Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Environmental meters for an ecology class in Haiti

Light meters
Each semester I take my Eco-201 students to the waterfall Bassin Zim near Hinche to practice a bioassessment of the watershed.  This year I used several models of environmental meters.  I had been using the Sper Scientific meter that has 4 instruments in one: temperature, % relative humidity (RH), wind, and light.  I first used this meter at the Amazon Academy in the Peruvian rain forest, where light levels do not exceed the maximum reading of 20,000 lux.  However, light levels in Haiti are higher, thus my quest to test other meters. Also the Sper meter has hold and mx/min buttons that put the readings on pause that can only be canceled by pushing certain buttons for 2 seconds. This confounds the students. Thus I purchased 3 different light meters, and 2 different anemometers (wind meter).  Here are the reviews of their use with university students in Haiti, with the color to match to the photo.  From the price you can see it is cheaper to buy light and wind meters separately.  I underlined the features I prefer.

Wind meters

Sper Scientific meter – 4 instruments, max of 20,000 lux is too low, numbers get stuck – have to press proper button 2 sec. to exit mode. Wind, temperature, and rH works fine.  Has case. Need screw driver to access 9v battery. $126.54 on Amazon Dec. 2016. Gray.

UNI-T UT383 light meter – Only light in lux or fc, max 199,999 lux. Easy to turn off hold and max/min. No case, unprotected light probe. Easy access to 3 AAA batteries. $21.99 on Amazon Dec. 2017. Red.

URCERI MT-912 light meter – Temperature and light (lux or fc), max 200,000 lux. Hold min/max 2 sec. to turn off, press hold once to turn off. Back-lit screen (will this use up batteries?). No case, attached cover for light probe! Easy access to 3 AAA batteries. $19.99 on Amazon Dec. 2017. Yellow.

Leaton Lux Meter L830 – Only light in lux or fc, max 200,000 lux. Easy to turn off hold and max/min. No case, cover for light probe. Easy access to 9v battery. Gray.

PEAKMETER MS6252B Digital Anemometer – Also has temperature and RH. Six choices for wind units: knots, m/s, km/h, mil/h, ft/m, ft/s. Backlight option. Comes with case, need screwdriver to access 9v battery. Comes with cable to download to computer. $39.95 on Amazon Dec. 2017! Yellow.

MASTECH MS625B Digital Anemometer – Exactly like PEAKMETER except green. $50.98 on Amazon Dec. 2017. Green.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

BirdSleuth Caribbean for UCC preschool

Last week I led the first BirdSleuth seminar for the preschool teachers at UCC in Caiman.  13 teachers attended, with 2 of their children who were great for demonstrating teaching techniques.  We began with a 40 minute presentation about the importance of birds, showing photos on my ipad of birds found in Haiti.  After lunch of rice and beans with onion sauce, we began the games.  I gave each teacher a habitat and a bingo card, and showed how activities can be scaled from preschool to older kids.  My translator Donacien and I demonstrated the habitat and survivor games, then all joined in and had fun playing them.  I gave the preschool a BirdSleuth manual and set of survivor, scavenger hunt, and bingo cards for their resource room.  The elementary school principle is now asking that I give a workshop for her teachers!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

BirdSleuth Caribbean at Wynne Farm

Recently for the staff of Wynne Farm Ecological Reserve in Kenscoff I had the opportunity to teach a 2 hour seminar on the importance of birds and to Haiti share BirdSleuth Caribbean teaching activities.  I met with the 15 participants while my university ecology students took a tour of the reserve and farm.  Participants included Jane Wynne and her daughter Sarah who run the reserve, staff, student interns, and others who had strong ties to the conservation ethic of the farm.

We began with a discussion about the importance of birds in Haiti, including pest control, pollination, seed dispersal, education, ecotourism, and art (including Haitian John James Audubon).  I then introduced the Cornell Ornithology Lab BirdSleuth educational materials sent to me by Birds Caribbean.  We practiced the Habitat and Survivor gamesof Lessons 4 & 5 and feedback helped me improve my use of them.  I gave Wynne Farm two manuals and two sets of the survivor, scavenger hunt, and bingo games.  They gifted me with Rene Durocher’s beautiful Les Oiseaux d’Haiti book of bird photography.  Thank you Wynne Farm and Birds Caribbean!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

BirdSleuth Caribbean at Bassin Zim

On 8 Dec. 2017 I took my Eco401 class (Biodiversity, juniors) to the waterfall Bassin Zim (near Hinche) so that we could have an ecology program for the children that hang out there. These kids don’t go to school, but instead hang out at the park to earn money helping visitors (see past blogs here).  I take my Eco201 class (freshmen) there to practice bioassessment of the watershed, and wanted to do something different their junior year that would help them learn some teaching techniques, and in turn help the kids at the falls. So we did some BirdSleuth Caribbean activities that we previously practiced in class.

There were 13 university students, plus me and the interpreter, and there were 15 kids (ages 6 to 16?), so after a short introduction about ourselves and the importance of birds, we paired up for the Bird Habitat scavenger hunt.  We then played the bird habitat game in which a ‘bird’ needs to find food, water, shelter and space.  My students and the kids bonded a bit, and stayed together as pairs when we had free time to explore the park.  My students shared their food with the kids.  One of my students found a tiny snake, and did not kill it!  Huge victory for the snakes of Haiti! 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Drinking and wash water survey – Caiman Haiti

On 5 Dec. 2017 I performed a comparison of various water quality test kits on 3 water sources in Caiman Haiti.  The goal was to see which kits are more suitable for teaching, and which are more precise in nitrate measurements.  Water sources were an unprotected well used by village residents for washing and cooking, a university cafeteria outdoor sink used to wash dishes, and a household drinking water dispenser supplied by a reverse osmosis system (treated water) at the university.  The sink water and treated water come from the same well.  In summary, the Lamott and Waterworks kits that use plastic test strips are more convenient and have more precise lower chemical ranges than the kits that use dissolvable pills (LaMotte® Water TesTab® Kits).  Also, the reverse osmosis system appears to reduce nitrates and phosphorus in the water.

Water samples were obtained 6:30 – 6:45am in sterile whirlpacks.  Prior to the chemistry tests, sterile pipettes were used to place 1 ml of each sample on 3M petrifilm to determine presence of fecal coliform.  Before each chemical test, vials were rinsed three times with the sample to be tested.  All tests rely on the user differentiating color shades that represent gradations in the amount of chemical being tests.  The Lamotte Testabs require vials and monitoring the time taken for the color to develop.  Phosphorus tabs take longer to dissolve, while the pH tabs crumbled as I removed them from the packaging.  Also, the ranges of chemical values are crude and too low for my purpose of testing drinking water.  One can only get a range estimate which is a problem when testing a critical chemical such as nitrate (> 10 mg/l nitrate-N in drinking water is hazardous to infants).  Also, the tabs measure nitrate as nitrate-NO3 which must be converted to nitrate-N to compare to USEPA drinking water standards.  There is also the question of what to do with the used solution when one does not have a sink to wash it down.  I have my students pour the solution into a tub which I then dilute and pour among vegetation away from the waterbody we are testing. 

Plastic strip kits used were Lamotte Insta-Test (phosphorus, pH, and nitrate/nitrite), Waterworks (nitrate/nitrite), and SenSafe (chlorine).  These are much simpler, and the only waste is the small plastic strip.  However, the color changes quickly, so one must be ready with the container that has the color shades.  This was a problem when I had only one container but had 5 groups of students test their water at the same time.  I learned this when the phosphorus test continued darkening before I could reach all groups, thus giving values that were too high.  This test requires the 10ml sample tube that is used for the Testab kits.  The plastic strip is folded into the cap of the tube, then the cap placed on the tube, thus inserting the strip into the sample.  After removing the cap and strip, one looks through the tube from the top to compare color, and it was difficult for me to distinguish shades.  Also, nearby color, such as a shirt or notebook, can influence the color seen through the tube.  The Waterworks kit has more precise ranges of 0, 0.5, 2 5, 10, 20, 50 nitrate-N ppm than Lamotte with 0, 5, 10, 25, 50 nitrate-N ppm, so I will save the former when testing wells, and use Lamotte in the classroom.

Lamotte Testab Nitrate-NO3 (cafeteria & well)

WaterWorks nitrate-N

Lamotte pH (treated drinking water)

Lamotte phosphate (cafeteria and well)

Monday, November 6, 2017

BirdSleuth Caribbean Lessons 4 & 5 – Habitat & Survivor

Habitat elements cover, cover, water, space,
and the bird in the pink dress.
I tried out BirdSleuth Lesson 4 Habitat in my Saturday morning UCI kids ecology program (2 hours, 15 kids, age 2 y.o. through 8th grade) and Lesson 5 Bird Survivor in the 7th grade UCC class (1/2 hr, 16 kids), and figured out what worked, and mostly what didn’t work.  In general, the kids in 6th grade and up weren’t so into the games.  And I realized that my translator and I really needed to demonstrate a round of both games with us as the birds.  Both games worked better when kids stay in their seats and the birds are in front.  Difficulties with habitat were that the kids wouldn’t continue to make the motion of their assigned habitat element (food, water, cover, space) throughout the game, and it didn’t work as a chase game as the birds and their habitat friends formed alliances, so there was not much chasing.  At the end I gave them markers and index cards to write the 4 habitat elements and draw pictures.  The older kids helped the younger ones, and they all seemed to enjoy that.

The Survivor game requires the kids to read cards describing the success of birds in 1. finding territory and 2. mates, 3. building nests and 4. sitting on them, 5. finding food, and 6. fledgings leaving the nest.  The birds standing up front take steps either forward or backwards depending on their success with each step.  First, a teacher wasn’t around and kids were trickling in from break, so they weren’t attentive.  Then I discovered my translator can’t read French very well!  So it was difficult directing the kids through the instructions.  Finally I went up front as the bird and asked kids to read their cards to me.  I understand French well enough to figure out whether to step forward or back.  Then finally the session was over.

I revised both games for the Saturday program in the Bohoc village (2 hrs, 25 kids age 2 – 15).  I wrote in Kreyol the 4 habitat elements and 6 survival components on laminated cards.  And as we explained each, kids came up front to hold the cards.  I assigned habitat elements to kids based on the color of their shirts so I could remember who was what (blue = water, etc.).  And my translator and I demonstrated collecting the 4 elements, making a competition of it to see who could gather all 4 first.  Then we had pairs of kids come up front as birds and race to see who could collect the elements.  For the survivor game, I distributed all cards to the kids, and my translator and I stood up front and in turn asked for the cards for each step in order.  Two older girls who could read French read the cards to us and we explained in Kreyol.  Both games worked much better with this group.  Afterwards the kids wrote the components on the index cards and drew pictures of birds.
Bird survivor components

Writing the habitat elements

Saturday, October 21, 2017

BirdSleuth Caribbean Lessons 7 & 8

Birds Caribbean sent me materials written in French to lead a BirdSleuth Caribbean class for teachers in Haiti.  Before having a workshop for teachers, I am trying out the material on kids in area elementary schools.  The first lesson was a 1.5 hr Saturday morning program in two different rural villages with kids aged 2 to 15 years old.  I began with the poster of bird silhouettes to identify birds and discuss different groups. (I didn't follow all the  dialogue of the lesson or take kids out with binoculars).  From the first group I learned that the kids didn't know what a silhouette is (even though they speak French), so explained it to the second group as a shadow, and better explained that we don't need binoculars to identify birds, but can use their shape.  They understood this as the hummingbird has a long beak, the woodpecker is on the side of a tree, etc.  The kids didn't know the wading bird silhouette, and I have never seen any in this area.  We called it the kolye, the name for plover and killdeer. They also mentioned crow several times, but it is not on the poster.  They gave me the Haitian Creole names of the birds.  Then volunteers come up front and faced away from the poster to try to name all 10 types of birds on the poster.

Next we used the bird body part poster of Lesson 8.  Students gave me the Creole names of the parts, then I had volunteers come up front in pairs and the 'scientist' showed us the parts on their 'bird.'  We looked at the bird illustrations in the Haiti bird guide, and I asked the kids questions like what color is the eye stripe, or which bird has a black throat.

We then went into the surrounding and used the beginner side of the scavenger hunt cards (after emphasizing that they only use the dry erase markers on the cards).  They had played this came last year using the English language version and searching for only the illustrated items, so I thought with the French version at least the older kids would look for more items since some are described only with text.  But in both groups all the kids stuck to looking for only the illustrated items.  So when I have lessons with only the older kids I will emphasize the written items.  Stay posted for the results of future lessons.