A brief list of questions, projects, and helpful sources for educators and their students
Compiled by Danielle D’Auria, John Brzorad, Ph.D., and the non-profit, 1000 Herons
Note: We use the word “heron” throughout. We are currently studying great blue herons (Ardea herodias) in Maine, but this is part of a larger project including great blue herons and great egrets (Ardea alba) from at least six states. The same questions apply to both species, and we encourage the use of the data from birds tagged in other states, too.
The nature of the project with regard to Science
The vast majority of the physical universe is hidden from us. We have limited abilities for detecting sound, light, chemicals or vibration. Nor can we peer easily into time and space. Science is the endeavor that aims at revealing the hidden nature of the tangible (matter, energy) world. All science involves making observations (data collection) and asking questions. The type of science done depends on the type of questions asked and the nature of the system investigated. “How, where, when, do” questions typically lead to descriptive/observational science. How many calories do I burn in a typical day? How much food and time does it take to raise a trout to maturity? Where in an estuary do we find oysters? What is the migratory distance of a great blue heron (Ardea herodias)? Do great blue herons eat turtles?
Once observational questions are answered more probing questions can address causality. This is the realm of hypothesis-driven science that has been fine-tuned using the scientific method. Pound for pound, why do I burn more calories than a lizard? Why does a trout grow better on diet X compared to diet Y? What are the factors (water temperature, light, salinity, depth) that determine the location of oysters in an estuary? Why do herons migrate?
The great blue heron tracking project presents a great opportunity for students to learn and implement the scientific process. By learning a little bit about great blue herons and the tracking project, students can then ask their own questions, do background research, construct hypotheses, and test their hypotheses by using the data generated by the tagged herons. They can do simple analyses of the data to draw their own conclusions and then communicate their results in writing, figures, and tables.
Below, we’ve included some ideas for incorporating the heron tracking project into your learning environment, whether it be a traditional classroom, a homeschool setting, a nature outreach program, a scout group badge, or an independent study. We have started with some focused questions and ideas on how to guide the learning process. We then follow with lists of questions under various topics to help spark some more learning opportunities. Some of our suggestions may be beyond the scope of your work; some can be answered through outdoor exploration; some can be answered using data from Movebank; and others can be answered using credible online sources.
No matter what you choose to investigate or how you go about it, we hope your learning experience is a rewarding one!
Four mini-lessons to consider starting with:
- Field Observation Skills
- Discovering Wetland Habitats
- Identifying Patterns
- Calculating Distance, Area, and Perimeter