Sunday, March 28, 2010

4 Weeks Left to Earth Day! Week 13! Endangered Species: Tigers

I was saddened this week to read more startling statistics indicating the decline of species, in this case Butterflies.  I am not entirely sure what it is that we do not get about all this; maybe we are just in denial because it is too freaky!  Joanna Macy spoke up a long time ago about apathy born of a profound despair in the face of impending disaster.  I hope that we can shake ourselves out of whatever it is that is blinding us to the catastrophic destruction of planetary ecosystems to somehow rise up and preserve what is left.

Recently I wrote about biodiversity, and the importance of insects such as butterflies and bees; I wrote about Keystone species such as alligators and wolves; so this week I thought I would feature Tigers since they are on the brink of extinction and in need of help from all of us.  These Blog Posts are aimed at educating and inspiring us to act on behalf of all species including ourselves, however, I will offer a word of caution.  I am a big fan of educator David Sobel who warns: “we need to give young children time to connect to nature before we ask them to save it.”  Therefore, I have tried to design the Lesson Plans to include content for the younger ones that focus on the beauty and magnificence of such animals and urge you not to dwell on their possible extinction.  Older students can definitely explore reasons for endangerment of species and join in efforts to protect them.
 Lesson Plans
1.  In the early 1900s, there were around 100,000 tigers throughout their range.  Today an estimated total of around 3,000-4,500 exist in the wild.  You can see a breakdown of tiger numbers by subspecies and learn a lot more about them, at the Defenders of Wildlife website.  With older students, choose a species and research why the animal has become endangered.  What are the mitigating factors and what could have been done differently to protect them?  The Endangered Species Website is helpful. 
2.  With young children, simply learn about the different tiger Sub SpeciesTigers are carnivores, what are some of the animals in your neighborhood that eat other animals?  Tigers are mammals and females typically birth between one to seven cubs.  What wild mammals live in your region?  Do they give birth to cubs, pups or kittens – what are the names of their offspring? 
3.  Are there any Wildcat species in your region?  If so, how are they similar to tigers?  What was the  Evolutionary journey of tigers? Many species are now confined to small areas of land, but many of them once roamed on different Continents.
4.  One of the primary causes of species endangerment, or extinction is the proximity of Humans in their territories.  With older students explore this topic; what could we do in the future to better provide for such animals?  Do they think that it matters, or should we just let them die out? Remember that many of these animals are Keystone Species and their demise has consequences.  
As a Keystone species, how do Tigers   affect the ecosystem in which they live? Is there a keystone species in your neighborhood?   Remember a keystone species can be as small as a bee! 

Green Action of the Week!
Have a bake-sale, or some other Fundraiser to raise some funds to help preserve some land in your area, somewhere else in the world or both!  Acting locally, nationally and globally can be a way to introduce children to the concept of our interconnectedness!  

I have uploaded my song, Tiger, Tiger for this post.  It might also be fun to share William Blake’s famous poem Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright! (If you do not find the Tiger Song, please check back as I am still trying to upload it!) 
Here is a very simple  Story of the Tiger and another called the Ungrateful Tiger

I wish you a good week!  I hope these posts are being of some help to you!  I know that while it may be too late for some species, that awareness will help to preserve others in the future.  Education is so important and for all of you out there who are educators, and parents, thank you so much for all you do to provide kids with the knowledge they need to act for all species.
In gratitude for Life, and this beautiful Earth!   

Enchanted Learning has some printouts and information about tigers.

Photo of Sumatran tiger by Monika Betley - from Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Bengali Tigress and cub by Mayankkatiyar - from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 21, 2010

5 Weeks Left to Earth Day! Week 12: Food Audit!

Locavore was the Oxford American Dictionary word of the year in 2007; it means someone who eats food grown within 100 miles of where they live! 

I was invited to a wonderful fund raising event this week, where all the food served was local; the envent was inspired by the Earth Charter's encouragement to live in a sustainable manner by reducing our carbon footprint in every aspect of our lives.

We have become spoiled by the ubiquitous availability of foods from all over the world; strawberries anytime, avocados, grapefruit, blueberries, lettuce, absolutely anything we so desire can be purchased throughout the year.  In days gone by our bodies were attuned to the foods that were seasonal; in the cooler months root vegetables might have been the staple with fewer fruits and berries, while summer months were celebrated with these luscious delights.

I am not saying that we have to become completely reliant on locally grown or seasonal food, but I am recommending making an effort to learn about it and support it if you can, and in the process I think you will discover the benefits!  I do think it is important and relevant to their health, to educate children about where their food comes from and the environmental costs incurred therein.
Lesson Plans
1.  Food Audit!  This activity can be a geography, science and math lesson too, since children will lean about different places and their topography as well as calculating distances.  The complexity of your project will depend upon the grade level of participating children.  Invite children to research some or all of following questions about one meal:
·      What country, State or Province, did each item on your plate come from?
·      How many miles/kilometers did each item travel?
·      What kind of transportation was used to bring the food to the store/market?
·      Map out the entire journey – from the fields, to the transportation, to the store/market – of how the food arrived on your table.  This can be done as a drawing, painting or a collage;
·      What people were involved in bringing the food to your table? Who grew it, picked it, cleaned it, packed it and finally cooked it!
·      What animals did the food come from? How were they kept? Did they live outside, in a barn, in a cage?  Did they have a god quality of life?
·      Calculate the total miles/kilometers that all the food for one meal has travelled.
Once you have done all or part of this process, discuss the findings with your students and see what ideas they might have for minimizing the environmental costs.  A greater discussion might be how we could a better quality of life for the animals that are eaten and also for the farmers and the workers who grow, pick and transport our food.

2.  With older students, watch the film Food Inc.  Under the Multimedia section of their website there is a Discussion Guide.

Brain Over Brawn – this article by David Suzuki is worth the read; he reminds us that while we might have the technology that allows us to cull previously unattainable harvests from the ocean we should beware of acting without thinking of the consequences!  Every single living organism on this earth is connected in some way to everything else.  Some might like to think that humans have superiority over nature, but I think that we would be foolish to court this line of thinking, for in the end it might lead to our own demise. 
A story about greed: Two Brothers, Two Rewards 
Well, I figure it could be  No Sugar, No Fries! – I wrote this not just about eating healthy food, but also to encourage us to cook again!

Green Action of the Week
See if you can have at least one meal that is completely made up of food that comes from within one hundred miles of where you live.  This might be kind of difficult for those of you coming out of the winter months, so if you live in a colder climate then the food should be from within your country.  Having said that, even in Montreal, Quebec, I am sure I could make up a meal of local eggs, cheese, meat, fish, potatoes, squash and probably some carrots!  Then of course there are preserves; last summer I might have made up jars of cherries, strawberries or peaches, and I might have dried some apples and grapes for raisins!

I hope this Post is helpful to you and that you are having some interesting lessons, discussions and discoveries with your children, students, families or just yourself!  Wishing you a beautiful Spring! As the light comes in, may your days be filled with beauty and joy.
In gratitude to life and this precious Earth!

Article about Environmental Costs of Shipping Food
Environmental costs of Meat production
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle  – Barbara Kingsolver
The Zero-mile Diet– A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food
Photos By Rosie Emery and the US Dept. Agriculture

Sunday, March 14, 2010

6 Weeks Left to Earth Day! Week 11: Keystone Species!

Spending time in Florida has allowed me to gain new respect for one of its most famous residents, the alligator!  These prehistoric reptiles are quite remarkable, and when you see them up close (not too close!) they give us a glimpse into a past Earth, when dinosaurs ruled the land!

I learned that alligators are important because they are a keystone species; what is a keystone species?  I rather like this explanation, courtesy of: Bagheera
“A keystone is the stone at the top of an arch that supports the other stones and keeps the whole arch from falling.  A keystone species is a species on which the persistence of a large number of other species in the ecosystem depends.  If a keystone species is extirpated from a system, the species it supported also will disappear, as will the other dependent species.”  You can read the full description on their website.

Inhabiting the swamps, ponds, creeks, rivers and shallow lakes of Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, alligators play an important role in shaping the landscape.  During the dry season, alligators swish their tails around in shallow pools to make “gator holes”; deep holes which retain water when there is little rainfall thus providing a vital drinking reservoir for many other species.

The favored food source for alligators is fish, crabs, birds, snakes and small mammals such as rabbits.  They are carnivores with extremely strong jaws that can easily crack a turtle shell.  Lurking just below the surface of the water, looking rather like a submerged log, alligators wait patiently for their prey.  When they do strike, it is with lightning speed and ferocious precision.  However, they do not have to eat all the time, and one good meal for a healthy alligator can last for a few days, weeks or even months.
Female alligators build their nests beside the water, using plants and leaves. When the time is right, they deposit up to 50 eggs into the nest and cover them with vegetation; they do not sit on their nests like birds.  It is fascinating to note that the sex of the babies is actually determined by the heat of the nest!  If the nest is extremely hot, the babies will be all male; if the nest is cooler, all female; and if the nest is temperate, there will be a mix of both sexes!

Lesson Plans
1.  Learn what a Keystone Species is; lessons obviously dependent upon the age group. With young children you could begin with the alligator. Explore which other species depend on the alligator keeping the ponds open during the dry season – turtles and wading birds are an example.  What would happen to those species if the alligator was not there and the ponds dried up?  This Video shows how alligator mother’s care for their young.
2.  For Grade 6-8 here is a selection of National Geographic Lesson Plans on Keystone Species and another Plan for Grades 3-5. 
3. Explore some other kinds of keystone species.  For example, Prairie Dogs dogs,  or wolves; learn how wolves play a Key Role in maintaing the health of ecosystems of Yellowstone National Park.
4.  Find out which is a keystone species in your area of the world.  Remember that Keystone species are not just important to wild animals or plants, they are also important to us!  For example, Salmon is a keystone species for fishermen in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.  Make this into a geography lesson and explore species around the world and see how humans also are impacted by their health.  Everything is interconnected and it is important that students understand this.

The interactions between a keystone species and others in clearly evident in the example of the wolves and Yellowstone National Park.  Once you have discovered which species is key to your local ecology invite students to list all the species that are dependent on it.  A very easy one that is pretty much everywhere would be bees! Without bees we would lose a whole host of plants upon which we, and other species depend. Here is a short Video about bees.

Green Action of the Week
Once you have discovered which species in your neighborhood is key to all others, then create an action to help protect it.  For example, if you decided to help bees, find out which wildflowers are native to your region and plant some.  See if you could begin a petition to ban pesticides locally or nationally – bees and so many other important insects are negatively affected by many common pesticides used in landscaping.

I have uploaded the  Alligator Rock! for this post – you could also use the Coral Reef song since corals are a keystone oceanic species.

Have a great time discovering keystone species and please let me know which species is key in your area!  
In gratitude for life, and this Earth!

Elephants as a Keystone Species
Bullfrog Films has a Video about Keystone Species
Learning about Global Biodiversity
Alligator Photo By Matthew Field - Wikimedia
Alligator with babies By User Catholic 85 Wikimedia

Sunday, March 7, 2010

7 Weeks Left to Earth Day! Week 10: Manatees!

It’s been a lengthy, cold winter in Florida this year and an unprecedented number of manatees have died.   Manatees are not able to tolerate water temperatures below 65 degrees and die slowly as their immune systems fail.  A record number (5000) of Sea Turtles have also been affected by the cold, stunned into a coma-like state that would have killed them if not for being rescued by state and federal Wildlife Workers .  While humans continue to debate the ins and outs of climate change, or climatic instability as I prefer to call it, the planet’s flora and fauna are struggling to adapt, and so are we!

Manatees have long fascinated humans, in fact long ago, sailors thought that they were a kind of mermaid, hence their Latin name Sirenia.   West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus), sometimes referred to as sea cows, live in shallow coastal waters, estuaries, rivers and canals.  These gentle giants can be found in  Florida during the winter months but migrate as far north as Virginia or west to Louisiana during the summer.  This species of manatee ranges into the Caribbean and down as far south as Brazil.

Primarily nocturnal, they can be seen resting close to the surface both day and night and though mostly solitary, they do interact with other manatees, especially when the weather is cold.  Here in Southwest Florida large groups can be spotted near the Florida Power and Light, warm-water discharge on the Orange River in Lee County. where they huddle to try and keep warm!  They can also be seen at  Manatee Park
Manatees move in and out of salt water and fresh water habitats following the food trail for the most part!  They are herbivores, feeding mostly on sea greases, but will eat most aquatic plants.  Despite their vegetarian diet, manatees grow very large and can weigh between 800 and 3,300 lbs (400-1,500 kgs)!  They move easily through the water, propelling themselves forward with their tails.
The split upper lip of the manatee allows them to pass food easily into their mouths while they feed and they use their flippers to dig up plant roots.  Chewing sea grass wears out their teeth and so they grow new ones which slowly move forward as the old ones wear out!!
Manatees are listed as endangered and sadly this year’s record cold has hurt their numbers even more.  Mostly they are harmed by boat propellers; some folks do not adhere to the speed limits in shallow water zones and the propellers cut into them.  You can learn more about manatees at this Website . 

Lesson Plans:
1.  Introduce children to manatees; if you live in a region where manatees live then perhaps they will have see some; if not, then they’re an interesting species to learn about and quite different from other mammals.  This Video shows them in their water world and here are some helpful ideas from National Geographic to get you started.
2.  Geography: Explore some of the places where manatees and dugongs live.  In North America  manatees migrate north during the summer months; follow their journey and discover where they go.  Do they visit the same places every year?  How long does it take them to reach their destinations?
3.    Manatees’ primary diet is aquatic plants including sea grass, an important component of estuarine ecosystems.  Seagrass beds stabilize the sea floor with their roots; help to filter water by trapping particles in their leaves; slow down wave action during intense storms and provide a nursery habitat for a wide variety of marine species.  Unfortunately speeding boats can significantly harm these underwater meadows.  Learn more about Seagrass  and explore other species live in seagrass beds.
4. World Water Day  is coming up; plan some activities related to water.  Is there a creek near you that needs protecting?  Do you live up-river or down-river?  Here are some Resources related to Water that might be helpful to you.  Also, there is a campaign called Walking for Water– perhaps you can get your school involved.

Manatees help to control the overgrowth of seagrass beds and they benefit seagrass growth by dispersing the seeds around the sea floor.  Because manatees also graze in freshwater habitats, they help to control the growth of nuisance and invasive plants such as water hyacinth.

I couldn't find any stories about manatees, so, since they were often thought to be mermaids here are some stories that you might find enjoyable: The Fisherman and his Soul (quite long)  Here is a Collection of Mermaid Tales
Song  Well, the Manatee Song seems to be the obvious choice here! 

Green Action of the Week!
We are all interconnected, so even if we live far from the ocean, we can still make a difference and help to protect it.  Working together for the manatees is a National Geographic Lesson Plan that can help you kick start a program to lend your voices to the protection of these gentle marine species. 
Enjoy your week and please let me know if you have any special projects so that I can share them with readers.
With gratitude for life and this beautiful Earth!

Extra Resources:
Manatee  Lesson Plans Grades 1-5
Lesson Planet: A Collection of Lesson Plans on Manatees: 

Manatee Photos: USGS and NOAA
Labels: manatee, water

Monday, March 1, 2010

8 Weeks Left to Earth Day: Week 9: BIODIVERSITY

                                                                Photo By David Ilif

2010 is the United Nations  Year of Biodiversity – so hopefully the extra publicity will raise the level of awareness about its importance!

Biodiversity is one of those loaded words that somehow never gets the respect it deserves.  I looked up some definitions, and here was my favorite, courtesy of the Environmental Defense Fund 
“Most broadly, biodiversity encompasses the diversity of life on the planet.  Biodiversity includes genetic diversity, the diversity of information encoded in genes within a species; species diversity, the diversity and relative abundance of species; and community/ecosystem diversity, the diversity of natural communities.”

The way I see it, one of the greatest challenges in educating people about the importance of biodiversity is that the majority of us live in urban centers where biological diversity is not so evident; (well not to untrained eyes).  To most, it doesn’t seem to matter that there are fewer species of birds, butterflies, insects or fungi; in fact some might argue that we’re a lot better off without half of them! 

Unfortunately many don’t comprehend that,  “Biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth, is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us all with health, wealth, food, fuel and the vital services our lives depend on.” UN Website.  Basically, without biodiversity we’re screwed!   All the more reason to educate kids about its importance, so that they become informed citizens who recognize the necessity of protecting and preserving all living systems. 

Lesson Plans

1.  Introduce young children to the concept of biodiversity.  Begin with insects like bees; bees are crucial to biodiversity since they pollinate so many different plants including many of those that produce the foods that we eat.  Share pictures, or better still, some of the foods that are pollinated by bees such as: strawberries, kiwi, cucumber, broccoli, cashews, brazil nuts or carrots; (there are many more!  
Nature's Nature’s Partners, Pollinators, Plants and You  has a whole series of activities about our relationship and dependence upon insects and plants.

2.  Ecosystem Services: A healthy biodiversity provides us with an abundance of services whose value is not always acknowledged.   Invite students to list some of the services that come from a healthy biodiversity.  For example, ecosystem services such as: soil protection and formation; soil doesn't magically appear, it takes a myriad of organisms to break it down and keep it healthy!  Learn about  Soil Basics– how its created, how long that takes!  Explore how healthy water resources rely upon a diversity of species living in them.  Here is a short Video showing how oysters filter water!  Trees and other vegetation help to break down pollution; learn about  The Value of trees.

3.  Biological resources: Invite students to list some of the biological resources that we benefit from when there is a healthy biodiversity?  Some examples would be food; how do we ensure there is enough diversity amongst food sources and protect the integrity of seeds?  Here is Cary Fowler in a TED Talk speaking about the importance of protecting the future of food, one seed at a time!  With young children look at different seeds, gather a whole bunch of them and talk about why its important to have different kinds of seeds for food.  Plant some!

4.  What can we do to protect biodiversity?  One way is to create native plant gardens; this encourages the diversity of insects in your community; choosing plants with a diversity of colors, shapes and sizes helps to ensure they attract different kinds of insects and birds.

"Coral Reefs harbor more than 25 percent of all known fish and provide our oceans with the highest biodiversity of any marine ecosystem (IPCC, 2007).”  Sadly many of the world’s reefs are suffering from Coral Bleaching which is caused by stressful environmental circumstances.  Many scientists and marine biologists are seeking ways in which to help reefs and an effort is underway to create Underwater Marine Parks that would offer them some protection.

Green Action of the Week!
Spring is on the way!  Plan a Butterfly Garden with your kids!  Even if the snow is still on the ground, you can begin by planning the garden out and looking at seed catalogues to choose the right kids of plants not just for butterflies but other Beneficial Insects  too.

Song: I Love Bugs!  by Bobs & Lolo is a fun song to incorporate into lessons on biodiversity; also the Coral Reef Song and We're All Interconnected both fit well.

Story: Ancient Stories, New Voices is a wonderful collection of animated Aboriginal Stories complete with Study Guides.  The Brolga Song and The Be  both relate to the importance of biodiversity. (Roll mouse over the circles at the top of the page to see the names of stories.)

Have a great week exploring Biodiversity!  What an incredible world we live in!  I am continually amazed by it!

In gratitude for life and this Earth!


Photo of Coral Reef from Wikimedia By Richard Ling
Photo of Waterfall by David Ilif