Fall 2009 activities at Sagehen
From September 14 through October 9, twelve 5th grade classes from Tahoe Truckee schools visited our Sagehen Creek Field Station for a two- or three-day outdoor science education program. The air was crisp, the skies were sunny, and everyone was very excited to be there. The kids participated in team-building activities, played nature games, went on night hikes, did scavenger hunts, cooked meals, and learned a lot of biology from our three GK-12 fellows, Gordon, Jess, and Andrew.
Gordon, an entomologist, introduced the students to the biology of insects. Students learned how insects are built as well as how they feed and breathe. Then they explored the insect life in one of Sagehen's beautiful meadows, wielding nets and youthful energy to catch and observe grasshoppers, katydids, leafhoppers, and more. They also continued our annual study of grasshopper demography, gathering data on the age and gender of the grasshoppers in the meadow population. This winter, students will enter their data into our GK-12 database and plot them on graphs. Then they can compare their results with what previous students and scientists found in other years, and future students can compare their findings with this year's data. Next, based on what they have learned so far, the students will make hypotheses about what the population will look like in the spring. In June, the students will have the opportunity to test their ideas during a return visit to the field station.
With our botanical fellow, Jess, students learned about the different parts of plants and how they help the plant survive. First they learned about the structures that plants use for gas exchange and set up an experiment that allowed them to see how much water was "breathed out" by a plant through its stomata. Next they learned about how plants "eat;" plants don't consume and digest food the way we do, they make their own "food" using photosynthesis. This process takes place in chlorophyll in plant leaves and stems, using energy from sunlight, CO2 from the air and water to build sugars which provide the plant with the energy to grow and reproduce. Students even got to see some rare plants that somehow survive with no chlorophyll.
Andrew, an ornithologist, brought a third activity about birds to the line-up. Students got to look at museum specimens to examine the colors, shapes, and bill types of a variety of local birds. They learned how birds process food in their digestive systems (which included examining a real chicken gizzard) and how birds use their bills to obtain food. To demonstrate how different bill types are effective for feeding on different types of food, they did a simulation exercise using implements of different shapes and sizes (pliers, spoons, straws, eyedroppers, chopsticks, etc.) to pick up different kinds of food (seeds, nectar, fruit): a "bird beak café"! It was much easier to pick up a seed with pliers than it was with an eyedropper, and the pliers didn't work well at all for sipping nectar, but the eyedropper worked great. They also learned about how to identify birds based on color and bill shape, and made detailed descriptions of birds by carefully observing museum specimens. And as a last treat, students learned how to use binoculars, used playback calls to attract birds, and watched how the birds responded to the call of a predator.