Teacher Turtles (http://www.teacherturtles.com) is a project that I have been building since 2013, when I first received a small grant from the Princeton Education Foundation to conduct genetic research on a population of native Eastern box turtles (plus a few non-natives) that had been living for at least 35 years in an enclosed courtyard at Riverside Elementary School, where I began working in 2011. Since I had been teaching in the Princeton Public School District previously at another location for 10 years, and I was continually eager to learn more about the turtle population, I leaped at the chance to start teaching science at Riverside as soon as a position opened. Questions always surrounded the turtles every time I took students to the courtyard, especially how many turtles were out there and which turtles were the parents of babies we’d occasionally find in the leaf litter or out in the sun. For the past two years, with support from Zemer Gitai and Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University, as well as Kathrin Fröhlich, who is now at Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich, as well as the enthusiastic participation of my students, we have worked out the genetics and heredity of nearly 40 box turtles so far, and this year we should cross the 50-turtle mark. The data we have generated will be organized into a series of lessons that will be aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, and will serve as a vehicle for collaboration with researchers, schools, and environmental educators in North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, Massachusetts, Panama, South Africa, and Mexico. Turtles have much to teach everyone about population dynamics, molecular biology, conservation, and their long life spans force us to think about long-term sustainability. They’re also really cute, and with a recent grant awarded from the Captain Planet Foundation, we will be building a great project during the upcoming school year. To learn more, just click on the image at left.
Plants and Students (http://www.plantsandstudents.com) is a project that has started with generous support from the American Society of Plant Biologists, and it will be implemented in several schools in both the Princeton and Trenton areas over the 2016-2017 academic year. Our year will begin with investigations of carnivorous and native plants, move into tropical plants and their communities as winter sets in, and shift into the realm of DNA and genetic engineering by spring. I am really looking forward to reporting on all that we accomplish, so please stay tuned by clicking on the picture at right. Much more than just the “green background” where animals happen to live, plants are dynamic contributors to ecosystems around the globe, and let’s face it–without their ability to manufacture complex molecules with the sun’s energy (glucose, proteins, etc.), plus the oxygen that they produce, there is no way that humans (or any other animals) could possibly survive without them!