The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blanding’s Turtles visit the Regional School Committee

What do Blanding’s Turtles, Thoreau’s journals and phenology projects have to do with the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS)? They are all part of the mix of activities undertaken by the school’s energetic Environmental Field Studies Club, which gave an overview of their projects to the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) on March 23. Students showed off two of the eight Blanding’s Turtles being raised in the Science Department. The goal of the club is to provide students with opportunities to conduct studies in the field that are useful to researchers and organizations beyond the high school.

In an effort to increase their threatened population in Massachusetts, CCHS is participating in a Blanding’s Turtle Headstart Program. Concord researcher Dr. Bryan Windmiller is promoting this project at CCHS and at the Carlisle Public School. Eight Blanding’s Turtles have been under the watchful eye of the high school’s Environmental Field Studies Club and other students in science classrooms since September. By giving the turtles an optimal environment for almost a year, the turtles grow much faster than usual, making them more likely to survive when they are released in the wild.

Freshman Robert Leahy explained that temperature affects what gender the turtles become. Last summer when the turtles were born it was cold and rainy and that coolness led to an abundance of males. The small number of females is particularly discouraging to freshman Elizabeth Zeng who said that the Blanding’s Turtle population had decreased 40% in the last 30 years. Environment Club Advisor and biology teacher Priscilla Guiney said the New England Aquarium helped determine the turtles’ sex. Reached later, she said three of the turtles are female.

The turtles seem to be thriving. They are expected to be released into Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge in Concord late this spring.

Leaf study

Annie King, a senior from Carlisle, spoke about phenology, the study of the timing of the life cycle of plants. In the fall, students collected data on the timing of leaf fall of trees in a CCHS courtyard. King explained that the fall data was analyzed with data collected by the CCHS Weather Station, correlating higher wind gusts and decreasing sunlight with more falling leaves.

King will continue the study this spring charting the timing of budding leaves. She hopes to widen the study to include trees in nearby woodlands. Trends could be determined if data is analyzed over a number of years. According to the CCHS Science Department website the leaf data will be added to an ongoing study of tree phenology conducted by Dr. John O’Keefe at Harvard Forest.

Cross-disciplinary link to Thoreau

CCHS Social Studies teacher Michael Goodwin said he is very excited about being involved with the Environmental Club. Henry David Thoreau left very detailed records of nature. By reading these journals, Goodwin said, “There is an intersection of science, history, art and literature.” It connects us to ourselves and where we live. Students have gone to the woodlands known as Fairyland, across the street from the school, read specific entries of Thoreau’s journals, discussed them and then wrote their own reflections. This spring, he wants students to go to the same place Thoreau wrote about on the same day. He said, “It’s been a lot of fun putting this together.”

Invasive plants mapped

Another project taken on by the club was mapping invasive plants. Sophomore Teddy Terpstra said students surveyed three areas on campus and familiarized themselves with what invasive species look like. Then they mapped out a CCHS inner courtyard, noting invasive species, organized the data and compared it to the Town of Concord Invasive Plants GIS map. Guiney said Carlisle arborist John Bakewell has been helping the group.

Senior Shannon McNamara recently created a YouTube video of the Environmental Club’s attendance at a Gulf of Maine Institute mini-conference in Newburyport. She is going into Environmental Studies next year in college.

Guiney explained by email that this is a pilot year for the club. She chose the projects in conjuction with Biology teacher Dr. Nora Murphy and Science Department Chair Dr. Mike Vela. The faculty members spoke with area naturalists and attended workshops last summer to gather ideas. “This year we have introduced our students to a sampling of projects and some students have taken on leadership roles,” Guiney said, adding, “We look forward to more student leadership as we continue these projects and perhaps initiate some new projects as well. The club is a rewarding work in progress for all of us.”

For photos and more details on the club, go to: ∆

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