This fall, Memorial biology teacher Cassie Thomas was able to help her students go beyond learning about science to actually experiencing it. Students spent time outside school meticulously collecting data as part of a tree study by Harvard Forest assessing the impact of climate change.
Harvard Forest, located in Petersham, Massachusetts, has operated the Schoolyard Ecology program since 2004. Through the program, teachers can get support with collecting ecological data right in their school’s own backyard. Thomas is one of three New Hampshire teachers participating in the program this fall.
"I am excited to bring Harvard Forest Schoolyard study to students in my classes,” Thomas said. “They have an opportunity to experience real science and data collection. I have been impressed with how meticulous the students are with their measurements. They take their role as citizen scientists very seriously.”
The fall data collection was the first part of the process – recording the timing of when leaves change color and when they drop. For the second part, students will monitor when tree buds burst open in the spring. Harvard Forest ecologists will incorporate the data collected for a long-term study on the impact of global warming on the tree growing season. The hands-on nature of the work appealed to Thomas’ students.
"I enjoyed doing something outside that was important to the study of science, and not book-work related,” said Dominick Rowell.
The idea is for students to collect this data every year. This year’s data collection, the first at Memorial, will serve as a baseline for future measurements. Each year of data adds another chapter to the story the trees are telling.
"We like experiencing nature outside all while still learning with our class,” students Julianna Bradley, and Jada Krajewski said. “It makes us feel important to help with scientific studies."
Here’s what more of Mrs. Thomas’ biology students had to say about the project:
"I am excited to see how the leaves on the tree change color.”- Alexis Miles
“The change in color on the trees looks beautiful from afar. I hope they are never negatively impacted by global warming.”- Aiden Heath
“It feels good to get to do some learning activities outside.” - Mya McCarthy and Marquis Louis-Charles
"This study allowed me to directly view the change of trees during Fall months, something I used to view as fairly inane, much closer while also spending time with some of my classmates." - Bryan DeOliveira
"I personally believe that these real-life world and interactive projects and activities add more quality to life, and they could help you discover hobbies or a career path." - Reagan Foust
You can read more about Harvard Forest and its Schoolyard Ecology program at https://harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/schoolyard-lter-program.