The (Cold and) Windy City
Chicago's famous football team, the Bears, was not named for the polar variety, but I came to this city to share about my Arctic expedition— a story of polar bears and sea ice! I was selected to deliver a workshop at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference along with two other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows, Mrs. Bugg from North Carolina and Mr. Szymanski from right here in Chicago. We wanted to let teachers know about this amazing National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions fellowship that brings teachers on voyages of discovery all over the world.
In Dr. Shubin's talk, and Your Inner Fish, he also tells the story of his research team's 2004 discovery in the Canadian Arctic of Tiktaalik roseae, a 375 million year old fossil fish that has both fish and amphibian traits. Thus, Tiktaalik is an important transitional fossil between fish and tetrapods (creatures walking on land). In delivering his address, Dr. Shubin emphasized that science is a collaborative endeavor; that is, scientists work together to conduct investigations and solve problems. Though now based at the University of Chicago, Dr. Shubin had also served as Provost of Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. I planned to visit this museum before I left Chicago.
This morning, about 30 teachers attended our session, and they were a very enthusiastic audience! Our talk was entitled "Exploring Global Regions and Resources with National Geographic." Mrs. Bugg, Mr. Szymanski, and I had all taken different voyages aboard the National Geographic Explorer through our fellowship: Mrs. Bugg journeyed through the Canadian Maritimes, Mr. Syzmanski got to explore Antarctica, and I, of course, was cruising through Arctic Svalbard.
Our talk introduced the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship and described our particular voyages using expedition photos. We emphasized the importance of imparting geo-literacy to students; that is, an awareness of global interactions, interconnections, and implications. So, we tried to describe how our adventures enriched our own geo-literacy of the regions we explored and how it impacted our teaching. Expeditionary learning can be incredibly powerful!
Soon I would be actually traveling back to Hawai'i. I have learned a lot, but I am anxious to get back home to the warm weather and my wonderful Star of the Sea 'ohana. Aloha Chicago!
Encouraging all STEM Learners
Early this fall, I was contacted by one of the organizers of the Science Symposium for Girls here in Honolulu. She had seen me on the local news talking about my Arctic expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, and she asked if I would be willing to present about the Arctic at this year's symposium. I could not pass up the opportunity to work with 5th-8th grade girls from island schools in the 2015 Science Symposium for Girls. The symposium, now in its 21st year, is presented by Sacred Hearts Academy in partnership with Bank of Hawaii Foundation.
Females are often discouraged from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects in school and are still underrepresented in potentially lucrative STEM careers. But why? While inherent gender differences have been ruled out by science, multiple environmental and social barriers influence the complex issue of female participation and achievement in STEM subjects. According to current research, these factors include persistent gender-bias about traditional male and female fields, a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset for intelligence, lack of spatial skills training for girls, and a lack of confidence and feeling of isolation for girls in STEM subjects.
My Symposium Workshop
I believe events like the symposium can not only boost girls' confidence in STEM but also help them develop relevant skills. Moreover, girls interested in STEM gain a sense of community through collaborative work. If we are going to increase our nation’s STEM participation and achievement, we need to support all learners! Therefore, I was honored to be invited to participate in today's symposium. As a featured presenter, I delivered a workshop to two different groups of 20 girls.
For my workshops, I decided to focus on sharing about my Arctic expedition with a Prezi for the first half of the session and use to second half for an ice inquiry investigation. First, I introduced how I was able to travel to the Arctic through a teacher fellowship through National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. Next, I defined the Arctic region and pointed out some facts about Svalbard, the land of the Ice Bears. I shared the Arctic scenery and wildlife through my expedition photos.
In my talk, I told the story of how the polar bear depends on sea ice for survival. These top predators rely on the sea ice in order to hunt seals. However, I explained to the girls that like the polar bear, our planet also depends on sea ice. One reason we need sea ice is critical habitat for Arctic wildlife, from crustaceans to seabirds to walrus to the iconic polar bear. Also, our ice-covered polar regions reflect much of the incoming solar radiation, regulating global climate. In addition, sea ice plays an important role in the ocean conveyor belt, the global transport of seawater.
Next came the hands-on part of the session! The ice inquiry allowed the girls to practice making predictions and then collecting data while investigating if an ice cube (dyed with blue food coloring so water is easier to observe) melts faster in fresh or salt water. We then discussed how temperature and salinity each affect density and related the concepts to the ocean conveyor belt. The girls in each session asked a lot of thoughtful questions about the Arctic and were really engaged in the lab portion as well. It was an awesome day of learning!
Mahalo to Mr. Raphael and Miss Anuschka for helping us see the "invisible" world of plankton!
Our Outdoor Classroom
Today, middle school students once again enjoyed a day in the best kind of classroom: nature! We spent the day at Sandy Beach Park in Hawai'i Kai, where students investigated the impacts of climate change in our local environment. This field study was the makai (coastal) component of our From Mauka to Makai: Understanding Climate Change Impacts in the Ahupua’a program, a partnership with the Hawai'i Nature Center. Today's outdoor science learning included a lesson on marine debris and an opportunity to help clean up the beach. Students also explored the tide pools, assessing environmental conditions and biodiversity. I think everyone's favorite part was searching for creatures in the intertidal zone.
Marine Debris and Garbology
Human debris, or garbage, from both land and sea collects in the ocean and ends up on our beaches. Unfortunately, about 90% of marine debris is plastic, which is not biodegradable. This plastic trash, ranging from micro to massive, has far reaching impacts and is very dangerous for birds, turtles, and marine mammals. We can all make a difference by using less and properly disposing or recycling unwanted items. Another great way to help out is by participating in local beach clean-ups. On our island, almost every weekend there is a beach clean-up where you can volunteer with your family.
Tide Pool Study
When I was a little girl on the New Hampshire coast, my favorite activity was to explore the tide pools, scrambling along the rocky intertidal zone from pool to pool. I would lift up big piles of seaweed and scan for scurrying crabs and clinging sea stars. I would wade in the deeper pools. And I would always remember what my father taught me: you can pick up a rock to look underneath but always put it back just as it was— something makes a home there. Tide pool exploration was an important training ground for a curiosity about the natural world and a career in science education. Thus, it is always a pleasure to share this particular outdoor classroom with students.
In October's mauka study, we talked about how conditions in the uplands affect the marine environment below. From the mountains to the sea, our watershed is interconnected and interdependent. Pollution and sediment are often carried by streams and channels to the estuaries and eventually the ocean. The estuary, where the fresh and salt water meet, is a critical nursery, as well as important habitat for organisms like the Hawaiian 'o'opu whose life cycle includes both stream and ocean environments.
Here at Sandy Beach Park, students conducted a field study similar to that of the stream study, this time in coastal tide pools. Students made predictions and then assessed tide pools in different intertidal zones: upper, middle, and lower. In each of the tide pools studied, student measured and recorded pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and other environmental data. Students also searched for creatures in the tide pools to quantify the biodiversity.
The more time we spend in nature, the more we appreciate its beauty, resources, and diverse array of living things. We have to make our home while allowing other creatures to keep their homes. If we come to love nature, we will fight to protect it. So get out there and explore your world!
By now, we are familiar with the concept of global climate change due to humans burning excessive amounts of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. However, not all carbon dioxide ends up in our atmosphere. Approximately 1/3 of that carbon dioxide ends up getting absorbed by the ocean, where it is causing ocean acidification. This issue, which you may not have heard much about, is a serious threat to shell-forming plankton, corals and other organisms. So, how are the oceans becoming more acidic? What are the potential effects of ocean acidification? 8th graders students have been investigating these questions during an applied chemistry unit.
Modeling Ocean Acidification
So students could explore ocean acidification first hand, I borrowed a kit from the University of Hawaii's Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE). The kit had all the materials for an experiment that simulated ocean acidification using active yeast to generate carbon dioxide. Students used Lab Quest handheld computers with probes to measure the carbon dioxide generated by the yeast and the effect of this carbon dioxide on the pH of water.
Yeast, a living fungus that respires, was placed in a bottle with sugar and water to activate it. The carbon dioxide gas released by the yeast respiration was directed through rubber tubing to two different places: a chamber of air, where carbon dioxide was measured by a special probe and a bottle of water, where the pH was measured by another probe. In the investigation, students observed the carbon dioxide levels dramatically rise as the pH slowly lowered. When they graphed and analyzed their data, students discovered for themselves the relationship between carbon dioxide and pH.
Protect Our Coral Reefs
In addition to our hands-on labs, students have also been analyzing atmospheric and ocean data sets that indicate a rise in carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming and ocean acidification. Moreover, we have discussed the real-world impacts of these issues. One of the most devastating predicted consequences of ocean acidification is the degradation of reef-building corals. Here in Hawai'i, we rely on healthy coral reefs for the diverse array of life they support, as well as their recreational uses, fishing resources, and shoreline protection. Let's work together to combat ocean acidification, another disastrous consequence of climate change.
How will YOU make a difference?
Energy in Hawai'i
In our studies relating to climate change, my students have been researching Hawai'i's energy production and consumption. We are very fortunate to have multiple renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric, and geothermal, but renewables only account for about 8% of our total energy consumption. Over 85% of our energy comes from domestic and international petroleum imports. That's right, most of our electricity comes from the burning of oil.
One energy source that really interests my students is solar energy. Despite the intensity and duration of our sunlight here in the tropics, students were surprised to learn that less than 2% of our energy consumption comes from solar energy. Yet progress toward a more energy-independent Hawai'i is being made, and solar energy is increasingly popular. In fact, right now, photovoltaic panels are being installed on the roofs of our school that will convert solar energy into electricity to power Star of the Sea.
Engineering Solar Ovens
But how about harnessing solar energy to cook food? Solar ovens, also called solar cookers, convert sunlight into heat energy, which gets trapped in the oven and raises its temperature. My students were challenged to design and build a solar oven that would maximize solar heat gain and retain the heat for cooking. To construct their ovens, the students used common household materials, including many reused and recycled items such as chip bags, newspaper, and shoe boxes.
Solar ovens should be covered with reflective material, such as aluminum foil, in order to catch as much sunlight as possible. Used chip bags, cleaned and turned inside out work well for this purpose. There needs to be a window-like opening on the top of the oven covered with clear plastic. Most students left the flap when they cut the opening which was then engineered so the angle could be adjusted. Sunlight, both direct and reflected, enters the oven through this clear opening and gets trapped. Crumpled newspaper is a good insulator to line the inside of the box. Black construction paper works well as a cooking surface on the bottom of the box because it absorbs a lot of heat. If you've ever worn a black shirt on a hot day, you understand this concept!
Our Solar-Oven Cook-Off!
Science In The Wild
There is no better way to learn about the natural world then to actually go out, get dirty, and explore! Today, all middle school students enjoyed a day of outdoor science learning in Makiki, where they investigated the impacts of climate change in our local environment. This field study was the mauka (mountain) component of our From Mauka to Makai: Understanding Climate Change Impacts in the Ahupua’a program, a partnership with the Hawai'i Nature Center.
The program will also consist of classroom lessons, a makai (coastal) field study in February, and student conservation projects in the spring. The environmental educators at Hawai'i Nature Center will help us better understand place-based knowledge in our studies of climate change. Today's mauka investigation was an opportunity for students to explore nature and was a great start to this ambitious program!
When you turn on the tap or take a shower, have you thought about where your fresh water comes from? Here on Oahu, all of our water comes from underground sources that originated as rainwater in a process that can take up to 25 years. Our watersheds, areas of land enclosed by mountain ridges, are important because they catch and collect the rainfall to replenish groundwater. The boundaries of the watershed roughly correspond to ahupua'a, the native Hawaiian land division system from mountains to the sea.
To begin the process, trade winds drive clouds, laden with evaporated seawater, inland over our island. Next, our mountain ranges, the Waianae and the Ko'olau, trap and force clouds to higher elevations, resulting in condensation and rainfall. A healthy watershed has a plant canopy with trees, shrubs, and ground cover. Together the vegetation in these different layers acts like a giant sponge, allowing water to drip slowly underground and into our streams. If the area is deforested, the rainwater will run off the surface and not seep underground.
Finally, in a healthy watershed, this rainwater is filtered and stored underground thanks to the unique geology of the island. As rainwater slowly percolates into the earth, it is naturally filtered by our volcanic soil and stored by dike rock compartments, which overflow and fill the aquifer. Oahu’s aquifer is an underground, natural, freshwater reservoir from which the island's water is extracted for our many uses.
Stream Assessment (and fishing!)
One of the organisms we hoped to see in Makiki Stream was a fish endemic to Hawaiian waters, the ‘o‘opu stream goby. These fish evolved from saltwater goby ancestors. Although ‘o‘opu live in freshwater streams as adults, their fertilized eggs wash downstream, and young ‘o‘opu spend the first several months of their lives in the ocean before they make their way back upstream. Most of the ‘o‘opu species have a very cool adaptation in order to make this journey. Their pelvic fins fuse together to form a suction cup which helps them fasten to rocks, the stream bottom, and even to climb waterfalls.
Makiki Stream does not flow uninterrupted down to the sea; it has been channelized and areas of it are diverted through underwater tunnels. These tunnels get incredibly hot and limit the movement of the young ‘o‘opu trying to make it back upstream from the sea. While some streams in Hawai'i have healthy populations of ‘o‘opu, the fish have not been found in Makiki Stream for many years.
Climate change threatens local ecosystems already degraded by invasive plants and animals, excessive development, and pollution. We know that current climate change is mainly caused by humans burning fossil fuels. Global warming and sea level rise cause very challenging conditions for life on Earth, and islands, like Hawai'i, are particularly vulnerable. Yet there is good news: people can take action to limit global warming and mitigate its effects.
Climate change will have some dire consequences here in Hawai'i. Scientists have predicted that, in addition to vast areas of flooding due to sea level rise, Hawai'i will most likely receive less rainfall in the future. Due to increased temperatures, the clouds will increase in elevation and might pass over our island's mountains instead of hitting them. Streams like Makiki will shrink over time. And if there is less rainfall, there is less freshwater to replenish our underground aquifer. We cannot let this happen. In follow-up classroom lessons, students will be investigating ways that they can make choices that help reduce global warming and conserve energy and water resources!
Sharing my expedition learning with students has been most meaningful, but I have also enjoyed telling my story to the larger community of teachers and the public. Today, I had the opportunity to present about my Arctic expedition at the Hawai'i Science Teachers Association (HaSTA) annual conference! I think they'll be some very enthusiastic educators from Hawaii applying to the National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship Program this year...
Message to Science Teachers
Here is a link to the Prezi for my session entitled Exploring the Arctic: My Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship. At the start of the talk, I showed a picture of myself in the GTF hat on the deck of the Explorer in the Arctic. I told everyone I would let them know how I ended up on the adventure of a lifetime and how they potentially could as well, through the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship. I then summarized the GTF Program: expedition travel as professional development for teachers committed to geo-literacy. Next, I explained the National Geographic's three components of geo-literacy, and there was rich discussion about how science teachers can incorporate these components into their curricula. Finally, I got into the details about my expedition, the Land of the Ice Bears, and I explained the characteristics of the Arctic Svalbard region using maps and pictures.
I moved through a series of my photographs, highlighting some of the main features of the expedition, including the ship, my shipmates, the landings, the wildlife, and the scenery. Then, I connected my expedition to the larger issue of global climate change as I described lessons learned on my voyage. I explained why Arctic sea ice is so important as critical habitat for wildlife and for regulating global climate, and I shared charts and data that illustrated the recent decline of Arctic sea ice. The “Chasing Ice” trailer was viewed and I described calving events, glacial retreat, and other effects of climate change in the Arctic. I concluded with a summary of how my GTF experience has impacted me and then played my interview from the Video Expedition Report: “it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”
Other Community Outreach
I am so proud to be an ambassador for National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions and to help carry their missions forward. For my community outreach, in addition to today's HaSTA presentation, I have leveraged existing partnerships with community organizations, and I have actively sought out new avenues for sharing my experiences. I currently volunteer as an interpreter at the Waikiki Aquarium, and I was able to set up a “learning lunch” slideshow and talk story about my Arctic voyage and the GTF Program. I also volunteer for plankton outreach with Kahi Kai (One Ocean), a local marine conservation group. Before and after my voyage, Kahi Kai published my blog posts. My other outreach activities came as a result of me reaching out to local media. I was able to do pre and post voyage live interviews with our two local news stations KHON2 and KITV4, a live interview on Hawaii Public Radio, an a pre and post voyage print interview with the Midweek. If you haven't yet, you can check out all these interviews on my In the News page! I have applied to present at the 2015 National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference in Chicago this spring, and I hope I have the opportunity to attend.
The first day of school at Star of the Sea has come! Welcome to all my new and returning students who are reading this, and I hope you enjoyed your summer break. I am starting this year energized by my summer of education and travel, and I am so excited to share all that I have experienced with you. Now that I have had an incredible voyage of discovery through Arctic Svalbard as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, it is my responsibility and privilege to bring back all I have learned. This year, you will have a chance to investigate Arctic ecology, the importance of polar regions, and the impacts of global climate change. We will examine ways in which Hawaii is connected to the Arctic. Get ready for my personal accounts, photos and video from the Arctic! I want to inspire all of you to protect our planet's natural and cultural resources and, hopefully, become explorers yourselves! This year, we will be asking ourselves as individuals and as a society: How do you mālama Hawai'i? How do you mālama honua?
There are quite a few special things to look forward to this year. All middle school students will be conducting science field labs this year for a unique program called From Mauka to Makai: Understanding Climate Change Impacts in the Ahupua’a. This program represents a partnership with Hawaii Nature Center in Makiki, and as part of it, we will be conducting two field studies, one mauka and one makai, and producing a final environmental service project.
I also plan to select twenty 7th and 8th graders (by application) to take to the Big Island May 14th-16th for National Geographic's 2015 Bio Blitz. Every year, the Bio Blitz is held at a different National Park, and this year it will be hosted by Volcanoes National Park. The Bio-Blitz is a 24-hour event where teams of students, teachers, rangers, community members, National Geographic staff, and scientists work together to conduct a comprehensive biological survey of the park. That is, they work hard to find and identify as many of the animals, plants, fungi, and other organisms that they can! For more information about the Bio Blitz, please visit this website: www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/projects/bioblitz/
Mahalo for joining me on a science learning adventure this year! Let's all work together to make sure we have a productive and rewarding experience.
6th Grade Welcome Letter/Course Policies
7th Grade Welcome Letter/Course Policies
8th Grade Welcome Letter/Course Policies
Whenever I open up an issue of National Geographic magazine, I immediately flip though the pages to preview the photographs. Though I later return to each article to read the text, the images are most powerful in telling the stories. One of the most exciting aspects of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship is the opportunity to learn from the expert photographers associated with National Geographic.
I am a totally inexperienced photographer myself and, armed with a hand-me-down Canon Power Shot, was determined to gain some skills. At our pre-voyage workshop in April, naturalists and Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic certified photo instructors Michael S. Nolan and CT Ticknor presented a session on expedition photography that was very inspiring. I was fortunate enough to have both Michael and CT on my Lindblad-National Geographic expedition through Svalbard, where I continued my learning. They both have the technical skill to help the most sophisticated photographers but also the heart to help novices like me.
These following expedition photography tips are not my own and must be credited to Michael and CT. However, I will provide my interpretation and examples of my own photos taken on the expedition. Still daunted by settings and white balance, I shot in Auto mode but I did try and pay attention to composition and create images that would help me tell a story.
1. Take an establishing shot.
Each landing we made, I tried to take a photo that broadly captured a sense of place--usually with the ship in the background. The establishing shot provided useful context for the other photos. This is a shot of the beautiful isthmus at our last landing. The white sky and muted colors were otherworldly.
2. Leave space in the frame.
With the polar bears, it was temping just to zoom in and bulls-eye the animal in every frame. However, when I pulled back and left some space, I got powerful images of the bear in its vast landscape of pack ice.
3. Rule of thirds.
When shooting landscapes, think of the frame as divided in horizontal thirds and group elements by thirds instead of halves. So, in this shot of water and sky, instead of half water and half ice, I aimed for two-thirds water and one-third sky.
4. Light sets the mood.
Both the midnight sun and the silvery light in the high latitudes were like nothing I have ever seen. I looked for reflections and shadows. I tried to get up at different times, like this shot at 2am, to capture the mood.
5.Get in close.
Though I did not have a powerful zoom lens, I did try and get in close where I could. One of the ways I could reasonably do this was by taking macro shots of the vegetation. I often lay down on the spongy tundra to get at ground level. Another way was to zoom in on a glacier face to capture the ice texture.
6. Use continuous shot to capture action.
Get to know your continuous shot setting! When capturing action, it is a great way to ensure you don’t miss the look of the arctic fox, the take-off of the guillemot, or in this case, the yawn of the polar bear!
7. Consider the angle of your shot.
I tried to get the ship itself and other guests in some of my shots not only for scale and to establish the scene but to find new angles. During a visit by a curious polar bear, I went up a deck to get this shot.
8. Layer your images.
I would often hear CT remind us of this when we were on hikes ashore. One easy way to accomplish this is to place something dominant in the foreground with an interesting background like this whale vertebra with hikers and the ship behind it.
9. Get a sense of scale.
It can be much more powerful to know how big or how small a subject. After photographing tiny vegetation for several days, it finally occurred to me to occasionally put my finger in the shot for scale! Another example: I took a lot of shots of the bird cliff but this one with the Zodiac in it offers scale.
10. “Don’t Point and Shoot— Aim and Create”
This is a motto that Michael and CT shared at our April meeting that resonated for me while on my expedition. I did not want to come back having snapped thousands of pictures but not really capturing the landscape, the wildlife, and my shipmates in a creative way. I am definitely more mindful of how to aim and create interesting images that tell a story. I am inspired to continue my own journey with photography. And one of these days, with a successful Arctic expedition behind me, I might even venture out of Auto mode.
All photographs by Cristina Veresan unless otherwise indicated.
This blog contains occasional dispatches from my science classroom and professional learning experiences. Thank you for reading!