Monday, April 29, 2013

Phenology Day was a success!

Happy Week-After-Earth-Week!

Phenology Day Flyer
It has been an exciting few weeks here in Tucson at our USA National Phenology Network National Coordinating Office.  We hosted a celebratory first annual Phenology Day along our Tucson Phenology Trail!  The event highlighted all of our local partners who have established phenology walks at their sites and introduced our visitors to phenology research, phenology observations, and phenology community spirit!  And we even added a new partner at a local elementary school.  

Praying mantis egg case. Photo credit: A. Bassett
On Phenology Day we offered talks on a variety of topics. Beginning at the Pima 
Cottonwood time-series. Photo credit: I. Shiach
Extension Office's Tucson Village Farm we provided an overview of the day, of our Tucson Phenology Trail, and introduced participants to the walk at the site. Not only did we collect data on the plant species tagged, but we found some very cool insects as well.  A praying manits egg case on our mesquite was especially fun to see and show our younger participants.  

Our Biosphere2 volunteer, Ian Shiach (USA-NPN SNRE Graduate Student), showed visitors his master's research poplar plantation (under the direction of Dr. Dave Moore).  Data from the plantation will combine on-the-ground, camera, and satellite data to understand better what different types of phenology information can tell us and if the methods are correlated.  He shared a time lapse video from the plantation that was fascinating to watch, and makes you realize how much you are missing when you only look at your plants once a week or a month.

While no one made it out to our Tucson Audubon Society Mason Center site, we had some great staff and volunteers out there who hiked along the established phenology walk.  Alyssa Rosemartin (USA-NPN Assistant Director and IT Coordinator) and Jherime Kellermann (USA-NPN Technical Research Associate), two staff with a birding background, and Jim Guessman (Tucson Audubon weekly bird walk host) shared stories about bird phenology on location at the Mason Center.  

Mesquite Flower. Photo credit: P. Guertin
Volunteers and participants met at the Joseph Wood Krutch Garden, Campus Arboretum site, to learn about a
variety of research projects conducted by Arboretum members and students and learn about desert plan phenology.  Patty Guertin, USA-NPN Botanist, provided an overview of phenophases for the plants we've got tagged in the garden.  Many of them were blooming during this spring season.  
Cloned lilac project open flower. T. Crimmins

Lunchtime talks included an overview of the USA-NPN and its goals, presented by Jake Weltzin, our Executive Director, as well an overview of our lilac data from the cloned plants project presented by Outreach Coordinator Theresa Crimmins.  After collecting data in for a few years in Nature's Notebook we are able to visualize the "onset of spring" by tracking the leafing and flowering of lilacs across the country.   This slide to the right shows the date of first reported "yes" for registered lilacs in our National Phenology Database.  

Fact sheet. K. Welch
After lunch we met in one of our newest neighborhood associations, Rincon Heights, for a guided walk.  Kara Welch, entomology graduate student, along with Robert Orpet (entomology grad student), and Melody Peters (Rincon Heights Board Member and resident) shared their tagged plants with all of the participants.  Kara also created some insect phenology identification sheets (check it out, to the left!) to use in conjunction with the Nature's Notebook datasheets.  She is interested in learning more about the plant-pollinator interactions here in the desert and the Tucson Phenology Trail will offer a great place to gather data to answer her questions.  We also saw some great examples of the mesquite twig girdlers at a few of our trail sites.  The photo below shows an example, perhaps from last year, at the Pima Extension Office.  This is PROVEL-1.  

Mesquite twig girdle. Photo credit: A. Bassett
Phenology Day was a great way to connect all of our sites along the Tucson Phenology Trail and highlight the opportunities for collaboration.  Phenology is a great lens for teaching many things, and at the very least, provides a way for folks to connect to their environment and take a closer look at some of the things they might miss on a day-to-day basis.  I encourage you to think about not only setting up a phenology walk at a site that you visit frequently but also to partner with local organizations who share similar outreach and environmental education missions.  

If you'd like more information on what we did or how you can participate, send me an email!  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Phenology as a window to your world

Happy spring!  

It seems like things might be starting to look a lot less like winter out there, for most people anyway.  Others not so much...

I've just returned from two trips - Moscow, Idaho (Forest Owners Conference) and Wooster, Ohio (Ohio State University Phenology Garden Network Annual Update).  It was great to see some of my old east coast spring favorites starting to respond to warming temperatures.  Including:

View from Coeur d'Alene boardwalk
Meeting with these two groups of folks reminds me how much I love working with volunteers.  Our conversations really inspired me to be connected with site-leaders who are interested in using phenology to answer some local science questions and ultimately share their collected data with our database.  

The Idaho Forest Owners Association conference was a great place to connect with people who are engaged with the natural world through their land.  We talked about how phenology can help tell the "story of your land", in much the same way Jefferson, Thoreau, Leopold did through their journals.   It was also fun to return to a group of foresters and landowners - I shared some of my favorite forest photos (from across the US) through the seasons. 

Phenology is actually the perfect experiential environmental education tool because observing it teaches so many critical life skills such as observing your place, understanding your role in a system, respect and appreciation for natural things and other people, and asking and answering questions.  I realized since I've been teaching about phenology, I am always looking at things through a "phenological lens", meaning I can see cycles in almost anything.  Paying attention to my surroundings is helpful in so many ways.  Because I can plan for what's next.  Having a "phenological awareness" can be helpful, even if you are not interested climate science. 

OARDC Secrest Arboretum
Visiting with the OSU Phenology Garden Network group was exciting because many of the volunteers have been collecting phenology data for 10 years! I love to learn about folks who have committed to long-term data collection because their information helps us to understand, not only how things change seasonally, but also how they may have changed through time.  Moving forward they'll begin storing some of their data in our Nature's Notebook program, which will be a great addition.  They'll be able to use some of the tools we offer and the broader USA-NPN network will benefit from a great, rich, dataset.  While I was in Wooster, Denise Ellsworth, the awesome OSU Pheno Coordinator, and Dan Herms, entomology professor and pheno-researcher were fabulous hosts!  I had a great tour of the Secrest Arboretum at their Ag research station and talked to a wonderful crew of folks.  The Arboretum is beautiful, despite being almost completely damaged a few years ago in a major tornado, has a history of research and outreach, and they have a really neat phenology gazebo on the grounds.  The entry to the gazebo are aligned with the sun rise and sun set and panels inside host an introduction to phenology.  

Ocotillo bloom, Spring 2013
Pima Extension Office
So as I get ready to begin the, seemingly never ending outdoor house chores, for this year I'm going to take out my Nature's Notebook iPhone app and document what's happening.  I've gotten pretty good at it so it really only takes a minute or two of time for each species.  Then, I'll be able to look back and tell the story of my tiny back yard.  I  might more keenly notice what is going on in my little ecosystem.  Maybe it will inspire me to keep up with everything.. or maybe it will make me want to just sit in my lounge chair and take it all in. 

Coming soon - The first annual Tucson Phenology Day on April 20th!  Celebrate Earth Day and Environmental Education week out on the trail looking at phenology!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Spring Wildflowers...

Phacelia distans – Distant Phacelia
 Image credit: P. Warren
Here in Tucson we've had a nice mix of winter weather balanced by warm temps over the last few months.  It's been a relatively rainy fall and winter and that means we should have an excellent wildflower season this spring.  Now we just need to wait for it to warm up a bit more.....

Spring is a great time to get out and do a hike in the desert.  It is warm enough to hike without being overly bundled, but still cool enough that the sun is not overwhelming.  These days when I hike I pay much more attention to phenology around me. I've always been a hiker but having something specific to look for, such as knowing native plants and animals and their phenological cues, makes it more interesting.  And being able to create a monitoring site using Nature's Notebook to track what I am seeing makes it even more fun (especially with a mobile app...).

Pima Canyon, Tucson, Arizona
 Image Credit: L. Barnett
On a recent hike in Pima Canyon (here in Tucson) we noticed that ocotillo at lower elevations were leafing out with young leaves, jojoba had emerging and almost open flower buds, and there were many little wildflowers emerging like the Distant Phacelia in the photo above.  And this year, since I am curious, I have found a few places that are providing real-time live updates on flowers blooming in our area.  Maybe you all have been following such things for a while, but I'm new to the scene. One site is DesertUSA.  I've actually gotten a lot of phenology and blooming info on the local and national scene via twitter.  And another site with general information is from the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum - Conservation and Science Education Program.  What ways can you find out about phenological happenings near you?  Could you create a photo-phenology program as my friends from the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, WI have done? 

This past weekend our National Coordinating Office team here at USA-NPN set up an educational booth in the Science City at our Tucson Festival of the Books.  This was a great way to test a few of my activities for kids, like the Phenology Bingo game, network with other outreach organizations and look at the lady bugs, insects, and desert blooming plants the Master Gardeners had set up. 

Phenology bingo can be used in a variety of ways, but in this case was used as a conversation starter for youth and adults interested in what phenology is all about.  Questions like 'Have your ever..' "caught a firefly" or "hatched a monarch" serve either as nostalgia for people who grew up on the east coast or memories of interesting things done in a classroom.  So here is a shout-out to those teachers who taught the life cycle unit using a caterpillar, showed kids how to make flour from a mesquite bean, took them on a field trip to the desert museum to see the desert tortoise hibernate, or implemented a school garden to observe pollinators.  Your students told us all about it!  Why not build on those observation activities and add Nature's Notebook to your repertoire? After all, if the flowers aren't blooming where you are yet, they will be soon and kids may be ready to capture all of that using data collection, words, and pictures.

Image credit: P. Warren
Image credit: L. Barnett

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An educator's audience....

As an educator by training it is so difficult for me to work independently!  I've always relied on input and feedback from my audience to shape the next steps.  Nowadays there are so many neat digital tools, such as this blog, that can play an important role in education, especially for folks like me who's audience is not just the local groups I work with but the whole United States.

Luckily, though, I have some great folks in our Tucson community who are interested in phenology and in learning more about the natural world through Nature's Notebook.  This gives me a place to test new ideas and get feedback on the materials I'll share with others who are interested in adding a citizen science program like Nature's Notebook to their repertoire. 

S. Schaffer
Most recently I've taught local groups of Master Gardeners about phenology and engaged them in collecting data for Nature's Notebook at their demonstration gardens.  The Master Gardener program is a nationwide group of university-trained volunteers who serve as community educators and are able to answer locally-focused gardening questions.  Check it out: Phenology is very important to gardening, including information about when to plant, what to plant that will grow in your area, how to manage pests in your garden, when things bloom, how to attract pollinators, and so much more.  Yet many people don't realize what they are already paying attention to is phenology! 

This is the second year I've taught the class - last year I was not explicit about how phenology informs almost all of the Master Gardener topics.  The response I received was mostly that folks did not understand what phenology and Nature's Notebook had to do with gardening at all and that it was a waste of time.  This year, I took the time to rework the content and talk more about ecology, climate zones, planting guides, botany, and phenology applications for each Master Gardener topic.  I also folded in information about how climate informs all of those things.  The response was much better - people were excited and engaged with the natural world and understood fully that what they observe in the garden is phenology. The classes are also collecting data for Nature's Notebook and will be developing their own garden calendars for the demonstration gardens from the information they collect over time. After a few years we will have enough data to see trends and averages.

All of this would have been more difficult to determine if I didn't have an audience to test it on!  I certainly rely on feedback from the participants and other educators to make the best lessons I can.  I'm hoping that folks who read this blog and participate in citizen science programs, like Nature's Notebook, will also offer ideas and suggestions about things that work for them.  If you've got any phenology activities that you'd like to share, including those that do not use Nature's Notebook, please email them to me and I will post them on our Educator's Clearinghouse for others to use.  The best ideas are often crowd sourced in some way.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Creating community

L. Barnett
So... as an educator it is important to me to exist in a community.  Teaching doesn't happen in a vacuum and it is a constant cycle of trying something, processing the experience, reworking, and most importantly sharing what you've learned with others.

I've taught in many different settings over the last 20 years - mostly non-formal (or informal) but also in the classroom.  Some of the most important lessons I've learned have come from my students, both youth and adults.  Lessons such as patience, learning to understand that it is about the learner (student) and not only me, and each time I am in front of a class it is a new and different experience, even if you are teaching the same content.  The most important lesson, though, is that understanding what you are doing must be meaningful to both the learners and the leaders.  Without a meaningful experience, true learning cannot occur.

I've decided to create this blog as part of my work for the USA National Phenology Network.  As the Education Coordinator I'm charged with developing resources to engage participants (individuals and groups) in science learning and appreciation for the natural world.  The education I do serves the science our organization supports and encourages participation in citizen science.  The hope is that educators teaching about phenology (the study of life cycle changes in plants and animals and species relationship to a changing climate), for any organization, school, agency, association, or group will participate and contribute valuable ideas for sharing phenology education with others.  Essentially I'd like to build a community of practice for phenology education, making meaning for all of us (educators and students) about the science of phenology and its application to everyday life.

That said, this shouldn't be one-way  communication.  I'd like to rely on the knowledge of many practitioners to contribute to the whole and not just me on a soap box - I don't particularly like lecturing with no feedback or engagement :).  Great ideas will be posted and shared on our Education website for everyone to see. We can all learn from each other about what works and doesn't, what the most important messages are, and what is the best way to make phenology meaningful enough to people that they understand it and share it with others.

So let's add a group of people to the path in the picture!