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Grades 7-9, Unit 3

Climate Change in My Backyard Activity Descriptions

Unit 3: Earth system responses to natural and human-induced changes

In Unit 3, students learn about how living things and ecosystems respond to and are affected by changing climates. Students learn about how plant life-cycle events can be used to understand climate and how they have been used in the past. They participate in Budburst, a national citizen science project, and study how changing climates impact the timing of plant life-cycle events. Students explore the impacts of changing climates on plant migration by calculating seed dispersal rates for a variety of plant species and predicting whether they will be able to migrate quickly enough to keep pace with changing climates. Lastly, students analyze phenology and "green up" data to draw conclusions about changing climates, and their effect on plants.

Activity 3.1: Migration, Adaptation, and Changing Climates
Students will discuss the various ways that living things deal with changing climates including adaptation and migration. Later, students will reflect back on these ways and determine which adaptations could benefit a plant that is exposed to a changing climate.

Activity 3.2: Seasons of a Plant
Students are introduced to the concept of phenology, the timing of periodic life-cycle events. Students begin by distinguishing between biological and environmental events in an ecosystem (first snow vs. first flower). They place their events on a calendar and then brainstorm what might happen if these biological events didn't happen one year. Students then go outdoors and individually or in small groups make observations of actual phenological events.

Activity 3.3: Preparing for Budburst
This activity serves as an introduction to phenology and Budburst, and will prepare students to start collecting data. In this activity students learn how to use the Budburst website, begin to collect and record data on plant phenology, and add that data to the Budburst database (data collection will be ongoing throughout the rest of the curriculum).

NOTE: Budburst data collection can begin at any point in the curriculum. Before you begin data collection, implement Activity 3.3: Preparing for Budburst, and continue making observations as often as possible so students are able to observe each phenological event.

  1. Mystery Plant ID: Students make observations of plants unfamiliar to them, create a field guide for their plants, and practice identifying other plants by using their classmates' field guides. This activity will exercise students' observation and scientific communication skills and provide students with practice identifying plants in preparation for the other activities. This is an outdoor activity, but can also be done inside on collected or purchased flowers/plants.
  2. Budburst Data Collection: Students collect data on their chosen plant species throughout the growing seasonand enter it into the Budburst website over a period of weeks or months. Students can write the data on the Budburst data collection sheets Plant ID sheets and phenophase guides are available on the Budburst website.

Activity 3.4: Plant Migration and Seed Dispersal Methods

  1. Seed Dispersal Predictions: Students will make observations about different types of seeds, and based on those observations, make predictions about how those seeds are dispersed.
  2. Seed Dispersal Experiment: Students will put their predictions to the test, by using a fan, water, and material to see which seeds float, stick to animal fur, or are wind-borne.
  3. How Far Can Seeds Travel? Students will calculate how far different dispersal mechanisms are likely to move seeds over a given period of time. Students use average range and migration distance to calculate how far animal dispersed seeds might travel, experiment using a fan for wind dispersed seeds, and consider how far water-dispersed seeds travel using a global map of ocean currents. They also consider the constraints of their experiments and how those constraints (e.g. using a fan rather than wind) might affect the accuracy of their results.
  4. Assisted Migration: Students consider the implications of plants' ability to migrate in the context of changing climates and debate whether or not humans should use assisted migration techniques to help plants migrate.

Activity 3.5 Plant Phenology Data Analysis

  1. Meet the Naturalists: Students will learn the story behind more than 150 years of plant phenology data collected in Concord, Massachusetts. First, students will be introduced to five individuals who collected data in this location.
  2. Graphing Historical Data: Students will graph historical plant phenology data and draw conclusions about how climate and climate change affect plant phenology.
  3. Budburst and NASA "Green-up" Data: Students then compare the historical data, and their BudBurst data, to NASA satellite imagery and graphs showing seasonal plant growth (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)). Students discuss how Budburst can contribute to our understanding of plants' responses to climate change.