BackCornerstone Learning Community
Abstract: The Cornerstone Biodiversity Project will engage students in documenting the organisms on their campus, our partner farm, and remote field sites. Florida's Panhandle region is known as a biodiversity hot spot. This wealth of species serves as the means to teach students about the value of biodiversity, the functioning of food webs and resilience of these habitats over time. Children who spend time in the environment develop a lifelong love for and appreciation of all it offers. Studies that would have required advanced knowledge of taxonomy and laborious data collection in the past become do-able by young students with the use of tablets, cameras and virtual communities of naturalists. Students will be sampling all the organisms in one cubic foot of space. These organisms will be photographed, identified and entered into online databases. Students will also create panoramic views of selected sites that will be followed through seasons and over years. These sampling techniques preserve the habitat but permit close and careful study to develop important scientific skills. Our students in grades Pre-K through eighth grade will complete age-appropriate biodiversity studies on our campus, at our partner farm and at remote field sites. These studies will be documented through two web-based databases for citizen science. In completing this project-based study of biodiverstiy, our students will have developed science and math content knowledge, but also become more invested stewards of their environment.
Biodiversity - the variety of organisms in an ecosystem - is an important measure of ecosystem health. Understanding the value of biodiversity and the interactions between organisms (including ourselves) develops environmental stewardship in students that ensures a new generation of scientists, activists and informed citizens. Funding from TERRA will ensure that Cornerstone Learning Community is able to take advantage of currently-available technology to provide a unique experience for our students. Our region, the Florida Panhandle is a known hot spot for biodiversity, especially the longleaf pine ecosystem (Blaustein, Bioscience, October 2008). This project would permit our students to become intimately familiar with the life forms on our campus and field sites in our area. The idea for this project was inspired by a teacher Biocube workshop. Biocubes are aluminum frames that have a volume of one cubic foot. David Liittschwager photographed the wealth of life encompassed within a single cubic foot (Wilson, National Geographic, February 2010). The photographs from his book, A World in One Cubic Foot, will be used to hook the students into the idea of sampling a cubic foot of our own campus. After studying the results of this work, students will take to the campus and field sites themselves to document the life contained within their own cubic foot sampling spaces. Students will create virtual collections of plants, animals and fungi using iNaturalist.org as a repository. The iNaturalist community will assist students with their identifications and the final product will become a permanent record of the biodiversity of our area. These records can then be used as a field guide for future students and teachers. Older students will take these techniques to the field to sample at our partner site, Longview Farm. This nearby active farm hosts acres of longleaf pine ecosystem. Our students have worked on a service project for many years that involves replanting longleaf pine seedlings. This project will be an opportunity for the students to become even more familiar with the life in this habitat. Middle school students will also sample biocubes at more remote field sites that will include a freshwater stream, ephemeral forest wetland or carnivorous plant bog (pending permission from the US Forest Service). All students will be tasked with developing numerical measures of biodiversity that are appropriate to their mathematical knowledge. In addition to the documenting the diversity, students will use a Picture Post (http://picturepost.unh.edu/) to contribute to a long-term photographic record of a specific site. The picture post is an eight-sided platform permanently erected on a site that can produce a panoramic view of the site for comparison over time. Records from picture posts will then also become an supplementary record of the ecosystems on our campus and partner farm. Cornerstone teachers and administrators recognize that the Next Generation Science Standards (2013) offer students the best foundation for understanding and practicing science in today's world. These standards include the disciplinary core idea of ecosystem dynamics, functioning, and resilience. This idea transcends grade level and can be experienced by all our students as they document life in the schoolyard, our partner farm and field sites appropriate to their grade level. An important part of our school mission is to develop enthusiastic stewards of the environment throughout their lives. An additional benefit will be the link to math concepts by introducing varying levels of complexity in biodiversity measures. It is expected that this project will continue indefinitely with students revisiting the same sites and adding to these databases through the years. The technology used for this project will facilitate the identification of organisms, documentation of biodiversity and tracking of changes in the ecosystem seasonally and across years. Tablets will enable students to upload high-quality macro-scale photos and identify organisms immediately on campus and document findings for later upload when at remote field sites. These tablets will also be used at the picture post sites for photographic records. An infrared remote camera will allow us to document organisms that pass through sample sites at times when students are not present, particularly nocturnal or crepuscular organisms. Success of the project will be evident in a fully-populated database of organisms on our campus (and at the farm and remote field sites). The CLC Creatures "project" is already started on iNaturalist.org. http://www.inaturalist.org/projects/clc-creatures. As appropriate to their age, students will show their understanding of taxonomy, food webs, and human environmental impacts through their data analysis, writing and discussions as the activities progress. Summative assessment of students will vary depending on grade level. The results of the project will be disseminated to our parent community via our Friday News. A press release will be submitted to our local newspaper and posted on the Cornerstone Learning Community blog. Project results will also be shared nationwide with educators who are part of the NOAA Climate Stewards Education Project of which the applicant is a member. The results will be shared via teleconference with the regional CSEP educators and via the CSEP wiki to educators throughout the country and territories.