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Exploring Ever Changing Habitats on Plum Island April 4, 2018

Posted by Sean Musselman in Science.
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Students overlook the Parker River Wildlife Refuge salt marsh at low tide.

To support second grade’s life science curriculum transition to habitats this spring, the Science Center coordinated field trips with the Mass Audubon Society for all of our grade two classrooms to the Joppa Flats Education Center on Plum Island. These programs are facilitated by a mix of Mass Audubon educators and volunteers who are passionate about introducing our youth to the often overlooked, but invaluable Parker River Wildlife Refuge, and estuary at the mouth of the Parker and Merrimack River home to a diverse and abundant amount of wildlife.

Students started on the salt marshes of the Parker River, investigating the organisms that make their home in the habitats thick sea hay and the role the ebb and flow of the tides play in bringing life to and from the ocean and the marsh. They slopped through porous ground and vegetation, hunting for “coffee bean snails” and other creatures that make their home in the detritus layers of the marsh as its native ducks would.

A short bus ride away, students clambered over sand dunes that had overcome the  boardwalk during the March storms on their way to the beach. They mimicked the behavior of piping plovers making nests on the island’s beach and dunes while learning about how their nesting grounds are protected by the reserve during their nesting season. Students caught a glimpse of the reconstruction efforts of the sea walls along the islands more developed area before learning about how the sand dunes interlocking roots create natural barriers for the salt marsh and land further inland.

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What is the human impact on this habitat?

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Modeling piping plover nests!

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All the while students braved the elements, with stronger winds and cooler temperatures than those found in Burlington. Our students were very engaged and we look forward to making connecting between these habitats and those they will explore closer to home later in May when they investigate the many habitats found at the Mill Pond Reservoir.

Burlington Science Center Exhibit: Patterns in Nature! January 12, 2015

Posted by Sean Musselman in Science Center.
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In science classes, teachers often focus on specific content areas to drive their science curriculum. Topics such as Light & Sound, Rocks & Minerals, or Animals and their Habitats are particularly popular with students. But there are also science concepts that cut across all science disciplines. This year the Science Center decided to showcase one such concept through their bi-annual touring exhibit: Patterns in Nature.

Younger students are first can find patterns in their everyday lives by observing the natural world around them. As they grow older, students can use patterns to sort and classify objects in their world. They can begin to use patterns to make thoughtful predictions about scientific phenomena. Students even come to use patterns as evidence to support scientific explanations about the world they observe around them.

Our patterns exhibit explores several natural phenomena and the patterns they exhibit.  This charges students to think critically about what the patterns can tell us about the world around us and what they suggest may be to come in the future! Several stations illustrate patterns we can see clearly (such as stripes that help tigers hide in the grasslands) while others reveal patterns that may not be visible without careful data collection for a year (seasons and constellations) or thousands of years (earthquake locations) at a time!

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Check out all the different stations we offer in this exhibit by exploring the pictures below, or come see the exhibit for yourself when it visits your child’s school! The exhibit is currently on display for two weeks at the Memorial School. It will then travel to Pine Glen, Fox Hill, and the Francis Wyman where it will also be on display for two weeks at a time.

As always we love to hear your feedback. Please let us know what you think about our exhibit by email or through the comments section below!

What’s In Your Backyard? May 8, 2014

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photo 4

Students observing a beaver chewed log

One of my favorite acitvities with my elementary students is called “What’s In Your Backyard?”  Our third grade students learn about plant and animal habitats as part of the life science curriculum.  We start of the lesson by talking about what kinds of things scientists do (ask questions, discover, explore, create, build, and observe). Then students talk about what it means to “observe” something and how they use their 5 senses as part of their observation skills.

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As a class, they brainstorm and make a list of animals that are found in their bakyard (the habitat they are most familiar with).  I ask the students “how do they know that particular animal lives in your backyard?”  We list the clues or evidence that animals can leave behind in nature that cues us in to the fact that they are around.

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There are several numbered stations spread out around the classroom, which include artifacts or evidence that nature has left behind in their backyard (examples include feathers, footprints, antlers, nests, scat, acorns, woodpecker holes in a tree, trash).

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Woodpecker holes in a tree

The students then observe each object, record data about this object and answer why they think the item was left in their backyard.

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Footprints station

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Deer tail station

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Skull station

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Students observing antlers, scat and trash

At the end of the lesson students share their answers and have group discussions about why they think the object was in the backyard.

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Students decide a turtle had passed away due to the observation of seeing the backbone on the inside of the shell

This activity helps students with observations skills, brings nature indoors and changes the way a student looks at the outside world.  An exttension for this acitvity is taking the class ouside for a nature walk to look for similar clues or items in their schoolyard.