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Teaching Notes

In this Section

Grade Level

High school students (middle school students if all data provided and only graphing required)

Learning Goals

After completing this unit, users will be able to:

  • Manipulate data in a spreadsheet to produce graphs.
  • Use MS Excel graphs and statistical functions (average, standard deviation) to evaluate changes in biological system responses to climate change
  • Generate and compare multiple sets of time series temperature data (seasonal or annual).
  • Gain familiarity with the lexicon of climate research vocabulary.

Rationale

Climate change is affecting the seasonal timing for many different plants and animals. Gibbs & Breisch (2001) found that the timing of spring emergence and reproductive cycles of several species of frogs in Ithaca, NY have changed with the climate changes that occurred over the 20th century. Amphibians in temperate regions are highly sensitive indicators of biotic response to climate change. Frogs, especially those that breed early in the spring season, are especially sensitive to increases in winter and spring temperatures.

Expecting students to use and interpret phenology data over time as the climate has changed will help them to see for themselves that ecosystems are responding to climate changes.

Key Concepts and Vocabulary

Gametogenesis: The development and maturation of sex cells through meiosis (cell division necessary for sexual reproduction)

Phenology:  The scientific study of periodic biological phenomena, such as flowering, breeding, and migration, in relation to climatic conditions.

Background Information

There is significant evidence that climate change is affecting the seasonal timing for many different plants and animals (Gibbs & Breisch 2001). Many studies have been done in Europe for decades around the calling and first appearance dates of frogs and toads but only one similar study has been conducted in the United States, in Ithaca, NY. Gibbs & Breisch (2001) found that the timing of spring emergence and reproductive cycles of several species of frogs in Ithaca have changed with the climate changes that occurred over the 20th century (red arrow on New York map).

New York State Map

The timing of frog breeding has been studied because amphibians in temperate regions are highly sensitive indicators of biotic response to climate change. The critical eight months of amphibian gametogensis (overwintering, emergence, courtship, and spawning) occurs in the period extending from November through June. Frogs, especially those that breed early in the spring season, are especially sensitive to increases in winter and spring temperatures.

One way to study the timing of frog reproduction is to listen for their mating calls in the spring. Wright (1914) studied frog habitat and reproduction in the Ithaca area and reported emergence dates and mating call timing during the first decade of the 1900’s. Gibbs & Breisch (2001) compared Wright’s early data to similar data compiled in the New York State Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project (NYSA RAP) for 1990–1999. Their comparison found that mating calls are happening earlier in the spring for four of the seven species studied.

Some of the pertinent species for the Ithaca, NY area include:

Frogs from Ithaca, NY

Frogs from Ithaca, NY

Learn More:

  • North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP)
    • Review additional data on frog  locations and numbers
    • Raw data for variables such as air temperatures, species, calling index, snow cover, car count, etc.
    • Species detection and richness maps. 
    • Module extension idea – monitor frogs in your region and report data to the NAAMP
  • USGS Frog Quiz
    • This site provides audio clips for different frogs living in the state chosen by the user
    • An effective tool if planning on going into the field to monitor frogs
  • Frog calling videos (can also google “frog call videos” for more)

Present and Historical Data:

Predictive Tools and Data

  • Northeast Climate Data
    • Historical and predicted values for temperature and many climate indicators
    • Results of Northeast regional climate change models for A1 (worst case) and B1 (GHG mitigation) scenarios available for download into ASCII files (and summarized in the attached MS Excel workbook)

Instructional Strategies

General Approach

This project module uses monthly average temperatures for the Ithaca NY, region and calling dates for several frog species. The students review temperature data to see how the climate in this region has changed over the 20th century, especially during months critical for frog reproduction. They then review changes in calling dates to determine a trend. Depending on the students’ quantitative skills, they can be expected to use some basic MS Excel functions (average, standard deviation, linear regression) and create graphs to illustrate changes.

It may be advantageous to have students work in small groups so that students less familiar with the software used in the module could be teamed with more experienced computer users.

Implementation

Anticipatory Set Students should have some familiarity with general concept of climate change before beginning. This module will help to connect the abstract notion of a change in a few degrees of temperature can have an impact on ecological systems. Review of basic frog phenology and mating calls (see links to excellent videos and audio web resources) so that the students understand critical conditions.

Procedure

  1. Review the information about frog species and the North American Amphibian Monitoring program to understand the breeding behavior and typical dates for a couple of the frog species. (~1 day)
  2. Optional: Have students read the paper by Gibbs & Breisch (2001) to explore what scientists have already done and found. (could also do this after students analysis to compare the students’ findings and interpretation to scientific findings)
  3. Students should follow the Student Instruction and Worksheet document to evaluate temperature and frog calling dates and any correlation between these values (~2 days).
    1. Temperature and frog calling dates are included in the attached MS Excel workbook.  Review these data and generate plots to answer the questions in the student worksheet.
    2. Use the Northeast Climate Data to review predicted temperature data for the Ithaca area for specific months of interest at the end of the 21st century. Note – data from this web site are also included in the attached MS Excel spreadsheet.  You can provide these data through the spreadsheet or expect the students to use the website.  Use of an external website to find information is encouraged, but might take an extra class period.  A tutorial for using the Northeast Climate Data site is available.

Students should submit their MS Excel spreadsheet and completed spreadsheet or write their work as a laboratory report.

Closure Review the students’ findings and the limitations in this type of analysis. Discuss how their results might affect their attitudes towards the reality and consequences of climate change.

Learning Contexts

This class is very appropriate for a biology class, where the emphasis can be on the phenology and changes in ecosystems or in an environmental science classroom where more emphasis can be on the consequences of climate change.

Science Standards

(NYS MST, 1996 (commencement level))

Standard 1: Analysis, Inquiry, and Design

Mathematical Analysis:

  1. Deductive and inductive reasoning are used to reach mathematical conclusions.

Scientific Inquiry:

  1. The central purpose of scientific inquiry is to develop explanations of natural phenomena in a continuing, creative process.
  2. The observations made while testing proposed explanations, when analyzed using conventional and invented methods, provide new insights into phenomena.

Standard 2: Information Systems

  1. Information technology is used to retrieve, process, and communicate information and as a tool to enhance learning.

Standard 3: Mathematics (varies - depends on the rigor of math used by teacher)

  1. Students use mathematical modeling/multiple representation to provide a means of presenting, interpreting, communicating, and connecting mathematical information and relationships.
  2. Students use ideas of uncertainty to illustrate that mathematics involves more than exactness when dealing with everyday situations.
  3. Students use patterns and functions to develop mathematical power, appreciate the true beauty of mathematics, and construct generalizations that describe patterns simply and efficiently.

Standard 4: Science - Living Environment

  1. Individual organisms and species change over time.
  2. The continuity of life is sustained through reproduction and development.
  3. Plants and animals depend on each other and their physical environment.
  4. Human decisions and activities have had a profound impact on the physical and living environment.

Standard 5: Interconnectedness -Common Themes

  1. Models are simplified representations of objects, structures, or systems used in analysis, explanation, interpretation, or design.
  2. The continuity of life is sustained through reproduction and development.
  3. Identifying patterns of change is necessary for making predictions about future behavior and conditions.

Standard 6: Interdisciplinary Problem Solving

  1. The knowledge and skills of mathematics, science, and technology are used together to make informed decisions and solve problems, especially those relating to issues of science/technology/society, consumer decision making, design, and inquiry into phenomena.

Assessment

A standard laboratory report rubric can be used to assess the student reports.

Other Resources

Amphibian data file - Amphibian Data File.xlsx

Student instructions and worksheet

Tutorial – Using the Northeast Climate Data Website to access model prediction of our future climate