Wildfire Science Lesson Packet

Wildfire Science Lesson Packet

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In this lesson, we address the science behind wildfire and address some critical questions: is the season getting longer? Are fires getting worse? What should we do about that?

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet or there’s a copy included in the packet.

Overview: 

Wildland fire occurrence and suppression has had a long and varied history in our country.  For most of the 20th century, any form of wildland fire, whether natural or human caused, was quickly suppressed for fear of uncontrollable destruction. Today policies have evolved to using fire as a tool, such as controlled burns.  Climate change has increased the frequency and severity of wildfires creating “100 year” fires every couple years.

 

Historically fire would help clean out the understory and dead plant matter in a forest, allowing native tree species to grow with less competition for nutrients. Native Americans would often burn woodlands to reduce overgrowth and increase grasslands for large prey animals such as bison and elk. When the US Forest Service was established in 1905 fire suppression became the only fire policy for the next 50 years. In 1968 the National Park Service changed its policy to recognize fire as an ecological process. 

Video resources:

Interactive map of fire alerts on world map – Global Forest Watch’s interactive map of global fire activity shows where in the world there’s been a fire in the past 24 hours.

Why Are There So Many Fires? – A video from The Guardian with great visuals addressing why the amount of fires has increased so much.

Fire tornado in Loyalton fire – A short video clip of a fire tornado caused by the Loyalton, California fire in August 2020.

Sample Research Project:

Matchstick Forest Demonstration: Students learn how wildfires behave and spread by placing matches in a variety of configurations. This sample experiment can be adapted for many grade levels.

Sample Research Questions: 

  • How does the fire change depending on the configuration of the matches
  • Is more smoke produced when the matches are close together or far apart?
  • How long does it take to burn all the matches when they are close together?
  • How far apart do the matches have to be to not burn when one is lit?
  • What happens when some matches are taller than others?

NGSS Standards:

MS-LS2-3; MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

HS-LS2-6; HSLS2-7; HS-LS2-8 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

SEPs:

  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Constructing Explanations and designing solutions
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

CCs:

  • Cause and effect
  • Stability and change
  • Patterns
  • Systems and system models

 

 

Microclimates Lesson Packet

Microclimates Lesson Packet

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Learn about microclimates and how are especially important for species diversity in this lesson.

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet or there’s a copy included in the packet.

Overview: 

A microclimate is a local set of atmospheric conditions that differ from those of the surrounding area. Your house is a microclimate from the outside atmospheric conditions. What causes a microclimate in the environment is local differences in the amount of heat or water received or remaining near the earth’s surface. A microclimate can form by an area receiving more energy.  It can be as small as a few square feet or as large as square miles. 

 

Because microclimate environments are so unique, their biological processes such as decomposition, nutrient cycling, and habitat selection can be specific and complex. A small change in temperature and moisture can determine the growth or mortality of an organism. For example, moisture needed for fungi growth can vary depending on the width of a tree canopy. The Earth has 3 main climate zones: tropical, temperate, and polar.  There are many microclimates found in each of these climates all supporting diverse life forms.

Video resources:

Microclimate explanation – A simple explanation of how microclimates work. 

Examples of microclimates and climate change –  an explanation with rich visuals detailing how microclimates work, and providing some photographic examples of microclimates in California.

Sample Research Project:

Description: Investigate the microclimates at your school. Where is the temperature the highest? Where is there more wind? Are there differences in ground temperatures around the school?

Methods:  This guide to microclimate school study from London’s Royal Geographical Society provides sample research questions, methods, and materials to check out microclimates at school.

Sample Research Questions: 

  • How does being close to a building impact temperature?
  • Are temperatures higher or lower in areas with dense brush?

  • Where is the most wind present?
  • What are the major components of soil near a developed area (parking lot or building) versus a vegetated area (playground or field)?
  • where on campus is the humidity the highest?

NGSS Standards:

MS-LS2-3; MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

HS-LS2-6; HSLS2-7; HS-LS2-8 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

SEPs:

  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Constructing Explanations and designing solutions
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

CCs:

  • Cause and effect
  • Stability and change
  • Patterns
  • Systems and system models

 

 

Dwarf Mistletoe Lesson Packet

Dwarf Mistletoe Lesson Packet

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Learn about host/parasite interactions and dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium) through this lesson. 

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet or there’s a copy included in the packet.

Overview: 

Host/Parasite interactions: In evolutionary ecology, a parasite is an organism, plant, or fungus that lives in or on another organism, called the host. Without a host, a parasite cannot live, grow, or multiply, so it does not usually kill its host. Both parasite and host evolve together, in a relationship where the parasite benefits from the host, harming it in some way. Some hosts develop ways of getting rid of or protecting themselves from parasites, while others live with the relationship for some time.

Dwarf Mistletoe is a small, leafless parasitic plant which parasitizes native ponderosa and lodgepole pines by slowly robbing them of food and water. They will generally focus their life cycle on one species of pine tree. Dwarf mistletoe has very little chlorophyll so they must put roots into the host tree to extract nutrients. Often at the anchor site this parasitic species will secrete hormones to produce a structure called a “witches broom” which is an overgrowth and will disrupt the branching structure. Dwarf mistletoe can stunt tree growth, reduce seed production and wood quality, and occasionally kill the host tree in times of drought or forest stress.

 

Dwarf mistletoe also has a well studied connection to fire events. As early as the 1970s it was evident that fire suppression was a primary driver of increased dwarf mistletoe abundance in North American forests. A denser forest will aide the reproduction success of this parasite. The resulting witches brooms can act as fire ladders.

Some benefits of this parasite are that squirrels and blue grouse like to eat the mistletoe and infected branches, and witches’ brooms can serve as ideal nesting platforms for birds and small mammals.  

Video resources:

Dwarf mistletoe overview – Visuals and an explanation of what dwarf mistletoe is, plus a comparison between that and the “holiday” version of this plant. 

Dwarf mistletoe music video –  A fun, approachable music video made by students about the seed “explosion” process.

Mistletoe/tree interactions – A concise description with footage of actual infected lodgepole pines discussing the impacts of mistletoe growth. 

Sample Research Project:

Description: students analyze forests near their home for signs of dwarf mistletoe interaction.

Methods:  Students look for signs of parasitism in their local forests within a study area measured with a transect. Students track findings in multiple areas to get an average. If known beetle damage is present, students can also observe localized areas within a single tree using a quadrat.

Sample Research Questions: 

  • Is there more mistletoe on trees at a lower or higher elevation?
  • Is mistletoe the same size or different sizes on each tree? How might this correlate?
  • Do trees that are closer together have more mistletoe?
  • Do larger or smaller trees have more mistletoe?
  • Which part of the tree has the most infection?

NGSS Standards:

 

MS-LS2-2; MS-LS2-3; MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

HS-LS2-3; HS-LS2-6; HS-LS2-8 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

SEPs:

  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Constructing Explanations and designing solutions
  • Scientific knowledge based on empirical evidence
  • Planning and carrying out investigations

CC:

  • Stability and change
  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect

 

 

Mountain Pine Bark Beetle Lesson Packet

Mountain Pine Bark Beetle Lesson Packet

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Learn about the Mountain Pine Bark Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) through this lesson. 

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet or there’s a copy included in the packet.

Overview: 

The Mountain Pine Bark Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) is a species of bark beetle native to forests in North America. It is the size of a grain of rice and has a hard black exoskeleton. This beetle inhabits Ponderosa, Whitebark, and Lodgepole Pines, normally playing an important role in the life of a forest, but unusually hot, dry summers and mild winters in the mountains have led to an unprecedented epidemic of this insect.  Coupled with a century of fire suppression and monoculture replanting, the infestation may have significant effects on the capability of the forests to thrive and  remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

 

Female beetles initiate attacks. As they chew into the inner bark and phloem, pheromones are released, attracting male and female beetles to the same tree. They chew through the bark until they reach the phloem, a cushy resinous layer between the outer bark and the sapwood that carries sugars through the tree. There, they lay their eggs in tunnels, and eventually a new generation of beetles hatches, grows up, and flies away. But before they do, the mature beetles also spread a special fungus in the center of the trunk. The fungi leave blue-gray streaks in the trees they kill. A healthy tree can usually beat back invading beetles by deploying chemical defenses and flooding them out with sticky resin. But just as dehydration makes humans weaker, heat and drought impede a tree’s ability to fight back—less water means less resin.

Video resources:

Tiny Beetle Outbreak – University of Montana Professor Diana Six summarizing beetle problem and how to approach it.
What is The Mountain Pine Beetle? – A basic overview of the beetle infestation.

Sample Research Project:

Description: students analyze forests near their home for signs of bark beetle infestation 

Methods: Students look for signs of beetles Using this guide and measuring a study area with a transect. Students track findings in multiple areas to get an average. If known beetle damage is present, students can also observe smaller areas of dead or dying trees using a quadrat.

 

Sample Research Questions: 

  • Are there more signs of beetle destruction in a certain area?
  • What signs of beetle destruction are most common?
  • Do trees that are closer together have more beetle destruction?
  • Do larger or smaller trees have more beetle destruction?

NGSS Standards:

MS-LS2-1; MS-LS2-2; MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

HS-LS2-1; HS-LS2-2; HS-LS2-6; HS-LS2-8 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

SEPs:

  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Constructing Explanations and designing solutions
  • Scientific knowledge based on empirical evidence
  • Planning and carrying out investigations

CC:

  • Stability and change
  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect

 

Learning chemistry: solutions and concentration lesson packet

Learning chemistry: solutions and concentration lesson packet

Get The Lesson

Learn about solutions, concentration, and solubility through this lesson. 

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet or there’s a copy included in the packet.

Overview: 

There are three foundational concepts that are useful to understand when thinking about chemistry. These concepts explain how substances either mix together to form a new substance, or dissolve in one another creating a mixture. 

Solution: a special type of homogeneous mixture composed of two or more substances. In such a mixture, a solute is a substance dissolved in another substance, known as a solvent.

Concentration: the abundance of a constituent divided by the total volume of a mixture. E.g the amount of salt in a water solution.

Solubility: a property referring to the ability for a given substance, the solute, to dissolve in a solvent, such as water.

 

The solubility of a majority of solid substances increases as temperature increases. In the suggested research project, students can see how you can dissolve more salt in water as you heat up the water.   

Video resources:

Frogsicles: Frozen but still alive – a video lesson about how the wood frog makes its own “antifreeze”.

Overview on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – a short explanation of the geography of the area.

Sample Research Project:

Create a super saturated solution: use water and common table salt to understand the concentration of solutions. When a solvent is heated, it can dissolve more of a solute than when it is cool. 

Methods and materials: This article describes how to do the experiment. 

  • Water
  • Table salt
  • Heat source
  • Pan
  • Spoon
  • Heat proof container

Sample Research Questions: 

  • Does more solute dissolve when the solute is hot or cold?
  • Does a super saturated solution appear different than a saturated or unsaturated solution?
  • How can I test to know that a solution is super saturated?

NGSS Standards:

This unit provides foundational knowledge for working with standard HS-PS1-5

SEPs: Analyzing and interpreting data
Systems and system models

CC: Cause and effect
Stability and change
Patterns