Outdoor Cats

October 31, 2013

Outdoor cats are probably the largest anthropogenic reason for declining bird populations in North America: it’s estimated that they kill a couple billion each year. You can see the cats in action at the National Geographic and the University of Georgia’s Kitty Cams, which attaches small cameras to outdoor cats.

An injured bird via Kitty Cams.

An injured bird via Kitty Cams.

My biology class is wrapping up our section on ecology. We started by putting together a food-web of all the plants and animals that we’ve found on campus. Now we’re trying to fill in some of the missing organisms, including cats.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Outdoor Cats, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
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Game Theory

April 27, 2013

UCLA professor Peter Nonacs teaches behavioral theory by letting students “cheat” in his “insanely hard” exams by letting them use whatever resources they want, including the web and working together. His objective is to have his students learn game theory by actually practicing it:

Much of evolution and natural selection can be summarized in three short words: “Life is games.” In any game, the object is to win—be that defined as leaving the most genes in the next generation, getting the best grade on a midterm, or successfully inculcating critical thinking into your students. An entire field of study, Game Theory, is devoted to mathematically describing the games that nature plays. Games can determine why ant colonies do what they do, how viruses evolve to exploit hosts, or how human societies organize and function.

— Nonacs (2013): Why I Let My Students Cheat On Their Game Theory Exam on PopSci.com.

My Environmental Science students are facing a similar problem with their final project. It’s a group project — their objective is to revamp the recycling system at school to make it work better — and I’ve been trying to get out of their way as much as possible. Not only do they have to figure out how to solve an environmental problem (they have an outline of how to do so in their text, but they have to figure out how to put it into practice), but they also have to figure out how to work together as a group to get the project done and write up a final report. The latter problem tends to be the harder, but in having to figure out how to lead, follow, and work as a team, it’s probably the more important lesson in the long term.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Game Theory, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

The School’s Campus

April 24, 2013

The diverse ecosystems on the TFS campus — from the creek to the grassy school grounds to the reforesting slope to the forested ridge — are well shown in this sketch. Diagram by C.J. (used with permission).

I think that one of the reasons I really like this diagram is because it places the school as a small piece in a much larger ecological context. A student in my Environmental Science class drew it for an assignment. We’d hiked all the way from the creek to the ridge in the company of Scott Woodbury from the Shaw Nature Center, and I asked them to draw a diagram showing the different ecological regions. I’d expected top down maps, which is what almost all the other students did. When I asked why the perspective view, she said just didn’t know how to draw trees from the top down.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. The School's Campus, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Conflict over water

April 21, 2013

One of the articles my students brought to our Environmental Science discussion was about the growing fears about wars over water. Even within the U.S.A. there are significant conflicts, as demonstrated by this NPR article.

Texas has tried to buy Oklahoma water from the state, its cities and towns, and its Native American tribes. But Oklahoma lawmakers have blocked those efforts with a string of laws restricting out-of-state water exports.

The view in Texas is that Oklahoma isn’t even using its full allocation of Red River water. Oklahomans respond that Texas hasn’t gotten serious enough about conservation.

“Our poor, poor thirsty people in Dallas, Texas,” muses state Sen. Jerry Ellis, a Democrat who represents southeastern Oklahoma. “There’s nobody thirsty in Dallas, Texas.”

— Wertz,J., 2013: Thirsty States Take Water Battle To Supreme Court on NPR.

The full article:

P.S. Lauren Markham has an article about environmental “refugees” forced to leave Ethiopia because of the changing rainfall patterns over the last eight years.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Conflict over water, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

T’s Apothecary

February 7, 2013

Specimen collection.

Environmental Science students have been working on a wide range of term projects. They’re required to use real data. Some are using the long term weather, climate and socioeconomic records from national and international data repositories. Others are collecting their own measurements — the ability to connect temperature, pH, and conductivity sensors to the new calculators have proven invaluable.

One project that I’ve been particularly happy that someone has taken up, because of its potential future use, has been to assemble a specimen collection cataloging the vegetative biodiversity in the area around the creek. With the help of TFS parent Scott Woodbury, who works for the Missouri Botanical Gardens, she’s collected, identified, and preserved dozens of specimens. She’s also compiled them all into an online phylogenetic tree (using mind42) that should serve as a wonderful reference for future class and student projects.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. T's Apothecary, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Millennium Development Goal Tracker

February 4, 2013

We covered the Millennium Development Goals in Environmental Science this past quarter. However, the big outstanding question was how close have we come to meeting any of the goals. Health Intelligence hosts an excellent, interactive map for tracking progress on the Millennium Development Goals.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Millennium Development Goal Tracker, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Drought on the Mississippi

December 18, 2012

Last summer’s drought, and more weather extremes probably due to large-scale global climate change, is having dire effects on shipping on the Mississippi River. Suzanne Goldenberg has an excellent article in the Guardian.

Students look upstream at the Missouri River from the Melvin Price lock and dam, just north of St. Louis, and close to its confluence with the Mississippi River. The dam is tasked with maintaining about 9ft of water in the river for shipping.

Shipping companies say the economic consequences of a shutdown on the Mississippi would be devastating. About $7bn (£4.3bn) in vital commodities – typically grain, coal, heating oil, and cement – moves on the river at this time of year. Cutting off the transport route would have an impact across the mid-west and beyond.

Farmers in the area lost up to three-quarters of their corn and soya bean crops to this year’s drought. … Now, however, [they] are facing the prospect of not being able to sell their grain at all because they can’t get it to market. The farmers may also struggle to find other bulk items, such as fertiliser, that are typically shipped by barge.

— Goldenberg (2012): Mississippi river faces shipping freeze as water levels drop in The Guardian.

The proposed solution is to release more water from the Missouri, however there would be a steep price to pay.

The shipping industry in St Louis wants the White House to order the release of more water from the Missouri river, which flows into the Mississippi, to keep waters high enough for the long barges to float down the river to New Orleans.

Sending out more water from the Missouri would doom states upstream, such as Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota, which depend on water from the Missouri and are also caught in the drought.

“There are farmers and ranchers up there with livestock that don’t have water to stay alive. They don’t have enough fodder. They don’t have enough irrigation water,” said Robert Criss, a hydrologist at Washington University in St Louis, who has spent his career studying the Mississippi. “What a dumb way to use water during a drought.”

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Drought on the Mississippi, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Eating Frankenfish

November 27, 2012

Ian Simpson has an interesting article on the movement to reduce the numbers of the invasive snakehead fish more appealing to restaurants and their customers.

[Snakeheads have] dense, meaty, white flesh with a mild taste that is ideal for anything from grilling to sauteing.

[But] the fish are air breathers that can last for days out of water. Even when gutted and with their throats cut, they gape for breath, said John Rorapaugh, director of sustainability and sales at ProFish, a Washington wholesaler.

“Once they get to mature size, they are on top of the food chain and are ravenous,” he said.

Josh Newhard, an expert on the snakehead with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said it was too early to say what the snakehead’s long-term impact would be on its invaded environment. … “The potential is really high for them to impact other fish species. The fact that people want to remove them from the system is really good,” he said.

–Simpson (2012): U.S. chefs’ solution for invading Frankenfish? Eat ’em from Reuters via Yahoo! News.

My middle-school students are reading Janet Kagan’s short story, “The Loch Moose Monster” as part of our discussion about genetics, ecology and educational environments. This article makes a nice complement.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Eating Frankenfish, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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