A Semi-Annual Publication of Manomet

Climate Lab: An Exploratory Study
Connecting Science and Students to their Communities

By: cheryl botieri

Climate Lab is a partnership between Manomet and TERC, an education research organization, and Wildlands Trust, a land conservation organization. TERC is developing the program's curriculum, while Manomet is providing scientific expertise and training to educators. Wildlands Trust is providing access to several land parcels. This August, Manomet and TERC were awarded a $450,000 Discovery Research K-12 Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to be used over three years to design and implement the Climate Lab research project on a larger scale.

Trevor Lloyd-Evans is the Director of Manomet's Landbird Program and has led the Landbird Banding Lab since 1972. He is spearheading this innovative education research project, which is designed for middle school children. Through Climate Lab, educators teach their students how to collect data on biological indicators of climate change in their own communities.

Lloyd-Evans explains that, "We created Climate Lab as a way to bring children outdoors to experience natural habitats. We're introducing students to the scientific method. They learn how to collect, record and interpret scientific data. The amazing range of electronic media sources available has certainly informed young people that most scientists believe the climate is warming ever more rapidly. However, it's important for children to learn that this is not just a problem in the Arctic—it is happening everywhere, in each of our own back yards, woods and marshes."

The students learn about how to take biological measurements that can be linked over time to a changing climate, such as average percent of tree canopy, shrub and herb cover, timing of leafout, tree height, and DBH (diameter breast height). Students will identify plants, invertebrates and birds to understand firsthand the connections between habitat, weather, food, and vegetation cover.

This information will then be electronically filed by Manomet to create a database of local climate change impacts that will be accessible to all of the participating schools. Students will have access to Manomet data for spring arrival dates of common bird species and will be able to use their own data to make connections between timing of leafout, insect hatching, and when bird species are arriving back to the northeast in spring. Over time, the data collected from standard locations near the schools, combined with Manomet's 40-plus years of migratory bird data, will likely demonstrate differences due to seasonal and local weather, along with underlying responses to the long-term climate. Eventually a Climate Lab website will be developed to host the data along with teacher and student resources.

Trevor Lloyd-Evans helps students measure leaf growth. As temperatures warm earlier, leaves, other vegetation and invertebrate larvae emerge earlier. Through Climate Lab students measure leaf growth in spring and in summer after the leaves are fully grown. Over time, students will track changes in leaf growth and compare invertebrate larval emergence and the migration timing of birds that eat the larvae.

 

To launch the project, Manomet and TERC scientists held workshops for middle school math and science educators where they learned how to teach their students to measure climate change indicators. The teachers used this information to set up their own research transects ("Climate Labs") on school grounds or nearby properties. Middle school teachers from three Southeastern Massachusetts school districts—Duxbury, Sandwich and Wareham—as well as the Rising Tide Charter School in Plymouth, were the participants in the Climate Lab program during the 2013/2014 school year. Thirteen educators received training and over 500 students participated. For the 2014/2015 school year, the Weymouth, MA, school district was added, increasing the total participants to more than 600 students and 15 teachers.

"Manomet and TERC have been working out techniques, analyzing preliminary data, holding teacher workshops, and developing curriculum materials," said Lloyd-Evans. "TERC's expertise in curriculum development has allowed our vision to take shape and complement the emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching."

Brian Drayton, the lead ecologist for the TERC Climate Lab team, shares, "The importance of integrating science practice in science learning has long been emphasized in science education. The framework for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) now re-emphasizes the importance of infusing science learning with the practices of scientific inquiry. This exploratory study will develop and research a novel climate change education partnership among climate change scientists, education researchers and middle school practitioners that will engage teachers and students in authentic science."

Beth Brazil, Manomet's Foundation Manager, stated that the three-year NSF grant is a "huge accomplishment for the Climate Lab project. It will enable Manomet to continue working with the current schools and then allow us to add more school districts over the three year grant. In addition, two scientific research centers will join the project, the Baltimore Longterm Ecological Research and Point Blue Center for Conservation Science, Petaluma, CA, which will help us to engage with many more educators. We believe this will result in even more students connecting with science and learning more about climate change in their own communities."

Looking ahead, the ultimate goal for Climate Lab is to build a sustainable model that can be implemented on a national scale. Manomet and TERC are committed to working with educators, community organizations, and funders to make this dream a reality.

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