one of its most severe declines in the past year of multi-year drought and above average annual temperatures. Cacti are expanding in range in response to a warming California climate; while evidence indicates Shasta ground sloth were the primary disperser of Joshua tree fruit. The sloth went extinct 13,000 years ago, which gives a rather disturbing thought to the limbs looking like upraised arms that led to naming the plant after a biblical prophet.
A slick, glistening black predator with yellowish spots and stripes is a key species of study in the vernal pools and grasslands of the Central Valley. It may sound like a large cat, but this organism preys on earthworms, snails, insects, fish and the rare small mammal – and its tail will fall off to keep you distracted as it runs away! Its reliance on seasonal ponds and vernal pools, moist estivation quarters to avoid arid summers and role as a predator make the tiger salamander a candidate for research. Ringing the Central Valley is the population of a true California endemic species. A whitish barked tree sporting bluish green, drought deciduous leaves – designed to drop when conditions become too arid – and allowing the tree to go dormant during the worst of droughts, while sipping what water it can pull in with roots that can extend 80 feet into the rocky terrain of its foothill domain. Blue oak and tiger salamanders occupy areas in transition, as rural landscapes give way to urban expansion and expected to undergo a biological upheaval as entire ecological life zones migrate in response to changing precipitation patterns and temperatures.
A hamster-like member of the rabbit family with big ears, a high-pitched squeak is one ‘face’ of the alpine ecosystems of California. Pikas scurry about the rocky slopes of their habitat storing harvested plant material in “hay piles” to sustain a high metabolic rate – instead of hibernating, pika survive frigid winters by maintaining a high internal temperature. Another ‘face’ of cold environments is a broad head with short furry ears that comes with a thick-bushy coat, teeth that can chew through bone and frozen meat, a ferocious temper and curved, semi-retractile claws. Wolverine are very real animals, but are as reclusive and transient as the X-Men character with the one known animal in California as an example – its DNA indicates it came from the northern U.S. Rocky Mountains. Wolverine are studied as indicator species for the cold environments they inhabit, a range that spans North America and Eurasia; the pika on the other hand cannot survive temperatures above 25°C for more than a few hours and can only travel upslope to stay ahead of rising temperatures – which is a problem when one already lives at the top of the mountain.
Aquatic environments of California are represented by beaver, California sea lion and Pacific salmon. Beaver are studied not only for their interrelationships in fresh water habitats, but also the potential to use their ability to engineer wetlands to rebuild mountain meadows damaged by past human actions and slow the flow of water from the mountains as a counter to declining annual snowpack. California sea lions are master predators of the California coast, which makes them sensitive to changes in water temperature that force food sources to move to colder waters and polluted water runoff that can create toxic algae blooms that poison their food supply. Kids love sea lions, but fishing enthusiasts generally do not as sea lion take over docking facilities and compete with them for a favorite catch – salmon. Salmon are battle-hardened survivors of past climate change, including Pleistocene California – a time period punctuated by mass disturbance over entire watersheds as glaciers advanced and retreated multiple times. As an anadromous species, Pacific salmon link fresh water environments of inland California with the salt water environments of our bays, estuary and ocean habitats and are studied as indictors of health throughout the environments they inhabit.
‘Water Address’ activity wraps-up with a student discussion on how adaptations in the clue cards enable organisms to live in their habitat. Doing this after the directions to categorize and analyze adaptations in the clue cards for similarities and differences between organisms and environments will enhance this discussion – and allow students to back-up their statements with evidence teased from their own analysis in good Common Core practice. A suggested Extension in the ‘Water Address’ activity has ‘students create a new organism in an environment of the future.’ An added twist on this extension for older students would be to use the information they have learned about one of the organisms in ‘Water Address’ and predict how the organism may react to a warmer, drier future – and how one might design a study to investigate this. ‘Water Address’ has not been correlated to the new standards, it is hoped this article highlights the Common Core and NGSS potential in this activity – and the California specific cards will make the activity even more useful!
It is also hoped readers may think again on the actual science that led to Groundhog Day before dismissing it as pure ‘hog wash.’ Are there adaptations of groundhogs (and the badgers originally used in Europe) that could correlate with local weather patterns – i.e., factors affecting groundhog hibernation? The agrarian societies originating the tradition usually celebrated the start of spring when new life begins to emerge in early February. Our modern spring ‘officially’ begins with the Vernal Equinox in March, well after the new life of the year has burst forth; it ends in June with the Summer Solstice, long after much of the plant life not irrigated in the West has died in the heat of summer – a season many of our ancestors celebrated the start of in early May. Something to think about as we watch the geese and whales head north, await the return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano and peruse the ‘Websites of Interest,’ ‘Grants and Student Opportunities’ and ‘Events’ in this Gazette. Please also check out the list of upcoming Project WET Workshops and Special Events – and the Supplemental Materials section on this website to view and download the California cards for use with the ‘Water Address’ activity!
Websites of Interest
Guide 2.0 educators can download a copy of the ‘Water Address’ activity from the portal. Click on the ‘GUIDE 2.0’ tab after logging in – You’ll find all of the ‘Guide 1.0 Activities’ available for download under the tab of the same name. You’ll also find additional materials for a number of Project WET Guide 2.0 activities, courtesy of Project WET Coordinators across the country! The Portal includes the Common Core Standard correlations for Guide 2.0 activities and we are in the process of updating our draft NGSS correlations.
The USA National Phenology Network serves science and society by promoting broad understanding of plant and animal phenology and its relationship with environmental change. The Network encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to observe and record phenology as a way to discover and explore the nature and pace of our dynamic world. We bring together citizen scientists of all ages to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the United States. Help advance the field by working with a program in California.
Seasonal change is all around us. We see it in the length of a day, in the appearance of a flower, in the flight of a butterfly. Journey North engages students and citizen scientists around the globe in tracking wildlife migration and seasonal change. Participants share field observations across the northern hemisphere, exploring the interrelated aspects of seasonal change. Engage in citizen science anywhere by downloading a free Journey North app!
Anticipated changes in climate will push West Coast marine species from sharks to salmon northward an average of 30 kilometers per decade, according to a new study published in Progress in Oceanography. The study suggests that shifting species will likely move into the habitats of other marine life to the north, especially in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Some will simultaneously disappear from areas at the southern end of their ranges, especially off Oregon and California.
Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research… this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research (PPSR). You can find information on current projects throughout the country. The site is administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and includes a great, kid-friendly overview of California quail, California condor and many other species.
The National Geographic Society has been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888. It is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology, natural science, and the promotion of environmental and historical conservation – including a kid-friendly web page on animal facts!
California Wildlife Habitat Relationships (CWHR) is a state-of-the-art information system for California’s wildlife. CWHR contains life history, geographic range and habitat relationships information on 694 species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals known to occur in the state. The site also includes a great information on California habitats.
The Calflora database provides information about California’s wild plants, including habitat descriptions, photographs, observations, nomenclature, and distribution maps. Through Calflora, researchers, scientists, students, environmental consultants, landscapers, and amateur enthusiasts have quick and easy access to data they need for analyzing species distributions, modeling spread of invasive species, or identifying consequences of habitat loss – and gives all users an opportunity to learn about the beauty and diversity of California plant life.
We’re recruiting hikers, mountain climbers and others in the northern Sierra Nevada to survey the sites where scientists believe pikas may be in trouble in the next 10-20 years. By recording data related to pika, volunteers will help compile baseline data, allowing future studies to assess changes. Please review the map on this website and if you plan to explore these areas, we need you! Read more about pike as climate indicators.
‘Sometime in 2008 a young male wolverine left his home in the mountains of Idaho. No one saw him go. He probably went west and then south, keeping to the highest ground and powering over obstacles… he finally reached a forest near Truckee, Calif., in the central Sierra Nevada range. It had been decades since a wolverine roamed these woods.’ Excerpt from an article on the one known wolverine in California. Also found a article titled ‘Climate Change Could Melt Wolverines Snowy ‘Refrigerators’.
As you walk through the forest, Redwood Watch encourages you to submit observations of plants and animals that live in the redwood forest. Observing trees, shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, insects and other animals makes a big difference in understanding species distribution. When we know where redwoods forests and their inhabitants do well today, we will be better able to predict where the redwood forests of tomorrow will thrive. Read more about redwoods as climate change indicators.
Evidence from a wide range of archives show that beavers were once prevalent throughout most of California and the finding suggests a different ecosystem prior the arrival of Western settlers - one in which beavers may have been critical to the creation and maintenance of an extensive network of wetlands throughout California that were teeming with life. After all, beavers are renowned “ecosystem engineers.”
Blue oak is a tough, drought-resistant tree that can shed its leaves when necessary. It also grows very slowly and doesn’t reach much more than 50 feet in height. Blue oaks are sensitive to rainfall, putting on thick rings of wood in good years and thin ones during droughts. Data from the study concludes in a December 2014 article that California’s current drought is pretty exceptional — like the driest in about a millennium.
Article: ‘Struggle for Survival’
“The question is: Is the tortoise going to be able to survive under a warming climate in those low California desert habitats?” That same question is increasingly being asked by scientists about a wide variety of animals across the desert Southwest. Many desert creatures have survived for millennia by withstanding long periods without water, and some have adapted to extreme heat by spending much of their lives underground in burrows. Hotter temperatures and multiyear droughts, though, could push some animals to their limits.
Article: ‘Joshua trees losing ground’
Some scientists have estimated that if global temperatures continue to warm as predicted due to rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Joshua trees could vanish from up to 90 percent of their range in the park by the end of the century. These changes in desert plants offer glimpses of profound transformations that hotter global temperatures are likely to bring for wildlife, water supplies, and people in a region that is already the hottest and driest in the nation.
Article: ‘Groundhog Day: History and Facts’
This morning, Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil—arguably the world’s most famous groundhog—emerged from his burrow to see his shadow, a harbinger of six more wintry weeks. Why do Americans, Canadians and others around the world turn to these furry rodents for weather predictions in the first place? Explore Groundhog Day’s shadowy history as well as interesting facts about the custom.
A great resource for connecting with USGS California research and partner projects in all areas of work under the US Geological Survey umbrella from wildlife and climate change studies to earthquake and water research. Check-out the California Water Science Center’s California Drought page for up to date information on our water conditions.
Lots of free materials for California educators, including children’s video programs that provide a fun and easy way to teach children about water related topics such as the water cycle, water use, conservation & safety, fish hatchery operations and the life cycle of the Chinook Salmon. Historical footage of California’s earliest water projects also demonstrates water’s importance in California’s economic development.
Professional Development Opportunities
The California Project WET program and our sponsors are eager to assist in supporting local professional development and water education outreach efforts. Our volunteer network of workshop Facilitators have been hard at work designing and organizing workshops for the upcoming season. You’ll find a full list here! California Project WET also offers content-specific Project WET workshops.
The California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC), administered by the California Department of Education, is an on-line hub offering a searchable database of for a variety of resources, including professional development, field trip and grant opportunities from over 500 informal education providers across the state.
The UC California Naturalist program collaborates with local partner organizations to deliver the UC California Naturalist certification course in a community near you. Courses combine classroom and field experience in science, problem-solving, communication training and community service. Upon completing certification requirements, participants are eligible for four academic through UC Davis Extension for an additional nominal fee.
Through its Schoolyard Habitat Program, schools can also receive teacher training on how to use the project throughout the curriculum. Teacher training workshops are designed to expand the environmental knowledge and skills needed by teachers to take their classrooms outdoors. California program contacts can be found by clicking here!
Introduce your students to the study of organisms and their environment through a classroom experience of hatching fish eggs and coordinated activities. Students experience first-hand the value of aquatic environments and how their personal actions affect these valuable resources. Known regionally as Trout in the Classroom, Salmonids in the Classroom, Steelhead in the Classroom, or Salmon and Trout Education Program. Teacher training workshops are offered at least once a year in each region.
These one-week institutes bring together natural resource specialists and K-12 teachers for one week, working side by side to gain a deeper understanding of the intricate interrelationship of forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources. You’ll walk away with a wealth of knowledge and environmental education curriculum- including Project Learning Tree, Project WILD and Aquatic WILD!
California has a soft spot for whales. As the humpbacks, greys, and blues migrate up and down our coastline, Californians study their behavior, revel in their majesty, and gather for festivals to honor their presence. You can find a list of events and links centered on whale education and observance on the California Coastal Commission website.
January 21-25, 2015 - Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway
Birders and nature enthusiasts of all ages are invited to attend the 16th Annual Snow Goose Festival, one of the premier birding events in California. This action-packed 5-day event celebrates the millions of waterfowl migrating along the Pacific Flyway that call the Northern Sacramento Valley their home during the winter months. Click here for more information!
January 24, 2015 – CASEL Annual Conference
NGSS: Transitioning Science and Engineering Practices. CASEL will host a variety of K-12 STEM sessions focused around the new NGSS science and engineering practices. Look for registration and additional information that will be coming soon! Click here for more information.
January 30, 2015 - SF Bay Area STEAM Colloquium
Catered towards educators, legislators, business leaders, administrators, and community organizations, this conference will address key issues facing STEAM education as well as offer best practices for successful curriculum. This is also a great opportunity for participants to build leadership capacity and hear from experts the importance of high quality STEAM education in the classroom. Please register here!
February 7, 2015 - Annual CMSESMC STEM Conference
The San Mateo County Office of Education is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12.
February 11-12, 2015 - Citizen Science Conference
Citizen Science 2015 is the inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association (CSA). It will be held at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, California, USA, February 11-12, 2015. Join us for two days of building connections and exchanging ideas across a wide spectrum of disciplines and experiences. Participate and help to shape the future of citizen science!
March 7, 2015 - Placer County STEM Expo
The Placer County STEM Expo is our region’s innovative alternative to the typical science fair. This free, one-day event features Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics [STEM] as educational opportunities and viable career paths – showcasing elementary through high school student-generated work – connecting students with their community. Please join us!
March 22, 2014 - International World Water Day
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the ‘International Year of Water and Energy’ Water and energy are closely interlinked and interdependent. Energy generation and transmission requires utilization of water resources, particularly for hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal energy sources.
April 17 – 19, 2015 - AEOE Statewide Spring Conference
Join the Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education for our Statewide Spring Conference at Walker Creek Ranch in Petaluma, CA.. We are state-wide organization that has been created for and by the outdoor and environmental educators of our state. The conference includes 60+ workshops or field trips.
Grants, Scholarships & Contests
The Schoolyard Habitat Program helps teachers and students create wildlife habitat at their own schools. Our goal is to provide technical and organizational assistance to school, so they can create outdoor classrooms that are effective as educational tools in addition to being a sustainable habitat for many years to come. Up to $8000 per school is available.
NASA-USGS Climate Data App Challenge - Deadline: January 18, 2015
NASA in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is offering more than $35,000 in prizes to citizen scientists for ideas that make use of climate data to address vulnerabilities faced by the United States in coping with climate change. The ideation stage challenges competitors to imagine new applications of climate data to address climate vulnerabilities. Click here for additional information and to register.
California Coastal Art and Poetry Contest - Deadline: January 31, 2015
The California Coastal Commission invites California students in K-12th grade to submit artwork or poetry with a California coastal or marine theme. By encouraging youth to reflect on the beauty and spirit of California’s beaches and ocean, we hope to inspire a greater sense of stewardship for these natural places. Click here for more information.
Caring for Our Watersheds Writing Contest - Deadline: Jan. 30, 2015
The Center for Land-Based Learning and Agrium, Inc. invite high school students in Sacramento, Yolo, Solano, Colusa, Yuba, Sutter, Glenn, El Dorado, Placer, and San Joaquin counties to participate in the 2014-15 Caring for our Watersheds program. Ten finalists will win cash awards up to $1,000 for themselves and their school, and $10,000 in additional funding will be available to implement proposal ideas.
Captain Planet Foundation Grants - Deadline: January 31, 2015
The Captain Planet Foundation primarily makes grants to U.S.-based schools and organizations with an annual operating budget of less than $3 million. Captain Planet Foundation accepts grant requests for amounts between $500 – $2,500. Preferential consideration is given to requests that have secured at least 50% matching or in-kind funding for their projects. Click here for more information.
NEA Student Achievement Grants - Deadline: February 1, 2015
The NEA Foundation provides grants of $2,000 and $5,000 to improve the academic achievement of students in U.S. public schools and public higher education institutions in any subject area(s). The proposed work should engage students in critical thinking and problem solving that deepens their knowledge of standards-based subject matter. The work should also improve students’ habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, and critical reflection.
NEA Learning & Leadership Grants - Deadline: February 1, 2015
The NEA Foundation provides grants of $2,000 for individuals and $5,000 for groups to support public school teachers and other education professionals for one of the following two purposes: Grants to individuals fund participation in high-quality professional development experiences, such as summer institutes or action research; or grants to groups fund collegial study, including study groups, action research, lesson study, or mentoring experiences for faculty or staff new to an assignment.
California K-12 Schools Recycling Challenge – Registration Deadline: March 1, 2015
The California Recycling Challenge is a competition and benchmarking tool for K-12 school recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities to their school communities. FREE for all California K-12 Schools! $12,000 in Cash Awards to Winning Schools. Click to register your school!
Clean Tech Competition - Registration Deadline: February 20, 2015
The Clean Tech Competition is a unique, worldwide research and design challenge for pre-college youth. The 2015 challenge is “Feed the World” and students will need to develop a clean energy solution to help combat this worldwide problem. The competition is designed to recognize outstanding talent, foster a deeper understanding of STEM related concepts and prepare the next generation of globally competitive innovators.
The Young Naturalist Awards - Deadline: March 1, 2015
The Young Naturalist Awards is a research-based science competition for students in grades 7-12 to promote participation and communication in science. The Awards are an inquiry-based competition, complementing what students learn during the school day by encouraging them to independently explore the natural world around them. Entries may be submitted digitally until the 2015 deadline.
Federal Junior Duck Stamp Program - Deadline: March 15, 2015
The Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program (JDS) is a dynamic arts and science curriculum that teaches wetlands and waterfowl conservation to students in kindergarten through high school. The program incorporates scientific and wildlife management principles into a visual arts curriculum, with participants completing a JDS design as their visual “term paper.” Click here for more information.
Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching - Deadline: April 1, 2015
The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are the nation’s highest honors for teachers of mathematics and science (including computer science). Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of science and mathematics education. Nominations are now open for 2015 to honor teachers working in grades 7-12.
California Project WET Gazette is published by the Water Education Foundation, which serves as the state coordinator for Project WET USA, a program of the Project WET Foundation.
Editor: Brian Brown, Project WET Coordinator