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monarch1.jpgLet's face it, it has not been a lot of fun to monitor monarch eggs and larvae in 2013. In fact, just sitting down to write this article made me a little depressed, so I'm going to walk into my yard (it's August 24, 2013) and see if I can cheer myself up by seeing some monarchs.......... I'm back, and I saw two, one on blazing star and one on ironweed. So, they're out there, and I have the pictures to prove it.

Just what do the numbers show? While we wait until the end of the season when everyone has entered all of their data to do careful analyses, I pulled up the data from Minnesota, where 33 sites are being monitored this summer. The data from other northern states look pretty much the same. These sites range from the Gunflint Trail way up in northeastern MN, where David MacLean has been monitoring a patch of swamp milkweed since 2010 (David saw no eggs or larvae at all in 2013), to New London-Spicer in west-central MN where Laura Molenaar and many students have been monitoring milkweed patches since 2004 (they saw a few monarchs this year), to many sites in the Minneapolis-St Paul metro area (my daughters and I have monitored our yard since 2002, and on my best day this year I found 20 eggs on about 135 plants).

The graph below shows egg densities (as eggs per milkweed plant monitored, so a value of 0.20 means that there were 20 eggs on 100 plants, and value of 0.02 means there were 2 eggs on 100 plants).


mlmp egg density data-mn chart.jpg

  • 2011 was a "normal" year (see the blue line on the graph). The monarchs came back in late May, had a May peak of about 0.27 eggs per milkweed, and a July peak of about 0.16 eggs per milkweed (about 16 per 100 plants).
  • 2012 was unusual (see the red line on the graph); remember our early spring? The monarchs came back about a month early in very high numbers. Note the peak of about 0.60 eggs per milkweed in early May. But then the population crashed, and our early July peak was only about 0.10 eggs per milkweed. The crash was probably due to a combination of the heat and lack of rain, which was hard on the milkweed and the monarchs, and high numbers of predators.
  • 2013 has been terrible from the start (see the green line on the graph). After the lowest overwintering population ever, the monarchs came back late, and the numbers have stayed low. Our peak this summer was during the week of July 22, when the egg density was 0.028; that means people are seeing fewer than 3 eggs for every 100 plants they observe. The graph doesn't show caterpillar data (you can see these numbers online), but out of 14,313 times that MN MLMP observers have looked at a milkweed plant this summer, they have only seen 96 caterpillars, and only 14 5th instars.
What does this mean for monarchs? It means they need all of the help they can get. I'm getting a lot of e-mails from people all over asking me what they can do to help monarchs, and here's what I say. There are really 4 categories of things you can do to help these amazing insects flourish.
  • First, plant milkweed and nectar sources. If you have an MLMP site, you're monarch2.jpgprobably already doing this, but consider adding more plants if possible. Monarchs have lost a lot of habitat with the advent of herbicide-tolerant crops and expanding human habitation.
  • Second, educate others and advocate for monarch conservation. For example, you can register your site as a monarch Waystation, and put up a sign that recognizes that registration (see http://monarchwatch.org/waystations/ for more info). You can talk to friends and neighbors, ask local or county land managers to do things like avoid mowing ditches when monarch larvae might be present, or advocate limiting insecticide spraying at the local, state or national level.
  • Third, get involved in a monarch citizen science program and contribute data that will help us manage monarchs more effectively. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, Journey North, and Project Monarch Health are all good possibilities, and all have websites with clear directions.
  • Finally, donate money to conservation organizations like the Monarch Butterfly Fund or the Monarch Joint Venture. These organizations work on monarch conservation in Mexico and the US, respectively.

It's my hope that the MLMP does not become a tool that simply records the demise of monarchs. Rather, it should be a tool that energizes people to do what they can, and helps us understand the best ways to help monarchs survive in a changing world.

Karen Oberhauser

University of Minnesota Monarch Lab

"What's in a question, you ask? question-mark-graphic.jpgEverything. It is a way of evoking stimulating response or stultifying inquiry. It is, in essence, the very core of teaching."

- John Dewey, education philosopher.

Experienced leaders use and create a variety of good questions throughout the summer to propel their team members into the inquiry flow. According to a summary of research by Patricia E. Blosser, questions serve a variety of important roles in effective science education:

  • Provoking interest in a topic or idea;
  • Stimulating thinking about information and issues;
  • Helping learners develop a certain mind-set;
  • Reinforcing information and ideas; and
  • Managing activities and learner behavior.
Try to ask open-ended and thought-provoking questions that serve a specific purpose.

An educator may ask learners hundreds of questions in the course of teaching. But studies consistently find that they predominately ask learners closed-ended, low-order questions - questions that require learners to recall memorized correct answers. You can improve your teaching by asking more focused, open-ended, and thought-provoking questions. Try the following with youth on your research teams:

  1. Focus your questions. Keep in mind the authentic inquiry process at the heart of D2D: observing and wondering, sparking provocative questions, formulating hypotheses and investigation, analyzing results and generating conclusions. Where are your team members in their inquiry process? Where will they flow next? Use questions to propel them there.
  2. Know why you are asking each and every question. Will your question provoke learners' interest in what comes next? Will it reinforce key ideas or skills? Will it encourage youth members to further analyze or synthesize the topic? Visit the Questioning Toolkit in the From Now On journal for examples of questions that serve a variety of important purposes.
  3. Make sure your questions target a variety of learning-levels. Do you ask your team members to demonstrate, construct, calculate, diagram, or predict? Bloom's Taxonomy defines six different levels of intellectual behavior, each with "action verbs" you can use in writing questions for team meetings. Low-order questions ask learners to recall information or reproduce skills from memory. "Who can show me the first step in properly filling in our data sheet?" exemplifies a low-order question. High-order questions prompt learners to interpret, analyze, synthesize, evaluate and apply ideas and skills in new situations. "How did you decide that this is the best way to graph your data?" or "What are the strengths and weaknesses of this study design to compare bird species in our wetland and prairie sites?" are both high-order questions. Low-order questions are great for reinforcing ideas or managing activities. High-order questions are usually better suited to provoke or stimulate critical thinking, and help youth make connections.
  4. Make sure your questions have an appropriate structure. Open-ended questions are broad in nature with many potential and varied answers. E.g. "How could you design a form to collect information about tachnid wasps at our site? What about spiders?" Alternatively, closed-ended questions are limited to one or a few specific "correct" answers. E.g. "Who can tell me if this is a robin call?" Closed-ended questions are good for reinforcing information and ideas, stimulating recall, or managing activities. Open-ended questions serve well to provoke and stimulate critical thinking.
Many resources describe how to deliver questions effectively. Developing Questioning Skills by Karron Lewis offers practical suggestions. Above all, encourage students to risk answering your questions. Say things like "I am looking for an adventurous person to tackle this question..." or "Can someone take a shot at answering this question?" Let your team members know when you don't expect them to know a predetermined answer but are seeking thoughtful guesses or reflections. And, of course, resist the urge to answer your own questions. Instead, allow at least a few seconds for youth to think about your question before rephrasing.


Well planned and delivered questions will help you keep your team members in the flow of inquiry. In the words of Cathleen Galas: "A good question leads to more new questions, new discoveries, new realms never even considered before....Teachers should share the excitement of asking questions and finding answers to personally relevant questions."

Nathan Meyer

Center for Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
University of Minnesota Extension

This article was adapted from the EE E-Tip for Field Days, available Online.
References:

Bloom, B. et al. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook 1. Cognitive Domain. New York: D. McKay.

Blosser, P.E. (1990). Using questions in science classrooms. Research Matters - To the Science Teacher, No. 9001. Online at http://www.narst.org/publications/research/question.cfm.

Galas, C. (1999). The never ending story: Questioning strategies for the information age. Learning and Leading, 25(7).

Lewis, K.G. (1999). Developing questioning skills. Section 5. Teachers and Students: A Sourcebook for UT-Austin Faculty. The University of Texas at Austin Center for Teaching Effectiveness. Online at http://ncnewschools.org/uploads/library/0807-questioning-article.pdf.

McComas, W.F., & Abraham, L. (n.d.). Asking More Effective Questions. Online at http://cet.usc.edu/resources/teaching_learning/docs/Asking_Better_Questions.pdf.

N.A. (1997). A questioning toolkit. From Now On: The Educational Technology Journal, 7(3). Online at http://www.fno.org/nov97/toolkit.html.

Talking to the birds

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blue-jay.jpgHey, Petey! Hey Petey. Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Teacher, Teacher, Teacher! Potato chip, potato chip.

Some people walking through the woods notice the colorful flowers that are in bloom. Others may notice the scent of the balsam trees as the wind blows through them. I notice the thousands of bird noises that are bombarding me from all sides.

Breeding males are responsible for almost all of these sounds. In early spring and summer, they make these noises because they are fixated on maintaining good territories and finding mates.

This means that when you hear a sweet "Hey, Petey!"; a nearby male chickadee hears a gruff "This is my turf. You better stay away!" and a neighboring female chickadee hears a seductive "Hey baby, want to come over to my place?"

When I was a child, I knew an old lady (who must have been at least 50) who lived down the street from me. She could imitate several birdcalls and her hooting, chirping and whistling would bring in dozens of birds so that she (and I) could get a better look at them. (Though, I still wonder if she knew what she was saying to those birds.)

Luckily, you are part of the digital age and don't have to develop the talent of my old lady friend by spending hours practicing different bird calls until they start responding. Instead, you can use an app on your smart phone or tablet to call in birds.

Bird identification apps are similar to traditional field guides but better. They can help you identify a bird by limiting the list to those birds that are in your state, those of a certain color, and even those of a certain size. Once you have narrowed your choices down to one or two species, you can then listen to the calls of those species to see if their calls are the same as the calls that are coming out of the bird that is perched in front of you. If you are lucky, you may even see that while one of the calls has no affect on the bird, the other one sends him into a tizzy. This is a pretty good clue that the bird you are trying to identify is the species that you just played.

While using apps to call in birds is fun, you should also be respectful when using them. Remember what birds calls are for? (Hint: Maintaining territory and attracting mates.) Just think about what you would feel like if you were on a date with your honey and some huge bird came to your table at the pizzeria and started playing recordings of some actor saying, "Hey beautiful, dump this bozo, why don't you come over to my table and I'll show you a good time?" My guess is that you that you would get pretty mad.

This is, in fact, what happens when a male bird hears another male in his territory. He gets upset, aggressive, loses his concentration and tries to chase away his competitor. (Think about it: Why do those birds start showing up when you start playing their calls?)

For this reason, birders have a code of ethics that they follow when they use apps to call in birds. First, good birders never try to call in endangered, threatened or rare birds. They don't want to disturb the breeding of these individuals. Second, they don't play the calls more than twice and they only stay in an area for five minutes. It does no good to harass a poor male bird that is only trying to do the best that he can to maintain his territory. Finally, they avoid using apps to call in birds where lots of other birders may be looking for birds. This is so the birds aren't inundated by calls from lazy birders who won't take the time or expend the energy to find birds in a gentler way.

What's the upshot of all this? Apps are great for identifying birds. They are especially useful for letting you hear different birdcalls and helping you sort through the cacophony of calls that you hear in breeding season. They may also be useful for helping you find secretive birds by calling them in. However, be considerate of those birds. Think about how you would feel if someone barged in on a date with your honey and started playing recordings of you.

Rob Blair

University of Minnesota

Note: One great app to start using is National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America Lite. It is a free, but limited version. It has almost every bird that you will see in your backyard in it as well as all of their calls.

monarch.pngThe youth scientists in D2D clubs this summer are having great experiences watching birds, searching for monarchs, exploring wetlands, and so much more. These activities are usually fun and inspiring, and with a little facilitation, they can also be powerful learning experiences.

"What?!" you may be thinking. "Of course these are good learning experiences!"

But experiences alone don't automatically lead to learning. It's the reflection on the experience that generates understanding.

If you are familiar with Experiential Learning, you may recall the mantra "Do, Reflect, Apply." These three words are a simple summation of the process of learning from experiences:

  • DO: Have an experience, perform something, try something
  • REFLECT: Talk about the experience with others, describe what happened, analyze the context, actions and outcomes
  • APPLY: Consider how this experience might relate to other experiences in the future, consider what was learned, then apply insights to a new situation.
The D2D curriculum provides a couple resources to foster reflection: The Scientist's Log, the I Wonder board, the Sum It Up page and the "Doing science is like" supplemental activity. Here are a couple more ideas:

  • Rose/Thorn/Bud: At the end of each meeting, conduct a quick round robin discussion in which each youth scientist reports one "Rose" (highlight/what they liked best), one "Thorn" (difficulty/challenge), and one "Bud" (a new idea or skill) from the day.
  • Occasionally use the "Reflect & Rethink" page developed in the first year of the D2D program.
  • If you've done the "What is a scientist?" activity, have the youth do drawings of themselves as scientists...what qualities do they possess that make them scientists?
Here's a reflection idea from D2D club leader Kristi McCullough:


When preparing investigations, hold a "roundtable" in which youth present their research plans to each other. Peers can provide feedback and troubleshoot together. Kristi says this allows youth to sharpen their research skills by analyzing multiple research plans instead of just their own. By doing this throughout the club experience, the youth scientists gain confidence in their science skills and develop ownership in all of the club's projects.

As you hold your club meetings, be sure to allow time for reflection throughout the experience. Ask questions about what the youth say and do during these moments, and listen closely to their answers. As that reflection time helps youth scientists make sense of and learn from the fun and interesting experiences they are having, it will be time well spent!

Andrea Lorek Strauss

Extension educator, Environmental science education
University of Minnesota Extension, Rochester, Minnesota

References:
  1. Deidrick, J., Doering, S., Geiser, D., Kanengieter, H., Piehl, B., Stevenson, A. (2005). Questions for Guiding Experiential Learning: A field guide for adult volunteers, mentors, coaches, fair judges, etc. St. Paul: University of Minnesota Extension.
  2. Knapp, C. (1993). Lasting Lessons: A teacher's guide to reflecting on experience. Charleston, WV: Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.

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