Friday, June 22, 2012

Enhance Nature Exploration with Technology

Kids and nature seemed like a natural combination a generation ago, but today that combination is being threatened for many reasons.

The term, "nature deficit disorder", coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods, describes the disconnect of our children with nature.

If you haven't read this book, I would highly recommend it.  It has started the important public discussion about the this disconnect with nature, its causes and its consequences.

One of the reasons often quoted for the disconnect is time spent with technology.  A recent national survey found that today's kids spend and average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day on technology such as TV, video games, computers, etc. which leaves little time for outdoor exploration.

But I thought, if we could only USE technology as a way to get kids away from the technology that keeps them indoors, we might help solve this alarming trend.  In other words, not all technology is the same.  Some, like video games, seem to be keeping kids inside; others, like cameras, may be a reason to go outside.  "Technology could help reconnect kids to nature!"  That would be an awesome headline.  With the advent of more and more mobile devices, this may come true.

 For me, a camera is the mobile device that gets me outside.
I find that exploring with a camera in my hand has helped me to  more closely observe nature.  And some of my teacher friends have said it does the same for their students.

In trying to take a photo of  this turtle eat a dead mouse, I had to  
slow down and watch carefully.  I spent almost an hour watching its behavior.  That is saying something for me; my friends sometimes think I may have ADHD! (It's just the coffee--but that's another story).


In the article, recently published in NSTA's Science Scope magazine, a colleague and I outlined a lesson that would integrate technology use with outdoor exploration.  It is only one idea, and I'm sure there are many others that would combine nature and technology.  You can read about our idea on-line at the National Science Teachers Association website.

I'd like to hear about your ideas of how to use technology WITH nature study.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tracking Turtles

My husband and I have been seeing many box turtles in our little 80 acre woods.  But it is hard to know if we are seeing many different turtles, or the same turtle many times.  Hence, we have started a simple system of labeling the carapace using a permanent marker.  Some researchers make notches in the carapace, but we think this system is easier.

Using a silver permanent marker, we labeled the year (2012) and started numbering the turtles with #1.  We have only just started and have labeled 3 so far.  All were found within 100 feet of our house.  The last one was found burying itself under a pile of leaves.  Hopefully we will see these turtles again--perhaps after a rain and cooler weather would be a good time to look for them.  We do not know how long the marks will endure, but hopefully through this season.

According to Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri, a Kansas study found that ornate box turtles may have a home range of up to five acres, and there may be as many as 2 per acre.  In another reference  for eastern box turtles, they state that these turtles do not travel far--only 200meters   The Smithsonian Box Turtle Fact Sheet  states that box turtle ranges will overlap.  In an Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission publication, it is noted that researchers have documented the home ranges of three-toed and ornate box turtles to be as small as three acres or as large as 100 acres.

Box turtles seem to remember landmarks in their home ranges which contributes to their strong homing instincts. If removed from their home range and relocated , the turtles will generally not stay in a new location but will travel long distances in order to return to their original home.

We hope to continue to monitor the density and home range of the box turtles that call our woods their home.  They are certainly fun critters to watch.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Hummingbird dilemas

A favorite summer pastime of mine is to watch the hummingbirds come to our feeders.  Sometimes they will get very close to me while I sit on our deck--which is thrilling!  I love to hear all the twittering as the male, in a U-shaped-diving display defends his territory (the feeder).  I have also see the birds display aggression towards each other by shifting back and forth on a horizontal plane with tail feathers spread out.
We have been feeding and watching these birds since our oldest was about 5 and did a science fair project on "Which Color Do Hummingbirds Prefer".  No we did not add different color dyes--we used different color feeders.

The dye question is a source of much  rumor  There are some commonly held myths like "red dye makes hummingbird egg shells soft".  For some reason, the people who say this are confusing the DDT problem of hawks and eagles with hummingbirds.  There is, however,  some anecdotal evidence of beak and liver tumors from red dye, so it is really best to avoid the dye.  there is enough red on most feeders to attract the birds.

Recipe for Hummingbird Nectar  One thing to remember with the nectar--keep it fresh!  If it starts to look cloudy, it is spoiled and will harm the birds.  The commercial feeders that we have purchased in the past are just too big for the quantity our hummers consume in a day (or two).
So we use red spray paint caps that my husband modified by putting a screw in it and through a small suction cup holder.  We only put about one half cup nectar in each one, but place several in the windows around our house.  This helps the birds spread out--and avoids some of that aggression.  It does make the window messy--and attracts ants, spiders, etc, but this is just more food for the birds.

This is exactly how our daughter conducted her science fair project, except she used paint caps from different color spray paint cans.  What did she discover?  Hummingbirds do favor the color red.  Perhaps more interesting was the fact that the green caps received fewer visits from the birds.

Besides the controversial red dye, hummingbirds are facing another potential danger (and other animals as well).  Global climate change can through the birds and the flowers they depend on for nectar out of sync.  A recent study reported in  Science Daily  postulates about the effect of early flowering on the migrating birds, especially in the northern part of the range.

In light of this, perhaps feeding the hummingbirds is more important than just a fun pastime; maybe it will help the birds' survival.