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Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
 

Benefits of Soil

Soils are living, breathing, changing natural systems that form the basis for all land ecosystems—forests, deserts, wetland, tundra, etc.—and that enter into our daily lives in amazing ways.  This multi-step activity explores what is in our soils. You’ll have a chance to get your hands dirty through environmental awareness.
Randi Miller
9
 

What's a Lichen? How a Smithsonian Scientist Studies a Unique Symbiosis

This collection supports the free Smithsonian Science How webcast, "What's a Lichen? How a Smithsonian Scientist Studies a Unique Symbiosis,"  scheduled to air on November 14, 2019. Manu is a scientist at the Smithsonian who studies lichens, a lichenologist. She collects lichens from all over the world, depositing them into the U.S. National Herbarium, which is located at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Manu identifies the lichens she collects with observations of how the lichen looks, their DNA data and where they were found.

Lichens are a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus. They have been on earth for millions of years, living on rocks, trees, and soil in all different habitats on all seven continents. Even though lichens are all around us, scientists are still learning about what they are, where they live, and how many different species of lichens there are.

Fungus is any group of spore-producing organisms feeding on organic matter, and include molds, yeast, mushrooms, and toadstools. Algae is a simple, non-flowering plant. Algae contain chlorophyll and produce sugar through photosynthesis, like other plants, but do not have true stems, roots, leaves, or vascular tissue like most other plants. Lichenization is a fungal lifestyle, and therefore the name of lichen is the name of the fungus component.

When you look at a lichen, what you’re looking at is the “house” that the fungus and algae grow together. Scientists call this house a “thallus.” When algae and fungus come together to form this house, we see a lichen. This partnership is called a symbiotic relationship, because it helps both the fungus and algae survive. Research has shown that lichens are not a natural biological group, meaning they do not all come from a single common ancestor, in other words, lichens have many origins. Currently there are almost 20,000 species of lichenized fungi known.

In this symbiotic relationship, the fungus and algae benefit from being associated with each other. The fungus provides the house, its shelter (the thallus). This shelter helps the algae survive in habitats where it would otherwise be exposed to the elements and possibly could not survive. The algae provide food for the fungus, in the form of sugar. The sugar is a byproduct of photosynthesis that occurs within the algae.

Lichens are very important for the environment. They are an important food source for many animals, provide nest materials for birds, and provide habitat and material for biomimicry for insects and other organisms.

Lichens are also important for humans by providing natural dyes, perfumes, litmus paper, and even food. Humans even use lichens as bio-indicators, organisms that help humans monitor the health of the environment. Some species of lichens are sensitive to environmental pollution, so their presence or absence can help us understand more about the health of the environment, like air quality. 

Lichens produce over one thousand different chemical compounds, most of them unique to lichens. These compounds include acids and pigments. Some chemicals may even fluoresce under UV light, making them important components for lichen identification.

Lichens have DNA, which is used to identify lichen and compare relationships amongst and within species. DNA analysis has been an important tool for lichenologists in identifying and understanding the biodiversity of lichens.


Sign up for the Smithsonian Science How webcast to introduce your students to Lichenologist Manuela Dal Forno! The program airs at 11am and 2pm on November 14, 2019. Sign up and view the program here: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/...

Maggy Benson
29
 

Smithsonian Science How: Exploring the Coral Reefs of Belize

Teachers: Use this collection of resources to prepare for the Oct. 8, 2019 Smithsonian Science How webcast programs, Tracking the Health of Coral Reefs: Live from Belize. The webcast programs will be broadcast live at 2pm and 3:30pm ET. To sign up and get more information, visit: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education/distance-learning/tracking-health-coral-reefs-live-belize


How to use this collection: Use this collection of resources to learn more about the scientists being featured in the live broadcasts, about the Carrie Bow Cay Field Station in Belize, and to access resources about coral reef habitats and health.  Download and print the pre- and post-webcast worksheet, or paste the questions into your own Google Classroom assignment (word doc). 


Start a conversation: We suggest using these resources to start a conversation with your students about who does science and how they do it. You can extend their understanding of how real science happens in the field by participating in our live webcasts on Oct. 8, 2019. Here are some questions to help facilitate a conversation with your students:

  • Before reviewing resources: What do you think marine scientists study?  Can you think of an example of a marine habitat? How do you think scientists study marine habitats? What kind of tools do you think they can use to study underwater habitats? 
  • After reviewing resources: Do you have new ideas about what a marine scientist is? What are they? What is something you might have in common a marine scientist? What kind of tools do these marine scientists use for their research? What marine habitat are they studying? What's one way you can observe the world around you, like a scientist?





About the Carrie Bow Cay Field Station, Belize, Central America

The Smithsonian Institution has a field station in Belize, which is located on a small island called Carrie Bow Cay. To get there, scientists must take a 15-mile boat ride from the town of Dangriga, Belize. Researchers from all over the world have been conducting research from this tiny field station for the 50 years that Smithsonian has been operating the station.

The Smithsonian’s Carrie Bow Cay Marine Field Station supports research projects of marine scientists year-round. It offers ready access to a variety of habitats, including thousands of small mangrove islands, countless patch coral reefs, vast seagrass meadows, underwater caves, three off-shore atolls, and the Belize mainland. 

Carrie Bow Cay is located 14 miles offshore, located on the barrier reef off the coast of Belize and within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which contains the largest barrier reef if in the Western Hemisphere and second largest in the world, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

This reef system contains many different kinds of coral, which provide homes and food to hundreds of fish species, turtles and countless invertebrates, which are animals without backbones, like snails, squid, sea anemones, sea stars and urchins, and crustaceans like crabs and shrimp.

Coral reefs are important habitats for not just the plants and animals that live there, but for the health of the entire ocean. As our ocean changes, so are coral reefs. 

Scientists use the Carrie Bow Cay marine station to study and monitor these changes. MarineGEO, a global partnership program operated by the Smithsonian Institution, sends scientists to the Carrie Bow Cay marine station every year to monitor these reef systems, along with the other nearby habitats like mangroves and sea grass beds. 


Maggy Benson
15
 

Climate Change and Migration

What will the future reveal about our choices and attitudes toward the natural world? This collection uses the painting 'Mamakadendagwad' by Tom Uttech and two Project Zero routines, ‘Ten Times Two’ and ‘Unveiling Stories,’ to start or continue a dialogue about the impact of humans on the environment. 

“Tom Uttech's visionary paintings emerge from a deep sense of communion with nature. As an accomplished birdwatcher, conservationist, wildlife photographer, and hiker, Uttech (born 1942) has spent his life engaging with the unspoiled wilderness of his native Wisconsin and the neighboring woodlands of northern Minnesota and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Yet while Uttech's experience of the landscape is grounded in firsthand knowledge and close observation, his paintings do not represent specific scenes. Instead, he uses his understanding of the ecosystem's animals, plant life, light, and atmospheres to conjure fantastic reconstructions of the natural world.”. (https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/mamakadendagwad-110761

Climate change is expected to cause larger migrations both within and across borders - displacing individuals from their homes. This movement is the result of many complex factors such as: sea level rise, desertification, extreme weather events, etc. While humans are certainly impacted by climate change, so are other living organisms.  

This collection can be used in several classroom settings: Biology (ecology unit or any units that address human impact on the environment or relationships between living organisms), IBDP Environmental Systems and Societies (many connections with content throughout the course), AP Environmental Science (many connections with content throughout the course), Theory of Knowledge (when exploring the Natural Sciences Area of Knowledge or exploring knowledge claims about evidence), or Geography. 

This collection could be used at the start, middle or end of a unit as there are valuable connections possible at any point; however, I think this would be a fantastic starting image for a unit. In the absence of any context of what is being learned in class, students may come up with a larger variety of observations and perhaps a more emotional connection with the painting.

Annotations attached to the painting provide information on how to guide student exploration with each of the thinking routines. 

Extension: The first additional resource is a map showing the average direction mammals, birds, and amphibians need to move to track hospitable climates as they shift across the landscape. The following three articles are related to the moving map and should be used along with the map. Teachers could start with this moving map before showing the painting depending on their students’ level of interest and knowledge. Another extension could be analyzing data to draw conclusions about how migration changes biodiversity in various ecosystems. The last article from National Geographic explains that “…as the planet warms, species are shifting where, when, and how they thrive. They are moving up slopes and toward the poles. That is already altering what people can eat; sparking new disease risks; upending key industries; and changing how entire cultures use the land and sea”. (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/climate-change-species-migration-disease/) Each of these articles highlight an aspect of the complexity of climate change and its impacts on the environment. 

Emily Veres
10
 

Climate Change and Human Impact on the Environment

What will the future reveal about the choices we are making and our attitudes toward the natural world? How might future generations judge these choices and attitudes? This collection uses the painting ‘Manifest Destiny’ by Alexis Rockman and two Project Zero routines, ‘See/Think/Wonder’ and ‘Unveiling Stories,’ to start or continue a dialogue about the impact of humans on the environment. 

“Alexis Rockman is a contemporary American painter known for his fantastical paintings of dystopian natural environments”. (http://www.artnet.com/artists/alexis-rockman/) He depicts the future where creatures struggle to survive toxic conditions and invasive species. In Rockman’s paintings we see an absence of human beings, only the altered landscapes they have left behind. (https://www.artworksforchange.org/portfolio/alexis-rockman/)

Climate change is expected to cause larger migrations both within and across borders - displacing individuals from their homes. This movement is the result of many complex factors such as: sea level rise, desertification, extreme weather events, etc. There is a direct impact on availability of resources such as food and clean water as well as a crisis of public health. 

This collection can be used in several classroom settings: Biology (ecology unit or any units that address human impact on the environment), IBDP Environmental Systems and Societies (many connections with content throughout the course), AP Environmental Science (many connections with content throughout the course), Theory of Knowledge (when exploring the Natural Sciences Area of Knowledge or exploring knowledge claims about evidence), or Geography.

This collection could be used at the start, middle or end of a unit as there are valuable connections possible at any point. An interesting interdisciplinary exploration that I have seen in the middle school Science setting is for students to visit local waterways affected by human impacts and take samples back to their lab to test for pH, phosphorus, etc. Then, students read about the importance of water ways in the spread of humans in their humanities or language class before writing poetry about the human impact on the environment in their second language class (half of the students took French while the other half took Spanish). 

Manifest Destiny could be integrated at any point during the interdisciplinary unit. For example, in the beginning to encourage questions or determine previous knowledge, the middle to spark curiosity, or at the end after students have more information about human impacts on the environment.

In addition to or in place of visiting a local waterway, a link to an interactive map can be found in the additional resources section of this collection. Students can research what communities will be impacted by rising water levels. A scale bar allows users to shift the water levels and observe changes to the area. A possible extension could be to consider how vulnerable communities tend to be the most impacted by water level rise. Two articles included within the additional resource collection provide perspectives from the United States and Australia.

Annotations attached to the painting provide information on how to guide student exploration with each of the thinking routines. Annotations attached to each website include possible questions to consider when using each additional resource. 

Emily Veres
9
 

Nonrenewable Resource: Coal Mining

This collection can be used to introduce a unit about natural resources and the Industrial Revolution.  Students will have a chance to reflect upon where natural resources come from, the danger of extracting the natural resources, and living conditions of some workers that mined this nonrenewable resources in the past.   #PZPGH

Gretchen Hogue
15
 

The Psychology of Long Term Space Flight Music, Art and Creature Comforts

If you've ever taken a long trip, you know that bringing your favorite things along will help get you through the journey. The same goes for astronauts in space. Music and the arts entertain them and give them a chance to break away from their demanding schedules. In this episode of STEM in 30, we'll dive into how music, art, and creature comforts helps astronauts cope with long-term space travel.

Novermber 1, 2017

STEM in 30 at National Air and Space Museum
8
 

Earth Day: A View from Above

The people of Earth didn't see a photo of our planet until the late 1960s. Photos of Earth changed the way we think about our planet. This fast-paced webcast will look at the beginnings of Earth Day and how a better understanding of our place in the universe has evolved through photographic scientific discoveries.

April 22, 2015

STEM in 30 at National Air and Space Museum
11
 

Living and Working in Space

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go into space? How about living and working in there? In this program we will explore those questions as well as the benefits and challenges of living and working in space.

May 20, 2015

STEM in 30 at National Air and Space Museum
14
 

Lighter, Stronger, Better: Composites

What makes the Boeing 787 Dreamliner so dreamy? Composites. These engineered materials allow aircraft to be lighter and stronger. Explore composites in this fast-paced webcast: learn what they are, how they are made and how they are used in the aerospace industry.

January 28, 2015

STEM in 30 at National Air and Space Museum
12
 

Bird Extinctions in Recent Geologic Time

This Smithsonian Science How learning collection, from Q?rius at the National Museum of Natural History, is part of a distance learning program at http://qrius.si.edu/explore-science/webcast This collection focuses on recent bird extinctions, including the Passenger Pigeon. Targeted at middle schoolers, the collection invites students into an authentic understanding of the evidence for and causes of bird extinctions since humans have been on the scene. Ornithologist Dr. Helen James is featured as an expert explainer. The collection includes an interactive webcast video with discussion questions, cross-cutting activities, an independent project, and other resources for teachers and students.

Key Terms: ornithology, bird conservation, extinction, endangered species, island ecosystems, Holocene period

Key Concepts:

- Human influences on bird populations

- Ecology of birds and vulnerability to extinction

- Impacts of human activities on ecology

- Conservation of endangered bird species

- Technology used by ornithologists

Smithsonian Science How
13
 

Ocean Biodiversity - Discovering Marine Invertebrates

This Smithsonian Science How learning collection, from Q?rius at the National Museum of Natural History, is part of a distance learning program at http://qrius.si.edu/explore-science/webcast This collection focuses on the biodiversity of tiny, deep ocean life. Targeted at middle schoolers, the collection invites students into an authentic understanding of how biologists find, classify, and name microscopic animals that live in the open ocean . Zoologist Dr. Karen Osborn is featured as an expert explainer. The collection includes an interactive webcast video with discussion questions, cross-cutting activities, an independent project, and other resources for teachers and students.

Key Terms:

marine zoology, mid-water, pelagic, invertebrate, biodiversity, DNA barcoding, taxonomy

Key Concepts:

  • Mid-water ecosystem biodiversity
  • Distribution of mid-water animals
  • Ecology and adaptations of ocean invertebrates
  • Ocean biodiversity and its global importance
  • Technology used by marine invertebrate zoologists
Smithsonian Science How
12
 

Benefits of Soil

Soils are living, breathing, changing natural systems that form the basis for all land ecosystems—forests, deserts, wetland, tundra, etc.—and that enter into our daily lives in amazing ways.  This multi-step activity explores what is in our soils. You’ll have a chance to get your hands dirty through environmental awareness.
Cindy Long
9