On a cold, but not rainy, Saturday morning, Boston Public School educators gathered at the ponds to explore life in and around freshwater ecosystems. Armed with plankton nets, plastic containers, jelly jars, sieves and field guides, teachers made amazing discoveries. Here’s a partial list of the macro-invertebrates collected: damselfly nymphs (two kinds), pond snail, scud (also known as freshwater shrimp), water strider, water boatman, whirligig beetle, midge fly larva, male and female copepods, water penny, and daphnia (water flea). Indeed, we also collected tadpoles, and saw several fish and turtles, a frog and muskrat! Flying above were many birds, including a cormorant, Baltimore oriole, yellow warbler and the beautiful red-winged blackbirds.
After about 75 minutes, the water samples and organisms were brought back to the Hunnewell Building lecture hall for further examination and identification. Using tweezers, pipettes and Petri dishes, samples were collected and observed under microscopes, where whole new worlds were revealed! By comparing body structures, shape and size to ID sheets and field guides, teachers were able to determine what they were looking at, and share in the excitement of discovery and learning. Even molts from dragonflies, when seen under a scope, yielded secrets: a perfectly shaped and veined wing, still folded on the larva, the fine segments on the abdomen, and the large cavities for eyes.
Teachers gained an appreciation for biodiversity of animal life in freshwater ponds, and learned simple techniques for collecting samples and examining them under all types of magnification devices. Learning to “do” science in the field, and using tools back in the classroom for identification and gaining knowledge is an exciting way for teachers and their students to work as scientists.
The Arboretum for Educators aims to introduce Boston teachers to outdoor education with a variety of experiences in the landscape that highlight life science concepts. Activities are meant to be easily replicated in outdoor classrooms at schools, or other outdoor spaces near where the students learn, as well as provide teachers with knowledge and opportunities to lead self-guided field trips in the Arboretum landscape. Our next Arboretum for Educators is June 4, 2016.