All posts by Paula Fogarty

Don’t Forget Your Tick Check!

From a poster available in the “Shovel-Ready” lesson at Speak Easies Active Learning Tools for Biology on Teachers Pay Teachers

Do you take your class outside to work in the school garden or restore habitat?  If you live in tick country, it pays to remind your students to check themselves for ticks at the end of the day.  Because ticks inject kininases, very effective anaesthetic substances, as they bite, a tick bite can go unnoticed for many hours–even when they’ve burrowed in to your skin!  They’re pretty easy to remove in the first few hours, and it takes 24 hours or more of the tick embedded in your skin for the pathogen that transmits lyme disease to be transmitted.  So do that tick check at

Device for removing ticks easily. Keep it on your key chain.

the end of the day!

Shovel Ready–Preparing Students for Outdoor Work

If you take your students outside to plant in the school garden or restore habitat, you know that it can be very beneficial for kids. Even the problem kid might excel at this work! But you also know that, just as when you go to the lab, it takes some preparation to ensure a safe, successful experience. Speak Easies has designed some cartoon worksheets that can make this potentially boring topic fun. Besides the one pictured here, there is “Name That Tool” and “Don’t Forget Your Tick Check”. These are available now on Teachers Pay Teachers at Speak Easies Active Learning Tools for Biology and will soon be on our website, www.speakeasies.biz, under the title “Shovel-Ready!”

What else can help make the outdoor work rewarding? Remind kids about wearing old clothes, in layers, getting a good night’s sleep the night before, and eating a hearty breakfast. Shoes can be an issue; they should be sturdy, with closed toes, and older shoes are preferable. Students should also bring drinking water and a snack if these are not provided. Also helpful to show them: “Before” and “After” pictures of habitat or the school garden.

Working in small groups can also help to make the job more fun!

Sequestering Carbon the Natural Way–in the Soil

Could plants help to trap carbon in the soil?

What do you think is the main reservoir of carbon in the biosphere?  The atmosphere, right?  Well, no.  The main reservoir is the soil, holding approximately five times as much carbon as the atmophere!  Too bad there’s not a way to sink carbon into the soil and trap it there, decreasing the carbon in the atmosphere.  But guess what!  There is!

When plants grow and produce sugars in photosynthesis, the sugars remaining after the plant uses what it needs are transported down the stem to the roots to be stored there.  But some of the sugary liquid oozes out into the soil immediately surrounding the roots.  There it feeds the microbial partners of the plant, such as mycorrhizal fungi that help provide water and nutrients for the plant.  (Talk about a nice symbiotic relationship!)

But some of those sugars stick to clumps of mineral particles in the soil, forming soil aggregates.  Here’s the amazing thing:  those aggregates can last for hundreds of years if undisturbed, and all the while they are trapping carbon because sugars are built on a backbone of carbon.  Carbon trapped for hundreds of years in the soil –out of the atmosphere!

So plant some plants, especially native perennial grasses, because they have extremely long and extensive root systems to exude that oozing syrupy sugar.  And support restorations that are planting in your area because it’s the “carbon smart” thing to do!

In Search of Intelligent Life

This NASA photo shows a radio telescope listening for communication from space.

Hello, Earth to …?  Is anyone out there in the blog world?  Anyone?  If you are reading this, give us an indication!  Should we stop trying to communicate now?  Is there intelligent life out there?  Is there intelligent life here on this blog?  Are we aiming towards empty space?  Can you send up a flare, or better yet, make a comment?  We’re getting lonely out there!

The DIY Carbon Cycle and The Trouble with Methane

Methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are both Greenhouse Gases, but methane holds in 25 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, so clearly we have to address methane emissions if we can hope to curb climate change!  That means dealing with food waste, cattle production, and fracking–all of which release methane.  In landfills, rotting organic materials that are buried with no exposure to air are producing methane too.  In many places that methane is tapped and burned to provide energy for the needs of the landfill facility.  Of course carbon dioxide results from the burning, but that is preferable to allowing the methane to seep into the atmosphere.

Speak Easies has a hands-on Downloadable Do-It-Yourself Carbon Cycle with engaging pictures that students can assemble to understand the processes and problems involved and to consider solutions!  Available soon on this website, but it can be purchased right now at Speak Easies Active Learning Tools for Biology on TeachersPayTeachers.

Hands-on kit to help students understand the carbon cycle and climate change

Dive into the Kelp Forest–Food Web Fun!

Kelp Frond

Are you tired of lessons on food webs and energy flow that focus on generic forest systems, some desert somewhere, or a tropical rain forest? Speak Easies’ Kelp Forest Downloadable Kit is a great way for your students to simulate a dive off of California’s coast and become familiar with some fun facts about the fascinating creatures that live in the kelp!

Did you know the California sheephead fish  changes from female to male at about age seven?  Are you aware that the purple-ringed topshell, a tiny snail 1 1/2 inches tall, is a fierce predator that rears up and lunges at its prey?

Purple-ringed Topshell

Your students will discover these facts and more as they assemble a food web from the kit’s hands-on pieces.  They’ll also learn about the upwelling that supports such rich diversity and the conditions that make a dive challenging in this area.  And using the language of uncertainty, they’ll speculate about the functions of the different parts of the kelp frond.

This is a great lesson for a sub day or when you need a break while your students are engaged.   Available here on our website very soon and on our store, Speak Easies Active Learning Tools for Biology, on TeachersPayTeachers right now!

California Sheephead

 

Quick and Easy Carbon Cycle Lesson

Are you looking for a quick and easy carbon cycle lesson, one that will tie in climate change and Greenhouse Effect? It would be a plus if it’s engaging too, right? Well, here’s one you can download and give your students to cut out and assemble. The pictures are interesting to look at, and enough clues are built in that you can even use this as a way to introduce the topic. It’s one of Speak Easies’ new Downloadable Kits, available here on our website very soon and on our store, Speak Easies Active Learning Tools for Biology at www.TeachersPayTeachers right now! It’s called the DIY Carbon Cycle. It’s highly effective as a learning tool, because it relies on the kinesthetic mode– it’s hands-on. As kids assemble the cycle, they draw on prior knowledge, educated guesses, and the included backstories for the pictures to put it together.

Excerpt from Key to the Pictures in the    DIY Carbon Cycle Downloadable Kit

So what is included in the kit? Two pages of engaging pictures to cut out, a two-page key to the pictures, giving the backstory for each, two pages of pro tips for you with suggestions for using the kit to teach the topic, a page of questions to discuss, and an answer key, including a picture of the assembled carbon cycle. These are the topics the pictures address: photosynthesis and cellular respiration, combustion and burning of fossil fuels, decomposition, fossil fuel formation and extraction, carbon sequestration, soil as a reservoir for carbon, role of native grasses in sequestration, greenhouse gases–both carbon dioxide and methane emissions and their impacts. And of course, as students work with the pieces they will see the ways to reduce impacts and trap carbon away from the atmosphere.

Carbon Cycle Assembled from Pictures in the Kit

Beautiful Foliage, But the Rash Isn’t So Pretty!

Here’s a picture of beautiful fall foliage in the oak woodland in Annadel Trione State Park in Northern California, and the striking plant is— poison oak! Lots of people suffer itchy rashes when exposed to the oil it contains, urushiol. The Native Americans who live where poison oak is found have long made use of it in basket-making, dyes for tattoos, and medicines. Apparently they developed some immunity to it, though they also made medicines to treat its rash.

In spite of its name, it’s not actually an oak. It does play an ecological role, providing food for many birds and small mammals, as well as deer and insect larvae. It also helps to anchor slopes and prevent erosion. And it’s a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to return after a disturbance like a wildfire. Since climate change is leading to more and more wildfires, we can expect to see more poison oak in the future.

Photo courtesy of Neill Fogarty.

Salt Marsh Returns to San Francisco Bay! Why Does It Matter?

Looking north across San Pablo Bay (part of San Francisco Bay). In the foreground is ancient salt marsh.

This is ancient salt marsh, a remnant of wetlands that used to surround San Francisco Bay.  Only 5-10% remain.  All around the bay, environmental non-profits are working with citizens to restore wetlands.  Transition zones and marshes are being planted, and levees are being breached.  Eventually wetlands will once again surround the entire bay.

But why does it matter?  After all, sometimes the existing marshes and mudflats are pretty smelly, but that is a sign of the richness of living things being nurtured there!  Here are just a few of the ecosystem services provided by wetlands.  In the wetlands, marshes and estuaries, the soils sponge up water and release it slowly, helping to mitigate flooding.  The marsh plants’ roots form a mesh that traps sediments and pollutants flowing into the bay from creeks and rivers.  Wetlands act as nurseries for the immature larvae of many different species–some of which, like crabs and fish, are commercially valuable, and all of which play roles in the ecosystem.  There is much more (Google!) but here’s one that’s of huge importance:  wetlands, mudflats, and marshes act as a buffer zone, protecting areas further inland from storm surges and sea level rise.  And here’s another service they provide that is vitally important:  salt marshes and mudflats are especially powerful in carbon sequestration!

No Males Need Apply: Parthenogenesis in Gall Wasps

In some gall wasp species there is reproduction without males!

The title might sound scholarly, but what does it mean?  Parthenogenesis in animals is the development of an embryo from an unfertilized egg cell– in other words, no males involved.  This can happen among some invertebrate species, and even in some reptiles and amphibians.  With gall wasps, the males and females reproduce in the conventional way in the spring, but in the fall the females manage it all by themselves.

Of course, the practice of parthenogenesis decreases genetic diversity, as you would expect, but it has some advantages too.  For one thing, it usually results in production of much larger numbers of offspring, possibly because less energy is expended in looking for a mate.  Imagine being free of those pesky mating rituals!   The time and energy you’d save by not dating!

And here’s a cultural  aspect to consider:  a friend who is a member of the Coast Miwok tribe told me the tribe used to carefully time their controlled burns to hold down populations of these insects.  Clever.

Find out more about gall wasps and all other things related to oak trees in this wonderful book:  “Secrets of the Oak Woodlands” by Kate Marianchild.