Seasonal Changes Are Impacted by Climate Change

For us humans, especially in urban settings, the seasons come and go with regularity and cause relatively painless changes in our lives — longer days, shorter days, setting clocks forward or backward as we just did. But for most other animal species seasonal changes do not go unnoticed.  Further, when climate change impacts patterns of seasonal change, animals can be affected.

For example, pregnant caribou depend on particular plants to nourish them while they nurse their calves. The spring calving season is short and the window for peak plant nourishment coincides with that short season. However, these plants are emerging or germinating earlier in the season, in response to warmer temperatures, reaching their peak before calving occurs. Thus, nursing caribou are receiving less nourishment, calves are suffering, and mortality rates are increasing, as reported by ScienceDaily. Researchers believe this is just one example of the impact of climate change that will be documented repeatedly in the near future

caribouCaribou are cued to move to new grazing patches by increasing day length. The plants, however, are cued to emerge or germinate by increasing temperature. This causes a “trophic-mismatch.” If the trend continues, caribou will not survive unless they can find a substitute for their nourishment needs. This may be possible in one of two ways. One is an additional plant species, useful to caribou, becomes established in the ecosystem made possible by the longer growing season. The second way caribou could thrive is if the caribou alter their migration patterns to better align calving with plants at their peak nutrition. Doing so would be a case of the caribou population shifting its      range.

According to a second ScienceDaily article, “One of the main predicted effects of climate change is a forced shift in species’ distribution range.” This comment was made in reference to a plankton scientists have decided was able to change its range to further north in the Atlantic after the last warming trend in climate 18,000 years ago. They attribute this ability to a lot of genetic variability within the species and large populations. This, they say, is good news since it indicates the species can react and adapt appropriately in order to survive and avoid extinction. It is also a cause for optimism since plankton is the base of the food chain.

Conversely then, small, less variable populations are at risk of not adapting to and surviving climate change. What if anything can or should be done?

How to Turn This News Event into an Inquiry-Based, Standards-Related Science Lesson

The National Science Education Standards in life science states students should gain understanding in (1) structure and function in living systems, (2) regulation and behavior, and (3) diversity and adaptations of organisms. Climate change affords opportunities to touch on those areas as well as topics in Science and Society, and Earth Science concepts in climate.

Ask students what caribou are, where they live and how they behave. Or direct students to do their own research. This Natureworks site provides a succinct reference for students.  Most will probably know caribou migrate and live in Alaska, but students may not know they also live in Greenland. Many will say caribou are reindeer. Though they are related, they are different. Reindeer are domesticated and live in northern Asia actually.

Students may know caribou migrate, but they may not be fully aware of the adaptations the caribou have, enabling the thousands of miles of migration accomplished each year. Ask students what cues caribou to migrate north in the spring: increasing day length or increasing temperatures? Since temperatures vary, it is adaptive perhaps that caribou respond instead to increasing day length, which is rather constant in its annual pattern.

Now focus on the plants of the tundra. What signals plants it’s time to emerge? Warming temperatures rather than light. After all, an underground root system or a buried seed cannot sense light. To track average temperatures from 1995-2003, students can access Excel files of the data from the Arctic Long Term Ecological Site. In pairs or groups of three, students can find tundra temperature data for a specific year and then share. They can have the program calculate the average temperature each year for the month of June or the first week in June. Graph the data points. What is the pattern?

Tundra plants are low to the ground and small. Caribou have to do a lot of grazing to meet their needs. Turn student attention to the calving and nursing period. Calves nurse for about one month. Nursing caribou need lots of nutrition during that period. What if calves were born one week after plants had reached their maximum? How might this impact the herd over time? Remind students of the two different cues plant and caribou respond to: light and temperature. How might the plant diversity be impacted by a warming trend?

Share the plankton story with students. In sum, two things can happen in response to climate change: adapt or go extinct. Life on the planet survived the last warming trend; thus it may survive this one too. However, human contributions to this warming trend were not present 18,000 years ago. It remains to be seen what difference that makes.

Here are additional related resources from the Middle School Portal 2: Science and the Polar Regions and The Reason for the Seasons.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Mary LeFever and published November 5, 2008 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 4/23/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

Why Did the Anasazi Abandon Mesa Verde

Many middle school curricula include attention to ancient American people and their cultures. This blog entry may be helpful in making connections to the nature of science and scientific enterprises as part of an integrated approach in studying the Anasazi or ancient Pueblos. The story titled “Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery,” published in the New York Times, April 8, 2008, enlightens readers regarding the science of archaeology.

Archaeologists rely on empirical evidence to reconstruct past events. However, this empirical evidence does not normally emanate from controlled laboratory experiments, conceived of and performed at the scientists’ will. Rather, archaeologists use evidence left by the activities of not only people that lived long ago but other organisms as well. They must be skilled observers.

The graphic accompanying the article shows where the Anasazi migrated from–what is now southwestern Colorado–and where they migrated to–what is now the Davis Ranch and Tucson, Arizona, area. There is also a slide show of images of dwellings among other relevant artifacts. For archaeologists interested in this part of the world and these people, the article states, “the most vexing and persistent question in Southwestern archaeology [is]: Why, in the late 13th century, did thousands of Anasazi abandon Kayenta, Mesa Verde and the other magnificent settlements of the Colorado Plateau and move south into Arizona and New Mexico?”

This is not the first time this question has been asked or that an answer has been proposed based on evidence. For example, drought has been documented during this time, providing a seemingly good explanation for the migration. However, evidence suggests many people were able to survive the drought. That fact casts doubt on drought as the only cause for the migration. Further, the area the Anasazi migrated to was actually drier than that which they migrated from.

An alternate hypothesis is based on the pollen record. “Measurements of the thickness of pollen layers, accumulating over decades on the bottom of lakes and bogs, suggest that growing seasons were becoming shorter.” Even this fact in combination with the relatively short drought does not convince many archaeologists these were the reasons for the migration. Why did the Anasazi never return, even when the drought ended? Evidence suggests they did not leave in a hurry, but planned their exit as if they intended to return.

Even more interesting hypotheses are presented regarding the role of religion in the migration. Donna Glowacki, an archaeologist at the University of Notre Dame, cites evidence that suggests the early culture of the group, prior to the migration, included a tradition where only a select, privileged few had access to the largest, most well-equipped dwellings. She asserts a change can be detected after the migration in the southern villages. There evidence indicates fewer of these select kivas are found, suggesting there was less reverence for a select few. The article indicates this change could be analogous to the Protestant reformation.

So who’s right? Well, no one knows for sure, but the Village Ecodynamics Project is set to bring together these various hypotheses to see if a coherent, though probably somewhat complex explanation, or theory, can be constructed. The researchers will use evidence of “rainfall, temperature, soil productivity, human metabolic needs and diet, gleaned from an analysis of trash heaps and human waste” to reconstruct events and come to conclusions.

How to Turn This News Event into an Inquiry-Based, Standards-Related Science Lesson

The article illustrates well the nature of science. Our understanding of the Anasazi migration is undergoing revision in light of new evidence and reinterpretation of existing evidence from new perspectives. It calls attention to the various scientists working on the same project, each contributing unique expertise and building new knowledge. The article conveys several possible hypotheses, all of which need to be thoroughly investigated to see if any can be discarded. It underscores that scientists don’t have definitive, pat answers, only best guesses based on reasonable interpretations of much evidence. Several kinds of, or sources of, evidence are identified giving readers an indication of the nature of archaeology in particular.

Ask students to describe archaeology. Affirm their responses and ask them to elaborate as much as they can. They should use terms like ancient, culture, science, observation, inference and reconstruct. Ask students what kind of knowledge or skills a good archaeologist needs. They should include knowledge of anatomy, plants, and history, and excellent observational skills. Archaeologists need to be global thinkers, able to see relationships among seemingly disparate observations. They should be good team players. If needed, ask leading questions such as: What other fields of science might be related to archaeology? They should include botany, zoology, and anthropology even if they don’t use those names for them.

Explicit connections to life science and earth science can be made, particularly to botany and climate. Ask students how knowledge of the growing season can be inferred from the pollen record. How can inferences regarding wet or dry years be obtained from tree rings?

Here are some additional resources related to the nature of science and fields of science: Science Sampler: Jumping to the Right Conclusions, Inferences, and Predictions;  Presenting a Logical and Reasonable Case Using Logical and Reasonable Arguments; Frequently Asked Questions: Questions about Paleontology.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Mary LeFever and published April 11, 2008 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 4/23/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

We Are All Connected to the Oceans: A Lesson to Help Students Understand the Ways Humans Impact Marine Ecosystems

Students can look at a globe or map and readily see that water dominates our planet. However, do students know that over 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water? Do they realize the importance of the oceans?

Currently, 80 percent of all people live within 60 miles of a seacoast. Yet many adolescents still do not think that the ocean waters impact their lives and vice versa. There are many reasons for this naive thinking. A common one is “I don’t eat seafood so I don’t use ocean resources.” Other reasons can be attributed to lack of a personal connection with the oceans. Some students have never visited oceans and swam in their warm waters.

As educators, one of our goals is to help students understand the importance of their everyday actions.  The National Science Education Standards state that students should have an understanding of human impact on the environment.

To help students identify how humans impact the marine environment, make a personal connection with the oceans, and raise awareness of marine environmental issues, teachers can use this week-long lesson.  This activity will help students think critically within the context of important marine issues.

National Science Education Standards

This lesson closely aligns with three of the Science Content Standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Life Science, and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

Science as Inquiry: Abilities Necessary to do Scientific Inquiry (Grades 5-8)

  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.
  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.

Life Science: Populations and Ecosystems (Grades 5-8)

  • Lack of resources and other factors, such as predation and climate, limit the growth of populations in specific niches in the ecosystem.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Natural Hazards (Grades 5-8)

  • Human activities also can induce hazards…. Such activities can accelerate many natural changes.

Engage

Engage students in learning about their personal connection with the ocean. Have students act as marine scientists for a week. On day 1, students should read an article/blog post or watch a video clip that discusses current news about the oceans. Students should read different articles and watch different videos. Students should then write a brief “news report” of their own. This report should summarize the article or video that they read or watched.

In their news report, students should alert their audience to daily activities, such as littering or not recycling, that may impact and contribute to changing marine environments.

Here are some ideas for articles and videos:

Explore

On day 2 as marine scientists, the students will explore their marine articles and videos in an “environmental summit. ” In small groups, they will share their news reports and discuss the daily activities that they came up with.

Students should then group the activities into categories (i.e., littering and driving separately/not carpooling could be in a category titled “increased pollution”).  Students should determine the relative significance of each activity. Students may wish to use a rating scale to explain the impact (i.e., a rating of 5 would mean the daily activity directly damages the ocean in a negative way and a rating of 1 would mean the activity could potentially harm marine environments). Students will then share their categories and rating scales with the class.  List the categories and activities on the board.

Note — you should see similarities within the groups.  Raise students’ awareness of this and facilitate a class discussion centered around humans impacting marine environments.

Explain

On days 3 and 4, students will work in small groups of two to three to create an action plan.  The goal of this action plan will be to raise awareness of marine environmental issues and to identify how humans impact the marine environment.

In this action plan, students should:

  • State and describe why an action plan is needed.
  • Support their claims with real data.
  • Identify five human actions that impact the marine environment.
  • Propose a possible solution and identify steps humans can take to reduce their negative impact on the marine environment.

Evaluate (Assess)

On day 5, students will submit their action plans to the summit leader (the teacher). Students will explain their findings to the class and share their proposed solutions. Students will compare and contrast the various solutions through class discussion. Then students will journal or reflect on their own personal impact and what they can do to lessen this impact.

Expand

Middle School Portal 2 (MSP2) provides many great resources focused on the oceans.  For background information, try Earth’s Oceans.  This guide discusses the oceans as a part of the earth system — the link between oceans and climate; tsunamis; life science concepts such as ocean ecosystems, food webs, and biodiversity; real data – both sources of and projects that use real data; and related careers. There is  a section on common misconceptions about the oceans and a section about the science standards that the guide connects to.

Even though you might not teach a unit called oceans, the oceans can be used as a context within other units, such as ecosystems, energy transfer, systems thinking, or methods in science.

Another useful resource developed by MSP2  is Ocean Systems.  This guide focuses on earth and physical science, including volcanic island formation and tsunamis; life science concepts, including ocean ecosystems, food webs, and biodiversity; science in personal and social perspectives, including pollution, endangered species and conservation; and related careers.

Students may wish to use visuals to raise awareness. Ecoartspace is an organization that focuses on addressing environmental issues through the visual arts. In addition to their action plans, students can create visual works of art that can be displayed throughout the school to raise awareness.  (You may want to work in collaboration with your school’s art program).

This lesson lends itself to discussing climate change.  These resources will help you have that discussion:

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Brittany Wall and published March 29, 2010 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 4/9/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

The Relationship Between Sea Surface Temperature and Hurricane Activity

Is your unit on climate and weather approaching? Here’s some research you can use to enrich students’ understanding of weather. It can help you make real-world connections from the textbook and classroom to the research scientists working to understand the science of hurricanes.

The news comes from ScienceDaily. The article, Increased Hurricane Activity Linked to Sea Surface Warming, explains how two variables, sea surface temperature and atmospheric wind field, were used to model the conditions under which hurricanes form. When they focused on temperature, the researchers found that a small increase in sea surface temperature, 0.5 degrees C, had a large impact on hurricane activity.

Mark Saunders, one of the researchers from University College London, emphasized,

Our analysis does not identify whether greenhouse gas-induced warming contributed to the increase in water temperature and thus to the increase in hurricane activity. However, it is important that climate models are able to reproduce the observed relationship between hurricane activity and sea surface temperature so that we can have confidence in their reliability to project how hurricane activity will respond to future climate change.

An impressive, aggregate satellite photo of several hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico during 2005 accompanies the article. There are also links to several recent, related stories.

How to Turn This News Event into an Inquiry-Based, Standards-Related Science Lesson

This news article connects directly to the Earth and Space Sciencecontent standard for grades 5-8 of the National Science Education Standards, which includes this fundamental concept: “Global patterns of atmospheric movement influence local weather. Oceans have a major effect on climate, because water in the oceans holds a large amount of heat.” The reported research also connects to the Science as Inquiry content standard.

If your students already have a good understanding of the science of hurricanes, ask them what they think would be different about the world’s hurricanes if the sea surface temperature increased just a half degree C. How do they think one could investigate that question? What other variables need to be considered? What other existing evidence could be used to inform one’s hypotheses? Suggest that they might look at the history of hurricanes and the sea surface temperature conditions under which they formed. Why would such an investigation be potentially useful?

Then show them the brief article and ask, What do you think Saunder’s intention was when he said, “Our analysis does not identify whether greenhouse gas-induced warming contributed to the increase in water temperature and thus to the increase in hurricane activity?” Lead students to the related ideas of methods of science, which include making inferences supported by the evidence. This research did not investigate what might contribute to sea surface temperature increases, only the effects of sea surface temperature increases.

Here are some additional resources that are part of the Middle School Portal 2 collection to facilitate your instruction regarding weather and climate:

 The Powerful Punch of  a Hurricane; El Nino and His Sister La NinaTracking El Nino; Detecting El Nino in Sea Surface Temperature DataOceans, Climate and Weather; Earth’s Oceans, and Ocean Temperatures.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Mary LeFever and published February 7, 2008 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 3/27/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

Building Quake-Resistant Structures in the Classroom

Every day somewhere on our planet, there is an earthquake, but only the destructive ones in populated areas grab our attention. On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti. The next day the headline from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was Haiti Devastated by Massive Earthquake. The article tells how the earthquake, with its epicenter just outside of the country’s capital of Port-au-Prince, affected an estimated three million people.

A few months later, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 occurred in China’s Qinghai Province on April 13, 2010. An early report from the New York Times was headlined Earthquake Kills Dozens in Northwest China. Later reports would reveal that this earthquake left many buildings destroyed, over 2,000 individuals dead, and even more seriously injured. Other notable earthquakes include the 2010 earthquake in Chile and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan.

Seeing and reading about the aftermath of earthquakes can lead students to believe that nothing can be done to prevent or lessen the destruction and injury. To help students gain an appreciation of the technology currently available, it is important to make students aware of the “before earthquake scene.”

Civil engineers study the effects of earthquakes on foundations and soils. Their research often provides evidence that helps them design earthquake resistant structures. The structures are often able to resist loads that are superimposed on them through earthquake shaking. This is because the structures bend and sway with the motion of an earthquake, or are isolated from the movement by sliders. Watch the Science 360 video “Dissecting an Earthquake”  to learn more about the engineers’ work.

Activity

A great way to introduce students to earthquake-resistant buildings is to have them build their own structures. The following lesson takes approximately two to three days for students to complete in the classroom. The lesson brings in many concepts of the History and Nature of Science standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Note: Prior to this activity, students should have learned about plate tectonics, earthquakes, the Mercalli Scale and the Richter Scale.

In this lesson, students are the civil engineers. By building their own structure with toothpicks and marshmallows, students will learn how engineers construct buildings to withstand damage from earthquakes. Students will test their buildings on an earthquake simulation (a pan of gelatin). They will then re-engineer the structure based on its performance.

To introduce the concept of earthquake-resistant buildings, watch this clip of researchers testing a three-story structure.

After watching the video, you should explain to students that they will make models of buildings and conduct an experiment to test how well their structures stand up under the stress of an earthquake.

The materials needed for this lesson are items that you can find in any grocery or convenience store. You will need toothpicks, marshmallows (miniature), gelatin, and paper to sketch drawings on.

Safety Note: Tell students they should never put anything in their mouths in a science lab. The marshmallows and gelatin are not for eating.

Distribute 30 toothpicks and 30 marshmallows to each student. Explain that engineers have limited resources when building structures. Each structure should be at least two toothpick levels high, buildings must contain at least one triangle, and buildings must contain at least one square.

Do not give as many constraints to IEP or ELL students. You may also want to illustrate how to make cubes and triangles using toothpicks and marshmallows. Show them how to break a toothpick approximately in half. Explain to the students that cubes and triangles may be stacked to make towers. The towers can have small or large “footprints” or bases.

When students have built their structures, place the structures on the pans of gelatin and shake the gelatin to simulate an earthquake. Students should take notes about how their building “responds” during an earthquake. While shaking the gelatin, you may want to ask students these questions: What type of waves are being simulated? How do you know this?

After students have tested their structures, in the next class period they should redesign and rebuild them and test them again. Students should focus on the following questions when redesigning their building: What can they do to make it stronger? Did it topple? Should they make the base bigger? Make the structure taller or shorter?

Students can design and rebuild as many times as the class period allows.

Additional Resources and Ideas

Have students pretend that they are engineers for a civil engineering company. Instruct them to create a flyer or write a letter to convince their company to let them design a better building or structure. (Students should also describe the risks of the area and give background information.) For gifted students, have them do this for a building in the area. This will engage the students and make them think critically about something within their community.

Have your students monitor quake activity weekly by checking the list maintained on the U.S. Geological Survey site. This web site lists the latest earthquakes magnitude 5.0 and greater in the world. The web site also provides a link to a map for each quake location.

The Middle School Portal 2 (MSP2) project has a digital library of resources focused on middle school math and science. You can search the MSP2 collection to find many excellent resources. Here are three to get you started:

Plate Tectonics
This publication offers a sampling of activities and animations to support students as they piece together the plate tectonics puzzle. In some activities, students examine different sources of evidence to try to figure out where and how Earth has changed. They will experience those cherished “aha!” moments when natural phenomena start to make sense. Also included in this publication are excellent reading resources to fill the gaps in students’ and teachers’ understanding of plate tectonics.

Observe Video Taken During an Earthquake
These videos were created for middle and high school students and were taken by security cameras during an earthquake near Seattle, Washington. Each clip shows a view of a different location either within or outside a building. Because the quake originated 30-35 miles beneath the earth’s surface, it caused minimal damage despite having a magnitude of 6.8. Time stamps in the lower left corner of each video clip allow students to determine when shaking started and ended at each location. Students are able to use control buttons to play, pause, and move forward and backward through the clips.

Seismic Waves
An instructional tutorial introduces students to seismic waves caused by earthquakes. Students answer questions as they move through the tutorial and investigate how P and S waves travel through layers of the earth. In one activity, students can produce and view wave motion in a chain of particles. A second activity introduces Love and Rayleigh waves. In a third activity, students study P and S waves by activating four seismographs, watching the resulting P and S waves, and answering interactive questions. Five web sites about waves, seismic action, and earthquakes are included.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Brittany Wall and published June 4, 2010 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 3/6/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.