Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring Themed Nature Games

Keep your students active this spring with these fun spring themed games.

Robin’s Egg
Select 1 student to be the robin. Have the robin sit with his/her back to the other students, at least ten feet away. Place a plastic egg behind the robin. The robin needs to protect the egg. The remaining students take turns sneaking up behind the robin and try to steal the egg. If the robin hears the person sneaking up, he/she will “call” and then turn around. If the robin catches a student, that student becomes the new robin. If there is no student when the robin “calls,” the robin remains the robin and the game starts again.

Flower Power
Students pretend to be pollinators traveling from flower to flower. Scatter hula hoops across the play area (fewer hula hoops than students). Place a card with a shape inside each hula hoop (flower). Give each student a card with a shape. Students must travel around the play area, matching their card to one inside a flower. When they find a match, they stand inside the flower. Only one student can be inside each flower. If a student doesn’t “pollinate” a flower, they are out. Remove a flower (hula hoop) after each round.

Metamorphosis Relay
Students are butterflies racing through their various life stages. Divide students into two teams. Students begin the race in a curled up position to represent an egg.

Station 1 – the caterpillar: students wiggle through a maze, searching for food
Station 2 – the chrysalis: students climb into a burlap sack and race to the next station
Station 3 – the adult caterpillar: students grab a colorful scarf and “flies” to the finish line

Plant a Tree Relay
Students race to complete the task of planting a tree.

Station 1 – dig the hole: students put on a straw hat and perform 5 squats
Station 2 – plant the tree: students put on a pair of work gloves and perform 5 jumping jacks

Station 3 – move mulch: students put a small trash can on a scooter and push it to the next
station; if the trash can falls off, they must go back and try again

Station 4 – water the tree: students pick up a jumping rope (represents water hose) and must jump rope to the finish line

Watch it Grow!
Plant flowers, a tree, or a garden. There are plenty of jobs to keep everyone active: digging holes, planting the tree/flowers, moving mulch, carrying water pails. Encourage parents and local community members to join in on the fun. Students will have fun watching their plants/trees change through the seasons.

Gardening Obstacle Course
You need a large outside play area. For older kids, have two teams race against each other.

Obstacle 1 – carry 3 (numbers can be adjusted to age of students) bags of dirt to 3 marked planting sites
Obstacle 2 – load 3 (numbers can be adjusted to age of students) bags of mulch into a wheel barrow
Obstacle 3 – push loaded wheel barrow through curvy path (for added challenge, include a hill)

Obstacle 4 – unload the bags of mulch

Obstacle 5 – load wagon with produce

Obstacle 6 – push wagon to produce stand

Obstacle 7 – unload produce

Obstacle 8 – climb the fence (stack of hay bales) – finish line

Build a Nest
Students are robins building their nests. Divide the students into two relay teams. Each team stands single file behind the starting line. Place 2 buckets of wet mud (1 for each team) and the end of the course. Place 2 small containers (1 for each team) at the starting line. Give each student a plastic spoon.

The first student “flies” to the bucket of mud, scoops up a spoonful of mud, flies back to the starting line, and empties their spoon of mud into the container (nest). Continue until all students have helped build the nest.

Dig a Hole
Divide students into teams. Place a bucket of soil and 10 plastic cups in front of each line. Place an empty bucket at the end of the line. The first student in each line fills a cup with soil and passes it to the student behind them. Students continue passing the cup until it reaches the last student. The last student empties the cup into the bucket. Continue until all the dirt has been transferred.

Classroom Phenology Notebook

“Many of the events of the annual cycle recur year after year in a regular order. A year-to-year record of this order is a record of the rates at which solar energy flows to and through living things. They are the arteries of the land. By tracing their response to the sun, phenology may eventually shed some light on that ultimate enigma, the land’s inner workings.” –Aldo Leopold, A Phenological Record for Sauk and Dane Counties, Wisconsin, 1935-1945

Phenology is the study of the timing of life cycle events and their relationship to the environment (e.g., leaves changing color in the fall, birds migrating in the spring and fall, butterflies emerging from their

Chrysalis). It tells scientists when events such as bird migration are happening on their usual schedule—and when an event might be out of time or place, especially in relation to the climate and change of seasons.

Phenologists observe and take notes on these events to try to discover nature’s patterns and rhythms. One famous phenologist, Aldo Leopold, kept records of wild animal and plant life on his Wisconsin farm from 1935-1948. His daughter, Nina Leopold Bradley, continued to carry on her father’s work, compiling a robust database spanning from 1976 until her death in 2011. She found that a substantial number of phenological events occurred much earlier in her data than they did in her father's.

Create a classroom phenology notebook to track the natural patterns of plants and animals at your school. Fill a three-ring binder with notebook paper and add dividers for each month. Record seasonal changes your students observe while outside throughout the year – sunrise/sunset times, hours of sunlight, temperature, changes in tree leaves and plants, animals you see and what they are doing.

Helpful Websites

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Teaching Environmental Sustainability - Model My Watershed

The Concord Consortium, the Stroud Water Research Center, and Heartland AEA are pleased to announce the Teaching Environmental Sustainability-Model My Watershed (TES-MMW) workshop, a project funded by the National Science Foundation. Participants and their students will use free portal-based activities that employ maps and models to study their own school’s watershed; teachers will participate in two summer face-to-face workshops and two online courses. TES-MMW activities support NGSS and Math Common Core. Teachers will receive a stipend for participating. 

This program is for Iowa middle and high school science teachers whose curriculum includes watershed studies, and who are willing and available to participate in all TES-MMW workshop and online activities that include:
  • 3 day workshop in Johnston, IA, July 28-30, 2015 (travel and housing reimbursed by grant).
  •  2015-16 academic year: 2 online courses for teachers; 6 class periods of activities with your students.
  •  2 day workshop in Lawrence, KS, last week of July 2016 (dates TBD; travel and housing reimbursed).
  • Completion of all research activities required for NSF funding (see consent form, pp. 2-3)

Applications are due May 1, 2015. For more information contact Rob Kleinow at

Monday, March 16, 2015

Project WILD Field Test

The Council for Environmental Education (CEE), the national office for Project WILD, invites K-12 educators (formal and nonformal) to help field test activities being considered for publication in future editions of the Project WILD K-12 Curriculum & Activity Guide.
Please complete the application survey (by April 3) if you would like to try out one or more activities with your students and then provide CEE with feedback - $40 stipends are available for participating. CEE will notify those selected to participate on April 10, 2015.

Activities typically require two 45 minute class sessions or the equivalent instructional time, and may also involve investigating outdoor areas, such as a school yard or park. Although you are welcome and encouraged to field test more than one activity, and to conduct a single activity with more than one class, only one $40 stipend will be provided to each participating educator. Results will be due to CEE via the Field Test Results Survey no later than Friday, June 5, 2015. Stipends will be mailed beginning on Friday, June 12, 2015.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Get wild with National Wildlife Week March 9-15

Celebrate this wild week with us by learning about Iowa’s wildlife! This week we will share cool Iowa wildlife facts,classroom activities, and MORE! Get out, get wild and have fun!

Cool Things to Know About Hawks
Identifying Iowa's Raptors fact sheet

Of Iowa’s regularly nesting daytime raptors, five of these are considered to be hawks: the red-tailed hawk, northern harrier (marsh hawk), red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk and broad-winged hawk. There’s also the rough-legged hawk, the most common non-nesting hawk species in Iowa, which you can find hunting for small rodents in Iowa grasslands over the winter. There’s also the sharp-shinned and Swaison’s hawk, which can be found in Iowa, but are not regular nesters here.

Not all hawks are created equal.
The red-tailed is the most common hawk in Iowa – in fact, a few years ago two Iowa biologists identified 23 active red-tailed nests in trees along Interstate 35 from Ames to the Missouri border. However, the northern harrier, which nests on the ground in large grasslands, is on Iowa’s endangered species list. The red-shouldered hawk is threatened in Iowa, nesting primarily in bottomland forests. All hawks, not just threatened and endangered species, are protected in Iowa.

Hawks on the rise.
Once on the threatened list in Iowa, the Cooper’s hawk is now a common nesting species and a frequent visitor to urban backyards. Cooper’s hawks are fond of birdfeeders in those yards – but not for the birdseed, making for an easy meal as songbirds line up for the seed buffet. The similarities between Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks can sometimes make identification difficult.

They all have different tastes.
Habitat needs vary for all of Iowa’s hawk species, from the northern harrier in grasslands and Swainson’s hawk in the savannas of northern and western Iowa. Even the forest dwellers have their own turf; red-shouldered hawks prefer bottomland forests, sharp-shinned hawks take to pine forests and broad-winged hawks look for trees in large forests.

They’re not the downfall of the pheasant.
While hawks and other predators may take small game, as they always have, harsh winters, wet springs and lack of habitat continue to have the largest impacts on Iowa's pheasants. Predator populations as reported by Iowa bowhunters have remained stable since 2007, but the combination of bad weather and fewer habitats likely makes what predators are around more efficient. Hawks will also eat smaller birds
, snakes, reptiles, mice, fish and sometimes insects.

The better to see you with.
While hawks have remarkable hearing, their eyesight is incredible. They can see great distances and have the ability to see things 8 times clearer than humans, and all in color. And since hawks can see ultraviolet colors, they can actually see more colors than humans.

Keeping it all in the family.
While larger hawks, like the red-tailed, lay one or two eggs each year , most smaller Iowa species lay three to five, which incubate for about six weeks. It’s usually the same mom and dad year after year, but while hawks generally mate for life, that doesn’t mean that they all stay together all the time. Some hawk couples part ways after the kids are out of the nest and meet back up in the same nesting territory the next year. If one mate dies, the other usually finds a new partner soon after.



Thursday, March 05, 2015

Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are the highest honors bestowed by the United States Government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science teaching. Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education.

Since 1983, more than 4,300 teachers have been recognized for their contributions to mathematics and science education. Up to 108 teachers are recognized each year.

Presidential Awardees receive a citation signed by the President of the United States, a trip for two to Washington, D.C. to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities, and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

Who can nominate?
Anyone—principals, teachers, parents, students, or members of the general public—may nominate exceptional mathematics and science (including computer science) teachers. Nominations close April 1, 2015.

Who can apply?
Secondary school teachers (7th – 12th grades) can apply this year. Elementary school mathematics and science teachers (K – 6th) are eligible to apply during the 2015-2016 school year. Applications must be completed by May 1, 2015.

To nominate or apply, visit:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Winter Camouflage and Coloration in Iowa's Wildlife

For many Iowa animals, the stark landscape – bare trees and a bright white groundcover – makes them stand out more in the winter, which is good news for those who enjoy watching wildlife. But for a few Iowa critters, winter is a time for them to blend in with the scenery.

They may have “rabbit” in their name, but Iowa’s
jackrabbits are actually hares, related more to the snowshoe hare than the cottontail rabbit. Come winter, jackrabbits shed their summer fur – brownish-gray speckled with brownish black and a white tail – to make way for their white winter coat. The only coloring left is black on the tips of the jackrabbit’s ears and a light gray tinge to the ears and back. The changing coat allows the jackrabbit to hide better in the conditions that different seasons bring.

What it can’t hide from, however, is habitat loss and wet weather during nesting seasons. Once widely found in grasslands in northwestern Iowa and once a common game species, their numbers have declined in recent years.

Snowy owls
The snowy owl is Iowa’s most common winter owl visitor, flying in from the tundra when they can’t find enough food. We only see snowy owls in Iowa when lemming populations – the snowy owl’s favorite dinner item – crash on the tundra. That sends the snowy owls south in search of food, like mice and other small mammals. So if you spot one, it’s a rare sight indeed. This year, the Iowa Ornithologists Union has reported a pair of snowy owls in the Lime Springs area.

Learn more about Iowa's owls.

Least weasels
The smallest weasel in Iowa and the smallest carnivore in the world, the
least weasel also has two color phases. It loses its reddish-brown coloring on its back, sides, tail and top of its head to get ready for winter, when it may become all white. Spring and fall coloring are often a mix as the color transition takes place. It’s not likely you’ll see a least weasel, as they primarily hunt at night and below the snow, but you’ll occasionally find them caught above a hard-crusted snow. Least weasels are small guys, rarely growing longer than 10 inches long.

American goldfinch
Iowa’s state bird doesn’t lose all of its coloring in winter, but if you see one in winter, you’ll notice its hue is more muted than its usual bright yellow. Most birds sport vibrant colors in the spring to attract a mate during breeding season. They then molt their feathers to bring in a more drab coloration for the winter, as their normal bright coloration would make them more visible to predators.

Trumpeter swans
Trumpeters’ year-round white coloring does allow them to blend in with the snow – mostly. Their large black bills and black legs provide enough contrast against the white snow to allow you to spot them pretty easily.

National Invasive Species Awareness Week

Learn more about Iowa invasive species as we celebrate National Invasive Species Awareness Week (February 22-28).

Invasive Species Conservation Class Outline (9-12 Agriculature & Science classes)
What are invasive species?
Invasive species are species of organism that are not native to an ecosystem and which cause harm. Invasive species generally grow and reproduce quickly, and spread aggressively with the potential to cause harm to the environment, the economy, and even human health.
How do they spread?
Invasive species are spread intentionally and unintentionally through human activity. Throughout history people have introduced foreign species to new environments for aesthetic and economic reasons. Species are also introduced inadvertently on ships, in wood products, through ornamental plants, pet trade, and other means of transportation.

Why are they bad?
Invasive species can cause harm various ways. They pose a threat to native animal species by outcompeting native species for resources, preying on native species, and carrying diseases that harm them. Invasive plant species displace native plant species. They can quickly take over an area causing clogged waterways, and improper growth and germination of native plants species. Many invasive plant species provide no food value to native animal species. All invasive species also threaten the delicate balance of entire ecosystems by disrupting the natural food web, decreasing biodiversity, and altering ecosystem conditions.

What can you do?
  • Plant natives in your yard and remove any invasive.
  • Learn to identify invasive species in your area.
  • Report invasive plant and animal sightings to your local county extension office.
  • If you are traveling to another country or region, check your baggage and vehicle for “hitchhikers”.
  • When boating always clean your boat and check it for aquatic invasive species before putting it into another body of water.
  • When camping do not bring your own firewood, instead buy locally grown firewood.

Ideas for invasive species class, family, or community projects
  • Plant native grasses, flowers, and trees in your yard or schoolyard.
  • Design and implement a local invasive species study.
  • Raise awareness of invasive species. Put together an awareness poster or campaign and help spread the word.




Young Reporters for the Environment Competition

Students ages 13- 21 are invited to participate in the national Young Reporters for the Environment competition. They may enter as individuals or part of a class or group.

Participants investigate an environmental issue and report on it in writing, photography, or video. Entries must be relevant to participants’ local community, connect to a global perspective, include possible solutions, and be disseminated to an appropriate target audience.

Participants enter in one of three age categories: 13-15, 16-18, or 19-21. They may choose between three different media types:

Writing (article of up to 1000 words)
Photography (a single photo or photo essay of up to 12 photos)
Video (up to 3 minutes in length, in documentary or reporter/interview style)

Submissions are due to the U.S. national competition by Friday, March 13, 2015, 12 P.M. EST.

The national jury will select winners in each age bracket for each media type. Honors may be given for first, second, and third prize in each category. The jury has the option not to give an award if no submission is found to be deserving, and to give more than one award in the case of multiple exceptional entries.

First place winners in each category will continue to the international competition.

Complete submission requirements
Tips for choosing a topic to investigate


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Next Generation Science Standards Public Forums

The Iowa Department of Education is hosting a series of public forums and a statewide survey  (open throught February 27) following a state panel’s recommendation to get public feedback on the Next Generation Science Standards. These are a set of learning expectations in science for students in kindergarten through high school, developed by 26 states, including Iowa. All states can consider adopting and adapting them to meet their needs.

Public feedback will be used to provide guidance to the Science Standards Review Team, which is expected to submit a final recommendation regarding science standards to the State Board of Education later this year.

The public forums are scheduled as follows:

Tuesday, Feb. 24, Ottumwa
4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Great Prairie Area Education Agency, Ottumwa Office – Auditorium
2814 North Court Street
Ottumwa, IA

Wednesday, Feb. 25, Dubuque
4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Keystone Area Education Agency, Dubuque Office – Room 1 ABC
2310 Chaney Road
Dubuque, IA

Thursday, Feb. 26, Sioux City
4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Northwest Area Education Agency, Administrative Office – Room A/Auditorium
1520 Morningside Ave.
Sioux City, IA

For more information, please visit the Iowa Department of Education’s website.