Deforestation Board Game – Day 2

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Summary:
Today in class, students were asked to play the board game again. But this time, they were encouraged to use sustainable forestry practices through the addition of a new law: for every tree that did not grow back by the end of the game, the student who cut that tree was fined $200. In most cases, this was all the encouragement they needed. Instead of clearing large swaths of land, students zigzagged their way across the forests, cutting only small patches and leaving the ecosystem intact. It wasn’t a perfect solution. Students made a little less profit than they did on Monday, and the game moved a bit slower. But the squirrels will thank us, and so will our grand-kids.

Resources:
May 23 – Logging In the Amazon Lab Day 2 (pg711).docx
May 23 – Logging In the Amazon Rules.docx
May 23 – Logging in the Amazon Game Board.jpg
May 23 – Tree Cut-Outs (front).pptx
May 23 – Tree Cut-Outs (back).pptx

Deforestation Lecture

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Summary:
“Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests in order to make the land available for other uses. An estimated 18 million acres of forest, which is roughly the size of the country of Panama, are lost each year, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization” (FAO, 2015). So why do we do it? Why do we clear large areas of forest, so large that they will take ages to grow back? Why do we use resources faster than nature can replenish them?

Put simply, deforestation results from a lack of education and a lack of teamwork. It is yet another example of the Tragedy of the Commons. Without an educated populace, and without laws that ban practices like clear-cutting, deforestation can trap a nation in a cycle of poverty. One only has to look at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to see an example.

The long-term effects are scary as well. Not only does deforestation lead to poor soil quality, less oxygen, and fewer homes for animals, it also exacerbates Global Warming. Trees are natural carbon-dioxide-removers, without them greenhouse gasses fill the atmosphere and the planet heats up. So what is the solution? It can be as simple as fining logging companies for trees that they don’t replant, or reducing the use of paper products in our daily lives. Or we could all just hold our breath.

Resources:
May 22 – Deforestation Lecture (pg710).pptx

Deforestation Board Game – Day 1

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Summary:
Today, students played a board game in class. Their goal was simple: win the game by making the most profit. Students took turns rolling dice, moving their game pieces around the board, and cutting down trees. On the back of each tree was the earned value of that tree’s lumber. Every 50 years (5 rounds of the game), students paused to regrow the forest. Just like in nature, small patches of cleared forest regrew quickly, while larger patches regrew slower or not at all. Of course, the result of the game was severe deforestation.

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But deforestation isn’t a symptom of tree-haters running wild through Earth’s forests. It’s yet another example of the Tragedy of the Commons. When someone cuts down a tree, the benefits (the value of the lumber or the land) go directly to that individual. And the negative effects (less oxygen, more carbon dioxide, less soil fertility, etc.) are spread out to the group. If you’d like to play my homemade deforestation board game with your class, all of the game’s materials can be downloaded below. Just make sure you print them out on recycled paper 😉

Resources:
May 21 – Logging In the Amazon Lab Day 1 (pg709).docx
May 21 – Logging In the Amazon Rules.docx
May 21 – Logging in the Amazon Game Board.jpg

May 21 – Tree Cut-Outs (front).pptx
May 21 – Tree Cut-Outs (back).pptx

Recycling 101

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Summary:

Being the science nerd that I am, I’m often tempted to teach complicated lessons on the chemistry of global warming, or the molecular structure of plastics, etc. But lately, I’ve become a bit more pragmatic. Like wouldn’t it be better just to teach these kids how to recycle?

We started off today’s lesson by watching a video about how recycling plants work. Then we discussed the do’s and don’ts for recycling in our hometown of Marshfield, Massachusetts. After that we played a simple recycling game. Students approached a large pile of trash in the center of the room, selected an item, and then had to decide whether to recycle it or trash it. The class worked together, advising each other on what to do. And by the end of class, almost all of the 80 items were sorted properly. Their class’s score was their lab grade for the day.

Resources:
May 19 – Recyling 101 (pg708).pptx

A Year Outside

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Summary:
Back in August, I began an experiment. And students did not find out about it until 9-10 months later. Behind my classroom, I buried five items: a piece of paper, a plastic grocery bag, a plastic water bottle, a Styrofoam lunch tray, and an apple core. Today, we went outside and dug them up. The results can be seen below:

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As you might expect, the piece of paper and the apple core were entirely decomposed. Well, mostly. The apple did leave its sticker behind! The plastic bag, the water bottle, and the Styrofoam tray were almost completely preserved (with the exception of the paper label on the water bottle). It’s good food for thought. The next time my students throw a water bottle in the trash, or see a plastic bag on the side of the highway, I hope they remember this lesson. Because those objects will be polluting our planet for a very, very long time.

*Update: The 2018 version of this experiment did not go as planned. We never found the Styrofoam tray, and I’m not sure why! Were we digging in the wrong spot? Did someone remove the item as a prank? Did Styrofoam manufacturers recently change their formula? Did some of the mealworms (or bacteria) in the ground evolve to be able to digest polystyrene? I’m so intrigued, and so very confused. But I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the bottom of this one.

Resources:
May 19 -A Year Outside (pg707).docx

Waste & Litter

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Summary:
Today we introduced the next topic in our environmental science unit: waste & litter. First, we discussed how littering is just another example of The Tragedy of the Commons. When you litter, the positive effects (it’s quick, easy, and convenient) go directly to you, while the negative effects (it’s ugly, takes a while to decompose, and is bad for plants and animals) are spread out.

Then we talked about how plastic is a particularly big problem. A simple water bottle will take about 450 years to decompose. Why? Because plastic is a relatively new addition to the biosphere, so plants and animals have not evolved to be able to digest it. Because of that, it can cause long-lasting problems, particularly if it ends up in the ocean. In the pacific, the currents pull garbage created by several different countries into one large patch. The precise size of the patch is difficult to measure, but some scientists believe it to be twice the size of Texas! To download a copy of the PowerPoint, click the link below.

Resources:
May 19 – Waste & Litter Notes (pg706).pptx

The Problem With CO2 Is…

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Summary:

Today we took our understanding of global warming to the next level, a more real level. Students did an experiment where they compared the CO2 content in five different samples of air: indoor air, outdoor air, human breath, air from burning wood, and car exhaust. By injecting the air through limewater, which reacts with CO2, they were able to actually see which samples contained the most carbon dioxide.

Most groups found that — no surprise here! — car exhaust had the highest amount of CO2. And human breath had a lot too. But that doesn’t mean human breath is contributing to global warming. The carbon from human breath comes from our food, which starts off as a plant, which gets its carbon out of the air in the first place! That’s no problem at all. But when you take carbon that’s been trapped underground for millions of years (oil, coal, natural gas) and you burn it, you are adding greenhouse gases that the living creatures on Earth just aren’t ready for. The problem with CO2 is not that it’s evil, it’s that all of a sudden we have too much! And our warm, comfortable planet is getting hotter by the day.

Resources:
May 18 – The Problem With CO2 Is… (pg705).docx