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Extension > Driven to Discover Citizen Science > July 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Talking to the birds

blue-jay.jpgHey, Petey! Hey Petey. Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Teacher, Teacher, Teacher! Potato chip, potato chip.

Some people walking through the woods notice the colorful flowers that are in bloom. Others may notice the scent of the balsam trees as the wind blows through them. I notice the thousands of bird noises that are bombarding me from all sides.

Breeding males are responsible for almost all of these sounds. In early spring and summer, they make these noises because they are fixated on maintaining good territories and finding mates.

This means that when you hear a sweet "Hey, Petey!"; a nearby male chickadee hears a gruff "This is my turf. You better stay away!" and a neighboring female chickadee hears a seductive "Hey baby, want to come over to my place?"

When I was a child, I knew an old lady (who must have been at least 50) who lived down the street from me. She could imitate several birdcalls and her hooting, chirping and whistling would bring in dozens of birds so that she (and I) could get a better look at them. (Though, I still wonder if she knew what she was saying to those birds.)

Luckily, you are part of the digital age and don't have to develop the talent of my old lady friend by spending hours practicing different bird calls until they start responding. Instead, you can use an app on your smart phone or tablet to call in birds.

Bird identification apps are similar to traditional field guides but better. They can help you identify a bird by limiting the list to those birds that are in your state, those of a certain color, and even those of a certain size. Once you have narrowed your choices down to one or two species, you can then listen to the calls of those species to see if their calls are the same as the calls that are coming out of the bird that is perched in front of you. If you are lucky, you may even see that while one of the calls has no affect on the bird, the other one sends him into a tizzy. This is a pretty good clue that the bird you are trying to identify is the species that you just played.

While using apps to call in birds is fun, you should also be respectful when using them. Remember what birds calls are for? (Hint: Maintaining territory and attracting mates.) Just think about what you would feel like if you were on a date with your honey and some huge bird came to your table at the pizzeria and started playing recordings of some actor saying, "Hey beautiful, dump this bozo, why don't you come over to my table and I'll show you a good time?" My guess is that you that you would get pretty mad.

This is, in fact, what happens when a male bird hears another male in his territory. He gets upset, aggressive, loses his concentration and tries to chase away his competitor. (Think about it: Why do those birds start showing up when you start playing their calls?)

For this reason, birders have a code of ethics that they follow when they use apps to call in birds. First, good birders never try to call in endangered, threatened or rare birds. They don't want to disturb the breeding of these individuals. Second, they don't play the calls more than twice and they only stay in an area for five minutes. It does no good to harass a poor male bird that is only trying to do the best that he can to maintain his territory. Finally, they avoid using apps to call in birds where lots of other birders may be looking for birds. This is so the birds aren't inundated by calls from lazy birders who won't take the time or expend the energy to find birds in a gentler way.

What's the upshot of all this? Apps are great for identifying birds. They are especially useful for letting you hear different birdcalls and helping you sort through the cacophony of calls that you hear in breeding season. They may also be useful for helping you find secretive birds by calling them in. However, be considerate of those birds. Think about how you would feel if someone barged in on a date with your honey and started playing recordings of you.

Rob Blair
University of Minnesota
Note: One great app to start using is National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America Lite. It is a free, but limited version. It has almost every bird that you will see in your backyard in it as well as all of their calls.

D2D conference call summary: July 23, 2013

Our third conference call of the season brought up innovative ways to keep youth motivated. Deb Marcinski shared that she entices her group of boys to keep doing their best on their research by setting goals and then doing reward activities. One activity her boys were very interested in doing was to take a "creek walk". This involved wearing waders and moving through the creek to find interesting birds and other organisms. The goal of finishing work for a reward activity motivated the group to finish their research project ahead of schedule! What are ways that you motivate your group to do their best?

The discussion then led to the topic of mildly dangerous animals and plants that the youth may come across. One of the youth handled an IO moth caterpillar and got a small rash. It wasn't a big deal, but was surprising and a little uncomfortable. A quick online search suggested using scotch tape to remove the IO caterpillar spines from the skin and an ice pack to reduce swelling. Coming across these organisms provides a teachable moment about defense and survival strategies.

The next conference call is scheduled for Tues., Aug. 6 at 6:30 p.m. central time. We hope everyone is able to join the phone call for any amount of time on the 6th. Your ideas are important and valuable! Please share! The conference call number is (424) 203-8400 and the passcode is 645698#.

Lis Young-Isebrand

Driven to Discover project team member

Remember to take pictures...and send them to us

We love seeing pictures of your research team in action! We especially want to see candid moments, where team members are engaged in interaction or tasks at hand. They might be seemingly unaware of the camera or perhaps glancing at it, but most importantly they're captured "in the moment," authentic -- not posed. Also, think about lighting when you're snapping away. Put the sun at the photographer's back and try to avoid deep shadows on the subject matter. These photos are fun to see, and also help us when it comes time to develop presentations and reports about the project. E-mail pictures to Grant (

Video clips are useful, too!

We have a supply of small, easy-to-use video cameras for clubs to use. Why not take short videos of your youth scientists describing their study site? Or their citizen science process? Or the "I Wonder" questions they have? Or amazing things they've found? Let Grant ( or Kelly ( know if you'd like one and we'll get it to you! You can return the camera to us with the video files still in it, or download to a computer or jump drive via built-in USB connection on the camera.

Upcoming events

  • Next D2D conference call

    The next conference call is scheduled for Tues., Aug. 6 at 6:30 p.m. central time. We hope everyone is able to join the phone call for any amount of time on the 6th. Your ideas are important and valuable! Please share! The conference call number is (424) 203-8400 and the passcode is 645698#.

  • Mark your calendar for the Insect Fair

    Make sure you have December 6-7 blocked off your calendar for this year's Insect Fair! Fri., Dec. 6 will include dinner and an evening of fun science activities just for D2D clubs, and Sat., Dec. 7 will be the day for the Insect Fair. Be sure to communicate this opportunity to the parents/guardians of youth in your clubs, too. More details will follow, but make sure everyone saves the date!

Curriculum resources

Do you need an extra copy of something from the curriculum? Maybe a digital version of the Mini-inquiry or blank copy of the scavenger hunt? Drop an e-mail to Andrea ( or Lis ( and we can quickly get you what you need.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Help youth scientists reflect on citizen science experiences to ensure they are learning

monarch.pngThe youth scientists in D2D clubs this summer are having great experiences watching birds, searching for monarchs, exploring wetlands, and so much more. These activities are usually fun and inspiring, and with a little facilitation, they can also be powerful learning experiences.

"What?!" you may be thinking. "Of course these are good learning experiences!"

But experiences alone don't automatically lead to learning. It's the reflection on the experience that generates understanding.

If you are familiar with Experiential Learning, you may recall the mantra "Do, Reflect, Apply." These three words are a simple summation of the process of learning from experiences:
  • DO: Have an experience, perform something, try something
  • REFLECT: Talk about the experience with others, describe what happened, analyze the context, actions and outcomes
  • APPLY: Consider how this experience might relate to other experiences in the future, consider what was learned, then apply insights to a new situation.
The D2D curriculum provides a couple resources to foster reflection: The Scientist's Log, the I Wonder board, the Sum It Up page and the "Doing science is like" supplemental activity. Here are a couple more ideas:

  • Rose/Thorn/Bud: At the end of each meeting, conduct a quick round robin discussion in which each youth scientist reports one "Rose" (highlight/what they liked best), one "Thorn" (difficulty/challenge), and one "Bud" (a new idea or skill) from the day.
  • Occasionally use the "Reflect & Rethink" page developed in the first year of the D2D program.
  • If you've done the "What is a scientist?" activity, have the youth do drawings of themselves as scientists...what qualities do they possess that make them scientists?
Here's a reflection idea from D2D club leader Kristi McCullough:

When preparing investigations, hold a "roundtable" in which youth present their research plans to each other. Peers can provide feedback and troubleshoot together. Kristi says this allows youth to sharpen their research skills by analyzing multiple research plans instead of just their own. By doing this throughout the club experience, the youth scientists gain confidence in their science skills and develop ownership in all of the club's projects.

As you hold your club meetings, be sure to allow time for reflection throughout the experience. Ask questions about what the youth say and do during these moments, and listen closely to their answers. As that reflection time helps youth scientists make sense of and learn from the fun and interesting experiences they are having, it will be time well spent!

Andrea Lorek Strauss

Extension educator, Environmental science education
University of Minnesota Extension, Rochester, Minnesota
  1. Deidrick, J., Doering, S., Geiser, D., Kanengieter, H., Piehl, B., Stevenson, A. (2005). Questions for Guiding Experiential Learning: A field guide for adult volunteers, mentors, coaches, fair judges, etc. St. Paul: University of Minnesota Extension.
  2. Knapp, C. (1993). Lasting Lessons: A teacher's guide to reflecting on experience. Charleston, WV: Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.

D2D conference call summary

Our second conference call of the season brought about a lively discussion of how things are going among clubs. One group is doing some dip-netting and some fishing, as voted on by the group. This is a bird group that can't resist checking the milkweed plants for monarchs! They're also hoping to do some wildlife tracking, too. However, these activities don't happen until the group has completed the data collection for their citizen science project. It sounds like a great way to keep everyone motivated and on task!

Another adult leader has found some really great resources on the University of Wisconsin Extension website with information about wetland monitoring. Here is the link if anyone is interested: Big Belching Bog, a children's book by Phyllis Root, was another resource mentioned. The adult leader used this book as a "warm-up" but it generated 30 minutes of discussion. Fortunately there was time for this unexpected discussion because this group meets from 9:00-2:00. She scheduled fewer, but longer meetings as compared to last year, and has found it to be effective. There's less rushing around and more time for observing, exploring, and discussion. Each group in this project is unique, and it isn't always possible, but it seems like longer meetings make for a more relaxing experience for both the youth and the adult leader.

The next conference call will take place on Tues., July 23 at 9:30 a.m. central time. We would love to hear how things are going in your club, and share ideas or brainstorm if you're having any issues or concerns. The call in number is 1-424-203-8400 and the passcode is 645698#.

Grant Bowers

Driven to Discover project team member

Upcoming events

  • Driven to Discover adult leader/project team conference call

    Our next Driven to Discover conference call will take place on Tues., July 23 at 9:30 a.m. central time. Join the call by dialing 1-424-203-8400 and entering the passcode 645698#. This is a place to get questions answered, share ideas, and make connections with other adult leaders. The entire summer schedule of conference calls is listed on the last page of your binder.

  • Mark your calendar for the Insect Fair

    Make sure you have December 6-7 blocked off your calendar for this year's Insect Fair! Fri., Dec. 6 will include dinner and an evening of fun science activities just for D2D clubs, and Sat., Dec. 7 will be the day for the Insect Fair. Be sure to communicate this opportunity to the parents/guardians of youth in your clubs, too. More details will follow, but make sure everyone saves the date!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Flies, Wasps, Monarchs and citizen scientists

tachinid-fly-larva150.jpgUnderstanding relationships between parasites and their hosts is an important area of ecological research. Parasitoids are an especially interesting kind of parasite, but hard to study. That's where citizen scientists come in!

Parasitoids are insects that live in or on the body of a single host individual, eventually killing it. They live in their host as larvae and sometimes pupae, but the adult parasitoids are almost always free-living. So, for example, a parasitoid fly lays eggs on a caterpillar, the fly egg hatches into a larva that burrows into the caterpillar, and the fly larva lives and grows inside the caterpillar. When the fly larva is done growing it burrows out of the caterpillar, pupates, and becomes an adult. The host caterpillar dies just before the fly larva burrows out of it because the fly has eaten so much of its body.

Two things make parasitoids hard to study. First, because the adults don't live in their hosts, entomologists often catch the adults and have no idea what their host species are. Second, in order to figure out host/parasitoid interactions, we need to catch the susceptible host stages in the wild where they've been exposed to potential parasitoids, bring them inside, raise them on their proper host plants, and see what comes out of them. That's a lot of work.

Over the past 13 years, MLMP volunteerstachinid-fly-adult200.jpg have collected over 10,000 monarch caterpillars to help us learn more about monarch parasitoids. We've learned about when monarchs are most vulnerable to parasitoids, and that one particular parasitoid fly, called Lespesia archippivora (it doesn't even have a common name!) is the most important monarch parasitoid all over the U.S. We've also learned that a tiny wasp, called Pteromalus puparum (it doesn't have a common name either) attacks monarch pupae. Before citizen scientists did all of this work, we didn't know much at all about monarch parasitoids.

Why is this important? Natural enemies--like predators, parasites, and parasitoids--are responsible for most of the mortality suffered by insects. If we understand these natural enemies better, we can better understand how to protect insects, like monarchs, from human-caused mortality.

Wanted dead or alive: Monarch parasitoids

Collect 4th and 5th instar monarchs from your MLMP site or any stage of monarchs from other sites, and record the stage at which you collected them and whether the monarchs produce parasitoids (wasps or flies, and how many wasps or flies), adult monarchs (males or females), or die of some unknown cause. Enter your data under activity 3 at Even better, package any parasitoids you get, and send them to the University of Minnesota for identification. For more detail, see the MLMP activity 3 data sheet.
Karen Oberhauser
University of Minnesota Monarch Lab
  1. A tachinid fly larva (or maggot) emerging from a monarch pupa. Photo by MLMP volunteer Stephanie Baker.
  2. A tachinid fly adult. Monarch Lab photo.

No Monarchs?

no-monarchs200.jpgMLMP volunteers all over the U.S. and Canada are seeing very few, if any, monarch adults, eggs, or caterpillars this summer. We knew that the numbers would be low because the overwintering population last winter was so small, but it's very discouraging to monitor when you aren't finding monarchs.

We hope that you're still seeing interesting things in your milkweed patches, and that you realize how valuable your data are. We need to document this very small population so that we can understand how monarchs rebuild their numbers, and what we can do to support them. Please be sure to report your data!
Karen Oberhauser
University of Minnesota Monarch Lab

Photo: In a good monarch year, you'll see many fifth instar monarchs feeding in your milkweed patch. Photo by MLMP volunteer Denny Brooks.

Working with youth as learning partners: Advice from adult leaders

Adult leaders' ideas for building D2D Citizen Science teams

The Driven to Discover Citizen Science adult leader role offers many opportunities to work with young people - as scientists, as researchers, and as team members. "Soft skills" of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking/problem solving are AS important as the more concrete skills connected to data collection and conducting investigations.

Adult leaders play an important role in ensuring that young people form a sense of belonging to the team, feel supported, collaborate with others, and engage in authentic inquiry. Adult leaders identified strategies for strengthening the "team" and building toward engagement in authentic inquiry during the June 2013 adult leader training. Take a look at their recommendations.....

Strengthening team Interactions
  • Play off individuals' strengths - boosts self-confidence and participation within the group.
  • Each day start with a short activity/mixer.
  • My youth come in "pairs" - Encourage them to interact outside of their "pair".
  • Learning science skills is a collaborative process as a group.
  • Showing community what is done.
  • Adult leaders are part of the group and should contribute -" I wonder" too!
  • Call on unique expertise (youth teach, catch up absent partners).
  • Curriculum supports planned opportunities for youth to do small group activities.
  • Share research ideas with each other and debate the sides of each to come up with a solid project.
  • Creating a team name, mascot, identifier (i.e. Bandannas).
  • Youth are encouraged to share their background knowledge, what they bring to the program.
  • Insisting kids mix with each other, and supporting them in doing so, i.e. with activities.
  • Set kids up in situations where they need support from the others and can provide support to each other. For example, cooperative data collection.
  • Visualize/role-play good relationships and model them.

Strengthening engagement of youth
  • Plan small group activities.
  • Get families involved.
  • Ask youth to reflect on their satisfaction with what they accomplish.
  • Deliberately promote "belonging" - watch for cliques/exclusion.
  • List of expectations from kids.
  • Teamwork.
  • Use the "I wonder" questions from kids to identify testable questions.
  • Reflection and rethink part of the inquiry process is all about engagement.
  • Reflection is part of the curriculum.
  • Need some "down time" to allow conversation about life outside D2D.
  • Let youth decide on the research project, based on their interests.
  • Project your own interest onto the students - ask them questions; ask them your own questions before they come up with their own.
  • Create agreed on goals and boundaries.
  • Round table, round table, round table (use a conference style, table discussion with presentations of questions, hypotheses, plans to build engagement).
Pam Larson Nippolt
Driven to Discover project team member

First D2D conference call

Our first conference call of the season took place on Tues., June 25. The theme of the call was discussing how to start your group off on the right track. There was one adult leader on the call who mentioned the ice cream social they had as a fun way to start their club and get all of the paperwork completed. She's also working on bringing in a wildlife rehabilitator to meet with youth, and set up a bird banding opportunity as a way to incorporate local scientists into the group.

There was only one adult leader on the call, but the next one (Tues., July 9) is happening in the evening at 6:30 p.m. central time, so hopefully more of you will be able to attend and share how your clubs are going. The theme for that phone call will be "How are you training youth on citizen science protocols?" (Or, how are you ensuring data quality?) The call-in number is 424-203-8400 and the pass code is 645698#. The schedule for this summer's conference calls can be found on page 135 (monarch curriculum) and page 111 (bird curriculum).

Grant Bowers

Driven to Discover project team member

Research team updates

This space is FOR YOU! We will publish exciting news from your research team here. Send any stories or pictures you'd like published to Grant at

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