Dolphin Deaths: A Case Study in Environmental Toxicology

Download the case study science lesson.

This case study examines a variety of biological factors that may have been involved in the 2013 dolphin “unusual mortality event” (UME) on the East Coast of the United States. The story follows a news reporter and four different scientists who are preparing their notes for speaking at a public hearing about the dolphin die-off event. After reading the story, students assume the roles of these scientists and use the jigsaw method to gather, analyze, and share information.  Due to the interdisciplinary nature of environmental toxicology, this case study exposes students to four main topics: ecology of ecosystems, endocrine system/chemical messaging, immune system function, and virus biology. The case also emphasizes the importance of considering an issue from multiple viewpoints since even scientists can sometimes be biased to their field of interest when proposing explanatory hypotheses. This case was originally designed for an undergraduate introductory biology or environmental science course. With some adaptation it may also be suitable for an advanced high school biology class.

Students become ‘citizen scientists,’ track D.C.’s wildlife with cameras

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Jasmyn Hill had been attending the same charter school in Southeast Washington for five years before she ever ventured into the woods that surround the campus.

“I had no idea what was in there,” said the 16-year-old junior with long turquoise nails and waist-length braids. She described herself as “not really the type who goes camping.”

But the city kid joined a “Green Team” at her school, and she now spends afternoons taking walks in the woods to learn about what lives there. She also helps set up cameras to record the wildlife. The experience has kindled an interest in environmental science, she said.

Hill and other students at the SEED Public Charter School are joining a growing army of “citizen scientists” who are gathering data about wildlife for the Smithsonian collection, information and images that can be used for scientific research and conservation efforts.

Test your knowledge: The Secret Life of Electronics

How much do you know about the natural and human resources invested in your favorite electronic device? This learning module, developed by the Sustainable Electronics Initiative, covers the design, manufacturing, consumer use, and disposal/recovery of our electronic gadgets. You can also test your knowledge by taking a quiz.

Captain Planet Foundation Offers Grants for Hands-On Environmental Education Activities

The mission of the Captain Planet Foundation is to promote and support high-quality educational programs that help children and youth understand and appreciate our world through hands-on learning experiences aimed at improving the environment in their schools and communities.

Grants are intended to serve as a means of bringing environment-based education to schools and inspiring youth and communities to participate in community service through environmental stewardship activities. The foundation will fund unique and innovative projects that do not precisely match the grant guidelines but otherwise promote the foundation’s mission to advance hands-on environmental activities.

The foundation makes grants to schools and nonprofit environmental and educational organizations in the United States with annual operating budgets of less than $3 million.

Preferential consideration is given to requests seeking seed funding of $500 or less and to applicants who have secured at least 50 percent matching or in-kind funding for their projects. (Projects with matching funds or in-kind support are given priority because external funding is a good indicator of the potential for long-term sustainability of the activities.) The foundation will on occasion consider grants of up to $2,500.

Apply here.

Making Connections for Citizen Science

Via U.S. EPA

By Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky

Standing on the dais in front of accomplished scientists and professionals, I faced a series of tough questions about my program, but I was accustomed to fielding probing questions from my 12- and 13-year-olds on a regular basis.

Two weeks ago, I presented my project—teaching sixth and seventh graders how to use low-cost environmental sensors—at the Citizen Science Association’s inaugural conference in San Jose, Calif. Citizen science is an emerging field that actively engages community members and formal scientists in data gathering and research. Several EPA colleagues also attended the conference, called CitSci2015.

Last fall, I worked with Citizen Schools (also see Chasing the “Wow” with Citizen Schools and EPA Science) on an after-school class for middle schoolers in northern Durham, N.C., teaching them how we can use low-cost sensors to quantify the environment around us.

Though I was nervous about presenting an education-based project instead of a scientific-based study, I soon realized I had found the right conference. My fellow presenters also shared their educational and student-based citizen science projects. I was able to learn about new ways to engage citizen scientists and foster continued project participation. At the same time, I got to share my experiences and lessons learned about citizen science (and dealing with middle schoolers).

Surprisingly, this was only a single, 75-minute session.

Throughout CitSci2015, attendees shared new and inventive ways to actively involve individuals in quality scientific research. Data quality is always in question with citizen science, and CitSci2015 presented several sessions on how to address this, including talks by fellow EPAers about their Air Sensor Toolbox and the Agency’s vision for citizen science.

Several other talks emphasized the importance of ensuring communities are involved not only in the data collection but in all the steps of the project—from the research question to sharing the results. Chris Filardi, the keynote speaker, underlined this point when kicking off the conference by saying the researcher “should be riding shotgun.”

CitSci2015 created connections and new partnerships between non-profits, academics, state, local and federal governments and private industry. These new connections will help move citizen science and science in general forward by utilizing all available resources, especially communities.

CitSci2015 emphasized that the roots of citizen science have been established through engagements in environmental science, highlighting a continued role for EPA in this growing movement.

About the author: Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky is an Association of School and Programs of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow, hosted by EPA.

Note: For more insights from CitSci2015, check out the conversations on Twitter: #WhyICitSci, and #CitSci2015. The conference agenda and my presentation can be found on the Citizen Science Association website.

New ISTC Publication: Teaching Sustainability with Electronics

Download the document.

Changing perceptions about our place in, and relationship to, the rest of the natural world, is a crucial aspect of fostering sustainable behavior. Worldviews shape decisions. Lack of awareness, confusion, or apathy toward the effects of our actions on the greater system to which we belong, can be seen as the root causes of many of our collective environmental, social, and economic problems — in other words, as threats to sustainability. However, the concept of “sustainability” can seem abstract and complex without context to make it relatable to an individual’s everyday experiences. Electronic devices permeate our society, and serve as a point of interest and familiarity in discussions of sustainability issues. Considering the impacts of the production, use, and disposal of your smartphone, for example, can be more engaging and comprehensible than out-of-context discussions of issues like rainforest destruction, climate change, etc. One of the goals of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is to use examination of the product life cycles of electronic devices to teach concepts of sustainability and systems thinking.