By Thea Hayes:
The newest ideas in science education were on display and in the airwaves at the National Science Teachers Assn. meeting (NSTA) “Bridges To The Future” Area Conference in Portland on October 24-26th at the Oregon Convention Center and Doubletree Hilton Hotel. This included a lot of focus on the Next Generation Standards in science that are being adopted by many states nationwide. My business there was to find out how learning through Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) was finding its way into the teaching of educators in the region, as well as the resources and curriculum of vendors that supply our region. Mission? To see what content was (or was not) being promoted and how this might influence choices of classroom teachers to incorporate watershed and AIS content.
WORKSHOPS ON USING LIVE PLANTS AND ANIMALS…..BUT NO INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT TO DO WITH THEM AFTER THE LESSON
This year’s Conference was divided into three strands related to the STEM and the Common Core. So much to see and hear, so little time; there were quite a few sessions I wanted to attend that were running simultaneously, so I had to choose WISELY! Having looked at the choices ahead of time, I decided to attend a popular workshop on Wisconsin Fast Plants, which is an elementary classroom exercise in taking data with Brassica rapa plants (originally found in Nepal) while learning about Mendelian genetics, plant anatomy and morphology, and environmental variables. (The content is also useful in life sciences, biology, environmental sciences and teaching education college programs.) Another topic in the workshop was the interdependence of organisms, and teachers were encouraged to try using a cosmopolitan species of butterfly known as “cabbage whites” from Carolina Biological to observe feeding habits and metamorphosis. This company spec-sheet on “Brassica Butterfly” makes a point of the USDA warning regarding release of the insect: http://www.carolina.com/teacher-resources/Document/cabbage-white-brassica-butterflies-care-handling-instructions/tr10483.tr.
The session was run by a “Carolina Teaching Partner,” and heavily attended with teachers eager for instruction and the free materials provided. I was curious about both the use of these plants (germinates in 3 days, 35-40 day seed-to-seed cycle) and the disposal of the materials, particularly the seeds. Teachers did not ask about the issues related to the viability and disposal of seed from this plant, which would most likely be thrown into the classroom garbage. I wondered if teachers would mistakenly place these soil materials in garden compost or wash them down the sink? Proper disposal of the organisms was not brought up in the workshop by the presenter, nor was there any questions or comments about the freeze-dried honeybees on toothpicks, used by students to pollinate the plants. (Does anyone else have a problem with this?) Brassica rapa is listed as an invasive week in Weeds of the West and Weeds of the United States and Canada (SWSS, 1998; Burrill et al., 2006). There is also an issue of escaped transgenes between Brassica rapa and Brassica napus, observed in Quebec in the early 2000’s (published in Molecular Ecology in 2007).
It would have been excellent to have heard some kind of discussion about sterilization of seed material and soil, or vacuuming the classroom after use of these seeds, as they are very small and can easily stick in the clothing and shoes of students and teachers alike, and be carried outside inadvertently. It is easily possible to view these organisms as invasives, or possibly how their growth habits, durability, variation and success rates (as well as success in competition) compare to known invasive species.
SHIPPING FROM STEM TO STERN – A PATHWAY FOR LEARNING ABOUT INVASIVE SPECIES
Given the importance of the engineering and science associated with the logistics of shipping freight in our society, and its role spreading invasive species around our globe, I attended a session called “Shipping from STEM to Stern”. This was an elementary and middle school level presentation by teachers from Parcells Middle School in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. The emphasis here was on “loading math and engineering into the science classroom via the shipping industry”. It turns out that Laura Mikesell (Sci. Dept. Chair) is spearheading invasive species education at her school. This middle school, being on the Great Lakes, is the perfect site for learning about vectors in the shipping industry that introduce invaders into local ecosystems (including barge-as-habitat issues). We had an exciting discussion about collaborating to bring their school’s information to the WISE website!
SLEUTHING THE EXHIBIT HALL FOR INVASIVE SPECIES LEARNING
In between workshops was the “Great Teacher Lure” known as the Exhibit Hall, where resources abound. This is where teachers make most of their contacts (vendors, other teachers) and pick up “freebies” that can be utilized directly in the classroom. There were many biological supply houses here, non-profits and agencies with links to utilizable teacher resources, as well as curriculum and book publishers. Although I saw very few exhibits with learning materials on invasive species, companies like Arbor Scientific, Carolina Biological Supply, Flinn Scientific, Inc., Frey Scientific and Mountain Home Biological are now labeling their packages to warn teachers about proper disposal of live or formerly living classroom materials. Some (eg. Carolina) provide flyers inside the packages to give information about the species, of which the Oregon Sea Grant study on Live Plants and Animals in the Classroom contributed to increasing awareness.
Carolina Biological brought quite a few live species to the Exhibition Hall to promote their available species and cage collection, and seemed very interested in the ethical treatment and disposal of these creatures. When I queried other company’s reps about whether they would be willing to include an extra impetus inside the package about AIS (see: Habitattitude flyer), some promised to get back to me on this (and did not). It would be entirely appropriate for customers of these vendors to ask the same question: “Would you be willing to enclose information in your shipping materials that promotes awareness of ecosystem disruption by invasive species?”
Applause to publishing companies like LabAids, Inc. have chapters in their Life Science (Middle School) and Biology (High School) textbooks directly devoted to the issue of dealing with species like zebra and quagga mussels, and challenge students to look at the science and the math related to out-of-control populations. Talking to other publishers did not yield a lot of elementary or middle school content that even mentioned this serious problem, and this included the NSTA bookstore on site. I talked to a variety of elementary student reading book publishers that included many titles promoting ecological awareness and stewardship, but none that directly confronted the issue like what we’ve recently seen in the Stone Soup comics by Jan Eliot published nationwide. Maybe I should team up with an artist to do this myself!
Would I do this again? Absolutely! The potential for contacts and influence of the individual is mighty in a venue like the NSTA Conference. There were many other opportunities to learn about the inclusion of invasive species education in the work of teachers and companies around the country, and we encourage all WISE teachers to find out what is currently happening with their adopted curriculum, administrative support level and self-chosen vendors.
(A Note about the author: Thea Hayes, Educational Consultant is a WISE Teacher alum (1st group!) and a Board Member of the Oregon Invasive Species Council. She recently retired from PPS after 21 years of teaching public school science, and continues teaching as a substitute, tutor, and religious school teacher at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland. Her many volunteer efforts include curriculum development with Tualatin River Keepers and the Lent School Garden Committee, and blogging for OSU Sea Grant Extension WISE Teacher Program.)