The Epic Outdoor Classroom Adventure


Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the
Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

On May 7th Ann and I were tasked with an adventure to go teach 8 We All Live in a Watershed presentations at the Carroll County 5th Grade Outdoor Classroom. This adventure started at 7:15 when Ann and I left the parking lot. Our drive was about an hour and a half which isn’t much compared to some of the other epic journeys across Iowa that we have taken. After we arrived at Swan Lake State Park Nature Center in Carroll, we were met at the door by our contact Anjanette Treadway. She then showed us to the room in which our presentations would take place so that Ann and I could set up.

When Ann and I had finished setting up we made our way to the commons area where orientation was taking place with 170+ 5th graders and their teachers. During orientation Anjanette explained that one of the speakers did not show up. This speaker happened to be someone that was going to talk about bees/pollinators. As Ann and I heard this we started thinking if there would be any way that we could help Anjanette out. Now it just so happened that we had brought one of our pollinator games along with us because Anjanette had requested to borrow it for another event that she was hosting a few days later. So we came to an agreement that we would split up and I would teach a modified pollinator presentation while Ann would teach the watershed presentation. 

Now to be honest I was a little nervous because I had never taught an entire presentation by myself let alone 8. I had around 5 minutes to quickly come up with talking points to accompany the game. After I quickly came up with some talking points, I made my way to the place in which I would be teaching to start the epic adventure of doing 8 presentations all by myself. As the day of presentations went on I started to feel really comfortable with what I was doing plus I was also remembering more things that I could talk about.

I taught the students that pollinators actually complete the process of pollination on accident as they fly to different flowers looking for nectar. I also explained that these creatures are responsible for a lot of the different foods that we as people enjoy. After explaining the process of pollination and how important it is, I focused in on monarch butterflies in particular. I explained the super long journey that they take, known as migration. I emphasized that this journey comes with lots of different challenges and that led right into a game called Monarch Migration Madness.

The Monarch Migration Madness game is all chance-based. There are 10 circles in both the summer habitat (with each circle depicting a milkweed plant) and winter habitat (with each circle depicting an oyamel fir tree). I started off by giving each student a number, which represented which number circle they started on in the summer habitat. After they got to their starting positions, I counted down from 3 and then the students migrated to the opposite side of the room, where the winter habitat was, and at that point they could pick any number circle. The only thing is that there cannot be any more than 3 monarchs per circle. After they made their migration, I read a situation that would affect some of their habitat, removing the designated oyamel fir trees as called for in the situation. This game goes on for several rounds until there are only a few remaining monarchs. When the game was complete I then finished off with some different things that we as people can do to help our pollinator friends continue to thrive.

I was definitely a little worn out after the completion of all the presentations, but all that was left was to pack up and drive back to Ames so I wasn’t complaining. During the drive back Ann and I talked about how we felt our adaptation to the situation went. We came to the conclusion that it went quite well. As we eventually arrived in Ames we knew that the epic adventure had come to an end. It was an exhilarating and successful adventure—the students had FUN, they learned a ton about the environment around them, and I felt a lot more confident after giving 8 presentations on my own!

Joshua Harms

Water Rocks! Launches New Pollinator Classroom Presentation

The Power of Pollinators classroom education module extends the Water Rocks! portfolio designed to assist teachers in teaching about environmental science in Iowa

Water Rocks! has announced the launch of “The Power of Pollinators, its newest conservation-focused, interactive classroom presentation for upper-elementary and middle school classrooms. The new Pollinators module was developed with assistance and input from Iowa State University experts as well as classroom teachers across Iowa. Water Rocks! piloted the programming with Turkey Valley Schools fourth and fifth grade classes in late October.

“Turkey Valley Schools have shown leadership in conservation thinking through the establishment of native prairie and butterfly garden projects, and inclusion of critical conservation lessons in multiple grade levels across the district,” said Ann Staudt, director of Water Rocks!. “The pilot experience allowed us to learn as much as we taught. The teachers and students were very motivated to help fine-tune the learning modules.”

Turkey Valley 4th grade students and teacher Robyn Vsetecka show off their school garden plot. The students chose to plant a mix of vegetables and flowering plants to attract pollinators.

Conservation takes center stage at Turkey Valley Community Schools; their native prairie plot was established over twenty years ago on school grounds.

Water Rocks! classroom education modules are designed primarily for grades four through seven. Content is adjusted in collaboration with each classroom teacher to ensure the best outcomes. And, each module is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

“The Water Rocks! team really grabbed the attention of the students and helped them quickly learn new vocabulary and scientific concepts in a high-energy and fun way,” said Robyn Vsetecka, fourth grade teacher at Turkey Valley Schools. “They covered a lot ground, but the approach wasn’t overwhelming for those students unfamiliar with pollinators, yet still informative and engaging for the ones who already had some experience.”

Students eagerly listen to instructions as they prepare to compete in the Monarch Migration Madness game.

Pollinator Jenga was quite a hit with the students and teachers alike at Turkey Valley!

The Pollinator module uses a variety of visual aids, interactive games and on-your-feet activities, to facilitate age- and grade-appropriate learning for all learners. Favorites among the students were the Pollinator Jenga game, Monarch Migration Madness game, and seeing bee houses.

“We were delighted to see the students’ faces light up when we helped them realize that each could make an impact on supporting pollinators by doing things a simple as planting wildflowers or even adding potted plants on a patio or balcony,” noted Staudt.

To learn more about Water Rocks! classroom education modules, or to request a free school visit, please go to https://www.waterrocks.org/classroom-visits/.

 

Pollinator Power

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Megan Koppenhafer, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2017-2018.

Lawn care consumes many families as the weather warms and things start to green up. This year as you foster your lawn we would like to encourage responsible lawn care to support our precious pollinators. Pollinators help keep our crops and gardens growing. You may have heard a lot of conversation about planting pollinator gardens to provide habitat and food for these little critters. These gardens are a great solution for protecting our pollinators, but a more holistic approach is even better.

Lawn mowing frequency was explored in a study titled To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards by Susannah B. Lerman, Alexandra R. Contosta, Joan Milam, and Christofer Bang.

The researchers found that mowing the lawn less frequently, every two or three weeks as opposed to every week, provided more grass biomass and flower abundance for the bees in an herbicide free yard. Three weeks provide a more ideal diversity in bee species, while two week mowing regimens led to the highest overall abundance of bees.

What does all this mean for the average lawn grower? Well, it shows that there is a low cost alternative for those lawn mowers looking to preserve bee habitat. Not applying herbicides or insecticides will benefit those bees by preserving the habitat and by directly removing a pollinator exterminator. Here’s your excuse to mow a little less often and enjoy the spontaneous lawn flowers a little more!

Example of a typical yard from the Lerman, et al. study. The minimal landscaping and bare patches in the lawns were common. The yard sign explained project objectives and informed neighbors about their role in improving the sustainability of their neighborhoods.

For more information please check out the full article, To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards, by Lerman et. al. Also, check out this Proper Lawn Mowing guide by ISU Extension and Outreach to keep your yard looking green when you do go to mow it!

Megan Koppenhafer

Is Palmer Paranoia a Threat to Conservation?

As a wildlife biologist, I admittedly have a less mainstream attitude towards weeds. For me, keeping those less obtrusive but often disgraced varieties of flowering and seed-producing plants on field edges and in barn lots is a good deal for the birds and the butterflies. But, as a wildlife biologist and a conservationist, I know that anything that affects efficiency in crop production affects conservation. So when I heard about the weed called Palmer Amaranth being found across Iowa last summer, I read the headline articles, watched the top stories, followed the unanimous senate vote, and learned how to identify the new pigweed to see where I could help.

Palmer, as it’s called, is a major challenge in cropping systems in the southern U.S. and until 2016 had only been found in five Iowa counties. Then, during the 2016 growing season, that list grew to at least 48  and experts predict that number could be higher.

The culprit? Seed mixes shipped to Iowa from southern dealers to meet burgeoning demand for high-diversity native plantings contracted under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The CRP fields where Palmer was rearing its ugly, thousands-of-seed-bearing head were the same fields lauded by conservationists as the best practice ever conceived under the CRP for addressing the plight of economically and ecologically important insects and many declining wildlife populations.

And, just as Palmer had entered the lexicon seemingly overnight, something else became apparent: “conservation plantings” had become synonymous with “Palmer.”

In the last year, I’ve seen this phenomena play out everywhere from professional meetings to farmsteads. I’ve heard stories from across the state about inquiries on CRP contract termination. I’ve talked with landowners that have dismissed high-diversity plantings out of fear for being the source of a new Palmer infestation. I’ve read gloom-and-doom articles implicating CRP in fueling the spread of Palmer on pages of periodicals from across the Midwest.

Vigilance and education are unequivocally important. My concern though is not with the messaging in educational efforts on this emerging threat, but rather the implicit deduction often drawn. That is, if Palmer is the effect and conservation plantings the cause, won’t less of the latter preclude more of the former?

I don’t have any data to support the veracity my concerns. Only my own experiences and anecdotes, which of course is shaky ground as a scientist. Dr. Bob Hartzler, the respected authority and defacto leader of the important response to the Palmer outbreak in 2016, recently told Iowa Learning Farms in his Conservation Chat podcast interview that he didn’t think concerns over Palmer were driving people away from conservation. I hope he’s right.

Professional educators and everyone in the agriculture and conservation community need to continue to address this emerging threat. But, we need to do so while retaining and building on progress for conservation of pollinators, soil, water, and wildlife that are fundamental to our quality of life and the sustainability of rural landscapes in Iowa. We need to be careful to not lose sight of the original goal of the high-diversity conservation plantings. We need to push a uniform message that less conservation isn’t the solution but rather that more vigilance is. Palmer is a huge deal. But I hope we don’t forget, conservation is a huge deal, too.

Adam Janke

Thank you to Adam Janke, Bob Hartzler, and Meaghan Anderson for their willingness to share photographs for this article!

Buzzin’ About Pollinators

While many pollinators across the country and across the globe face great uncertainty, the Water Rocks! team recently released a new music video celebrating pollinators and the amazing work they do! Inspired by the one and only T.Swift and her infectiously catchy pop tune “Shake It Off,” Please The Bees takes us back to the days of summer school and a colony of students that are unBEE-lievably bored out of their minds. The minutes pass like hours until a few special guests show up and turn the hive upside down…   Watch Please the Bees now!

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Check out Please the Bees on the Water Rocks! website, YouTube, and TeacherTube.

We are also pleased to announce that Please the Bees will be receiving recognition at the 2016 Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards Gala on April 16. Stay tuned for further details!

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Bees-05(monarch)Beyond the bees, another pollinator that has been the subject of much media attention is the iconic monarch butterfly. Since 1996, eastern migratory monarch populations have declined 84 percent, largely due to the loss of native milkweed plants. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, on which Iowa State University scientists collaborated, investigated the very real possibility that monarchs could face “quasi-extinction” in the next 20 years. Read the full news release for more information: Iowa State University researcher helps to forecast the chances of monarch butterfly survival.

Our treasure lies in the beehive of our knowledge.
     We are perpetually on the way thither,
        being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind. 
-Nietzsche, 19th-century philosopher and poet

Ann Staudt

Raining Cats and Dogs

Earlier this summer, I shared a Dog Blog in which J-Dog and I explored the stream bank restoration and watershed improvement work done along College Creek here in Ames.

On Saturday night into Sunday morning, we were hit with a healthy dose of rain: 4.20” reported by the National Weather Service, with amounts upwards of 6” reported locally. Join us on another walk to see how the College Creek restoration efforts are holding up when really put to the test.

Conservation Dog Jackie checking out the creek as the waters rise

Conservation Dog Jackie checking out the creek as the waters rise

What is usually a quiet stream practically narrow enough to walk over in places, College Creek turns into a fast-moving, churning stream after a 4+ inch rain.

Usually a quiet stream practically narrow enough to walk over in places, College Creek turns into a fast-moving, churning stream after a 4+ inch rain.

As part of the restoration efforts, a combination of trees, shrubs, native grasses, and forbs are being used to protect College Creek from sediment and nutrient loads from the surrounding watershed.

The riparian buffer appears to be doing its job well!  While the force of the moving water has laid down many of the grasses along the stream’s edge, this dense vegetation is providing ground cover and protection from erosion along the stream banks.

The riparian buffer appears to be doing its job well! While the force of the moving water has laid down many of the grasses along the stream’s edge, this dense vegetation is providing ground cover and protection from erosion along the stream banks.

In addition to bank stabilization, these buffers also add great beauty to the neighborhood.

College Creek’s riparian buffers include trees, shrubs, native grasses, and forbs. Native vegetation, such as the grayhead coneflower shown above, also supports healthy populations of pollinators!

College Creek’s riparian buffers include trees, shrubs, native grasses, and forbs. Native plants, such as the grayhead coneflower shown above, also support healthy populations of pollinators!

One happy husky, even during the dog days of summer…

One happy husky, lovin’ the dog days of summer…

While I don’t have any photographs to document it, the neatest part of the walk was an up-close-and-personal encounter with a great blue heron, fishing right along the edge of College Creek, just minutes from my door.

The husky wanted to befriend the heron much more than the heron cared to meet the husky.  This prompted the heron to quickly take off in flight – so graceful, and at the same time, so awkward – quite the moment to experience.

Ann Staudt

Celebrate National Pollinators Week at a STRIPS field day!

When I was a teenager, my mother did something unconventional with the lawn.  She took a small area and replanted it with native prairie. I remember really loving that stretch of lawn. It was beautiful, it was unusual, and (perhaps most compelling to a teenager) it made it easier to mow!  As an adult, however, I appreciate something else about that small stretch of reclaimed prairie: the pollinators.

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(Photo by Danny Akright)

Pollinators help strengthen crop yields.  In the US, pollinators help produce nearly 20 billion dollars with of products.  80% of the world’s flowering plants rely upon pollinators to thrive.  The plain fact is that we need our pollinators!  But our pollinators are under a lot of pressure.  Pesticides, pathogens, and loss of habitat are all reasons that their populations are in decline.  I see now that my mother gave them a better chance to survive and even thrive, just by planting a little bit of prairie.

It is National Pollinators Week and this week we hope to give our bees, birds, butterflies, and bats a little extra appreciation!  Iowa Learning Farms is hosting several field days talking about the STRIPS project.  STRIPS stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips, but you might just think of it as similar to what my mother did with our lawn.  The STRIPS project strategically plants perennial prairie on 10% of a field.  The results include reduced soil erosion and nutrient loss as well as increased habitat for pollinators!

This National Pollinators week, we hope to see you at one of the upcoming STRIPS field days!  Farmers, landowners, and STRIPS project experts are scheduled to talk and answer questions.  Cover crop experts and farmers using them will be on the agenda as well.  On the 18th, one of the speakers will be Iowa State University’s Dr. Mary Harris who will talk specifically about the pollinators!

June 16, 5:30-7:30 pm
McNay Research and Demonstration Farm
45249 170th Ave., Chariton

June 18, 5:30-7:30 pm
Dick and Diana Sloan farm
3046 Harrison Ave., Rowley

June 23, 5:30-7:30 pm
Donna Buell farm
Southeast corner of Harvest Ave. and D15, northeast of Holstein

Each field day wraps up with a complimentary meal and fellowship.  All are free and open to the public.

Contact ILF to let us know which field day you are attending and the number of guests, and we’ll be glad to feed you!  You can reach us by phone 515-294-8912 or email: ilf@iastate.edu.

Visit the STRIPS website for more information.

-Ben Schrag