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Service Learning Project (SLP)


This component of my citizen science research is considered "active" because it seeks to actively engage K-12 students in field and classroom learning related to science education. Service Learning Projects (SLPs) have recently emerged as valuable tools in allowing students to learn while contributing meaningfully to real-world scientific investigations. This may also be a mutually beneficial means of advancing herpetological citizen science in Alaska!

This idea emerged as a result of attending a Statewide Literarcy Conference in Juneau in 2012 where middle school students reported on their experiences in an SLP that was developed in coordination with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). Students in this program accompanied biologists to track, tranquilize, and collar black bears in the Juneau area. The students were trained to download the collar GPS data and to project these on mapping software. Eventually the students analyzed the data and determined that local bears were entering the city limits most frequently on trash day!

The amphibian-oriented SLP has been developed as part of a long-term partership between myself, AHS, the University of Alaska Museum and the SYSTEMS (Say Yes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in Schools) Program. This component of my research is still in its infancy and its inclusion in my dissertation is highly dependent on pending grant applications. If awarded funding, I will narrow the scope of the SLP to a single middle-school classroom in Wrangell for the purposes of my own herpetological incestigations. Currently, the broader program has involved schools in five rural communities though their partication has been limited due to a lack of funding to date. The broader project components desrcibed bedlow have not been fully implemented.  

 If funding materializes for this component of my research, I will partner with a Wrangell Middle School classroom to establish the SLP. I will travel to Wrangell several times to offer guest lectures and field outings for the students. In turn, students will participate in collecting amphibian voucher photographs throughout the Stikine region. They will also participate in long-term monitoring of amphibian populations at the nearby Muskeg Meadows Golf Course - yet another partner in these investigations. In addition to learning about amphibians in the context of biology, students will also have the opportunity to explore amphibians in local culture.

For more information on the original and broader project plans, see below. Check this page regularly for updates on the Wrangell specific SLP too!

Broader Project Background & Implementation

The subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have recently emerged as critical core curriculum areas for K12 education in Alaska. Though increased emphasis has been placed on these disciplines, few attempts have been made at interdisciplinary instruction that includes exposure to real world research. Our project successfully integrates these concepts through a hands-on citizen science Service Learning Project (SLP) that builds partnerships between institutional research programs and rural K12 schools in the state. The SLP addresses each stage of the scientific method and allows students to become actively engaged in the pursuit of novel scientific data that is considered crucial to resource managers in Alaska.This SLP is being offered in five rural southeastern Alaska partner communities including Craig, Hydaburg, Klawock, Metlakatla and Wrangell. Public schools in each of these communities are participants in our partner program SYSTEMS (Say Yes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Schools) which is funded under an Alaska Native Education Program (ANEP) grant and sponsored by two federally recognized tribes –the Ketchikan Indian Community and the Wrangell Cooperative Association – as well as the Annette Island Indian Reserve. The SYSTEMS program provided preliminary funding for initial site visits and framework development. 

To mimic standard research processes, this SLP is oriented within the sub-discipline of herpetology. Though tailored to the intended amphibian research topic, the intent is to provide students with tools and knowledge that can be applied across natural and social science disciplines. Amphibians are an appropriate taxa for this SLP because 1) little is known about their diversity, distribution, abundance, health and population dynamics in the state 2) they have been identified by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as species of special concern, 3) they are relatively abundant, easily identified and readily accessible throughout the study area and 4) they provide a safe and manageable research focus for students. Additionally, amphibians are considered excellent indicators of global change and environmental health, particularly at the peripheries of their ranges (Alaska comprises the northern range extent for all six of its native amphibians), and baseline population information can illuminate valuable data for researchers and managers. Furthermore, amphibians are considered culturally important to the predominant Alaska Native cultures within our partner communities and this permits the SLP to explore human-amphibian relationships, social-science tools, and ethnoecological concepts in the classroom.

The SLP provides students with the opportunity to explore real-world research while contributing valuable information as young citizen scientists. They will be exposed to each stage of the scientific method by exploring, analyzing and disseminating local research topics within the parameters of amphibian biology and ethnoecology. Several tools will be made available for each school including amphibian research “kits” (each containing field guides, thermometers, cameras, audio recorders, maps and other field supplies) and access to an interactive website (including picture/video/text blogs, curriculum materials, quizzes and regularly scheduled chats with scientists). Each participating student will receive a membership in the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR) and receive both the Journal of Herpetology and the Herpetological Review.

In the pursuit of natural science data students will utilize free smartphone software called EpiCollect. This is a program that allows photographic vouchers to be submitted with associated form data from phones to a central database. Teachers can then access this database to view and manipulate the resultant data as a spreadsheet or as point localities in Google Maps and Google Earth. Students without smartphones can also submit observations using our website form. These photographic vouchers will be verified by UAF personnel and accessed to a long-term observational database within the Museum of the North. Vouchers will remain linked to their citizen scientist contributors and the museum will acknowledge these contributions!

Equal emphasis will be placed on social science tools and pursuits as related to SLP goals. Students will conduct family and community interviews to explore Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK), Indigenous Knowledge (IK), human-amphibian interactions, and the cultural role of amphibians in Alaska. They will also submit photograph and video blogs related to amphibians in local culture. When possible, local indigenous culture bearers will be asked to speak about the role of amphibians in culture, both historically and contemporarily. Knowledge obtained using these methods will be integrated with the acquired natural science data for analysis and dissemination.

Students will disseminate the acquired information in several ways. Final reports will be submitted to both the teacher and the Alaska Herpetological Society. These reports will be made available on the website as will associated presentation video blogs. The resultant datasets will be provided to the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the U.S Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Students will be encouraged to coauthor papers with UAF personnel in SSAR publications. Schools may opt to continue the program in subsequent academic years and to retain the provided kits and materials. When a school chooses to end participation in the DLP, kits and program materials will be transferred to new partner communities.

Given that baseline information on amphibian populations is largely absent in Alaska, we expect that this SLP will provide a wealth of critical voucher and local knowledge information for these species that is novel to science. The initiative provides extensive outreach, educational and citizen science opportunities to five rural villages that serve substantial Alaska Native student populations. It integrates local and indigenous knowledge with standard natural science data in the pursuit of enhanced species information for researchers and managers in Alaska. Additionally, the SLP establishes a long-term partnership between rural communities, Alaska Native tribal governments, wildlife management agencies, scientific organizations, museums, and the University of Alaska system. 


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