Field biology class participating in ‘very relevant’ Adirondacks research
Poland Central School District students in teacher Jessica Meyer’s field biology class pose for a photo outside by the camera trap and snow stake they set up as part of a broader Adirondacks research project. From left: Meyer, 10th-graders Frank Sudakow, Brendan Parow and Isabelle Ross and 12th-graders McKenna Allen and Mica Alsheimer. Absent from photo: 11th-grade field biology student Sydney Tabor.
POLAND – Poland Central School District science teacher Jessica Meyer’s field biology class has joined other school districts and universities for a massive study focusing on wildlife, climate change and land management in the Adirondacks.
The class set up a camera trap and snow stake outside at school that will be used to monitor animals, temperatures, snowfall and more. Meyer also is setting up two other camera traps in the area that her students will help review.
Meyer said it’s exciting to be able to give her students the experience of contributing to a valuable, regional project.
“They are part of an actual research effort,” Meyer said. “It’s very relevant to what’s going on right now. There’s so much discussion on climate change. This has so much to do with that – it’s an essential piece – and they have a first-hand part in that.”
The research is part of the Adirondack Inventory & Monitoring Network (AIM), which was launched through the Roosevelt Wild Life Station and Adirondack Ecological Center of the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry during summer 2020.
The AIM Network describes itself as a cooperative group of university and secondary school faculty and their students, biological field station staff, non-governmental-organizations and agency professionals “joining together to build and share an unparalled database of wildlife occurrence and weather data for northern New York state, including the Adirondacks, Tug Hill and surrounding areas.”
The Poland field biology class is in its third year. It’s an elective for students in grades 10-12 and takes place every day for the whole school year. The goal is to provide outdoor education through a project-based course, Meyer said.
The class provides extra intrigue for students this school year because they get the opportunity to be outside, take their masks off and do something different, Meyer said.
Six students are taking the field biology class this school year: 10th-graders Brendan Parow, Isabelle Ross and Frank Sudakow; 11th grader Sydney Tabor, and 12th-graders McKenna Allen and Mica Alsheimer.
The students recently completed a tree project that included leaf pressing, bark rubbing, using biological keys to identify trees and recording the distance to water sources. Another example of what the class does is a water quality project that includes examining water from a creek, a well and melted snow.
“Basically any reason I can find to get them outside, recording data, doing tests and doing labs,” Meyer said.
So when Meyer heard about the opportunity to join AIM Network research project, she pursued it right away.
The students said they are enjoying taking field biology and being part of the research project.
“This class is fun,” Ross said.
“It’s cool that we’re doing something good for the environment,” Alsheimer added.
Joining the AIM Network
The AIM Network describes its purpose as being “to fill a critical need for high-quality data to address some of the challenging ecological and management issues of our day – from understanding the impacts of climate change on species distributions and natural communities, to identifying landscape linkages, monitoring wildlife populations and informing public land management.”
Jill Walker, a biology teacher at Northwood High School in Lake Placid got involved, and then suggested the AIM Network reach out to other New York state teachers to collect data and benefit additional students the way the project was helpful for her students, Meyer said.
The AIM Network did expand to involve more high schools, and Meyer pursued the opportunity by gathering more information, applying for the program, talking to school administrators for approval and attending a training in August 2021 at Northwood High School.
“I learned a lot actually,” Meyer said.
Poland is now one of 12 school districts participating in the project and is the southernmost school involved in the study, Meyer said.
Grant funding for the project covered the cost of all of the equipment the Poland field biology class is using, Meyer said.
‘Give it true meaning’
The field biology class placed its camera trap just off of school property on the neighboring Burritt property, with permission. The setup can’t be in underbrush, and it must be in flatland of about 15 feet or more.
Meyer is placing another camera trap on Town of Ohio Highway Department property and on private property in the town of Morehouse, where her parents have a camp.
The camera traps have cameras with SD cards in them, and photos are automatically taken in response to motion. The separate-standing snow stake has measurements on it and includes two items to attract animals: a turkey feather to draw the attention of animals visually and a vile containing a combination of skunk extract and Vaseline to lure animals through scent.
Once per month, the field biology class will switch out the SD card. Meyer will review the photos first, and then the students will go through the photos to identify animals captured in the photos. Students will use the Zooniverse online platform to help them compare characteristics and identify animals, Meyer said.
The information about the animals will then be shared with the AIM Network. The temperature information will also be recorded, and snowfall will be monitored, and it will all be turned into the broader research project, Meyer said.
“I think anytime you can take an experience and give it true meaning and take it outside of school and show that it has higher purpose – I think that’s one of the best things you can do for your students,” Meyer said.
Poland Central School District science Jessica Meyer checks the camera trap she set up outside with her field biology class as part of a broader Adirondacks research project.
A camera trap set up by Poland Central School District science Jessica Meyer and her field biology class as part of a broader Adirondacks research project.
A snow stake set up by Poland Central School District science Jessica Meyer and her field biology class as part of a broader Adirondacks research project.