by Pat McShea, Program Officer: Education, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
This spring’s Creek Connections Student Research Symposium at Allegheny College was a good showcase for Learning to See, Seeing to Learn. The April 5 event drew students from more than twenty high schools and middle schools in western Pennsylvania and western New York to the Campus Center building of the Meadville college for a five-hour program of research presentations, interactive displays, focus group activities, and an awards ceremony. (See: https://sites.allegheny.edu/creekconnections/ )
As an educator representing Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I spent the day promoting the macroinvertebrates website at a table that was part of a larger resource fair in the Campus Center lobby. The table displayed two iPads for visitors to explore the site, a set of macros embedded in Lucite cubes, a traditional Riker mount of pond macros, a field microscope, and a stack of promotional postcards.
During the course of the symposium I spoke with, and handed-out postcards to approximately 100 people, a mix of middle school and high school students presenting their projects, the teachers of those students, Allegheny College students and faculty, and representatives of other organizations participating in the symposium, including the University of Pittsburgh’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology, French Creek Valley Conservancy, PA Lake Management Society, PA Bureau of Forestry (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources), and the Crawford County Conservation District.
Some table visitors were particularly impressed by set-ups on the paired iPads -- one screen fully zoomed-in on the abstract art-like image on the “setal fan on a proleg” of a net-spinning caddisfly, the other featuring a whole-body image of the tiny beast.
by Jamie Dorst, REU, CMU Human-Computer Interaction Institute
Recently, I've been working on more order level sheets since the Trichoptera order level sheet was such a hit at the November Stroud training. I created two more: one for Plecoptera and one for Ephemeroptera. It was a fun challenge trying to create these layouts, since each order varied in terms of number and size of specimens and amount of copy text. I also revised the initial version of the Trichoptera sheet, and put the insects on a gray background so they look better. Here are the latest versions! They'll be available for download soon on the Resources page.
by Helen Schlimm, Community Science Specialist, Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM)
Macroinvertebrate samples are a great learning tool for all ages!
Recently, the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM) at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, used CMU’s lucite macro samples and the macroinvertebrates.org website for two awesome educational experiences. ALLARM taught a short course on PA Streams at a local library with the Institute for Lifelong Learning program. The macro samples were the highlight of the final class (stream health 101), where participants identified the bugs under a microscope and used the site on the screen to see high quality pictures and make better determinations. People were amazed to see the diversity of bugs that could be found in their streams!
The macro samples were a big hit at our second event, the finale of the Conodoguinet Creek Snapshot monitoring series. Volunteers throughout the Conodoguinet watershed in Cumberland County sampled water quality and came to ALLARM’s space to test their water and engage in hands-on watershed education activities. The macroinvertebrates and microscopes featured prominently, and participants of all ages enjoyed identifying the macros and learning about the role they play in watershed health. The samples and the website are fantastic tools for community engagement and education, and everyone had lots of fun exploring them as well!
byAndrea Kautz and Dan Kozel, Powdermill Nature Reserve
Dan Kozel of Powdermill Nature Reserve has worked over many months to perfect a procedure to cast macroinvertebrates in acrylic blocks for use in the classroom. These blocks are a great way to transport and distribute normally very fragile aquatic insect specimens without destroying them. It also helps learners see the real-life scale of these insects. They can be put under microscopes to be viewed from all angles and are a great tool to use in training exercises.
Dan was able, through lots of experimentation, to figure out a method for casting these delicate insects in acrylic while avoiding the common issues like bubbles and shriveling. You can download his instructions (PDF) for creating them here:
Now we have several complete training sets of macros that can be used with a wide variety of audiences in conjunction with macroinvertebrates.org. A big thanks to Dan for all of his hard work!
by Chelsea Cui, CMU undergraduate researcher
Hi, I'm Chelsea, a third-year undergraduate in Information Systems with a double major in Statistics and Machine Learning. I started on the macroinvertebrates.org project last fall because I was interested in building platform that assists people with online learning. Since I started, I have worked on a few different parts of the project, including log file analysis and development of the mobile app. Right now, I'm working with Jamie to build an interactive Order level key.
We want something to help new users who don't know the insects very well. I took the initial layout by Jamie and made clickable versions. With HTML and CSS, I added hyperlink sections to the couplets in the key, and also implemented pop-up windows on each of them to show the corresponding diagnostic characters. This version is just a quick prototype. I am doing usability tests right now to get feedback before making the final design.
In the first round of tests, I found out that our current key design doesn’t look interactive enough to many users. Users may not think the key is clickable because the buttons are kind of simple and plain. For the next step, I’m planning to focus on the interactive design and create several different versions of the key to do more usability tests.
The initial version of this key is live on the new site now. Check it out here! (http://macroinvertebrates.org/key).
by Jessica Roberts, Postdoctoral Researcher, CMU HCII
At long last, we are pleased to announce the soft launch of macroinvertebrates.org! The alpha site we have been developing for the past two years is finally ready. In addition to the expansion of the collection to 150 insects in nine orders, we have added a ton of exciting features, including an interactive order level key, a searchable glossary, annotated illustrations, and photos and videos of adult and larval specimens. Check out this draft of our site demo video showing off all the new features:
We are still polishing a few features (and the video), but we are excited to be on the home stretch of this exciting project!
by Jamie Dorst, REU, Carnegie Mellon
Hi! My name is Jamie Dorst, and I’m a new Research Assistant on the Learning to See, Seeing to Learn project. Most of my responsibilities so far have been content related, such as creating an updated landing page, annotating illustrations, and creating an expansive Trichoptera info sheet for the family level training led by Stroud Research Center last November. I worked with Tara to put together a handout for participants showcasing all the caddisflies in our collection. I’ve really enjoyed my time on the team so far!
My latest project has been to create an interactive digital dichotomous key, which has been really interesting. Analog keys are very commonly used, but we felt that a key utilizing our resources could be extremely useful. We wanted to make a key that was easy to navigate, and incorporated our images and information. I started by laying a key out based on the Stroud key, placed our images into it, and then created clickable pop ups that people can use to help move through the key. With this tool, people can identify their insects, and simultaneously learn about the characteristics they have. It’s been super interesting for me to work on this and learn about how to make it really well designed. The next step is to create an interaction for the actual website, which I’ll be working on soon.
In the meantime, here's a preview of drafts of a few of the images!
Technical Report Released - Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Identification Trainings for Volunteers: Results of a National Materials and Practices Inventory Survey
by Jessica Roberts, postdoctoral researcher, HCII
In the fall of 2016 we launched a survey to citizen science water quality trainers throughout the country. We wanted to get a better sense of the state-of-the-field: What do trainings look like? Who are the trainers, and who are the volunteers? What materials and resources do they use?
The primary goal of this survey was to provide information about potential users and their needs as we began the redesign efforts expanding macroinvertebrates.org to the full 150-specimen collection (to be released early in 2019!). In the process, we gained valuable insight about the large community of educators and organizations engaged in this work, which we have consolidated into a technical report.
This report, published through CMU, presents data on six key areas of focus:
You can access the report through the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science at this link.
Special thanks to all the team members who contributed to this project, particularly our partners at Stroud Water Research Center, former postdoc Lauren Allen, and undergraduate research assistants Grace Guo and Aiqi Cui.
by Tara Muenz, Stroud Water Research Center
Stroud Center Educators presented once again on the alpha site, this time at the 47th North American Association for Environmental Education Annual Conference (NAAEE) in Spokane, Washington. In attendance were over 1,200 educators from across the globe, merging together on the theme of ‘EE a Force for the Future.’
Our reveal of the alpha site first occurred at the ‘Share Fair’ where attendees could interact with our education staff about education programming and learn about tools to promote stewardship and knowledge of fresh water. Attendees were able to cruise through the alpha site at our table and were encouraged to attend our upcoming presentation. We heard many ‘oohs and ahhs’ when seeing the site with encouraging remarks already how this site will enhance their role as educators when connecting students to the world of aquatic macroinvertebrates.
Tara Muenz, Stroud's Assistant Director of Education with support from Steve Kerlin gave a 45-minute presentation and teaser on the alpha site to over 30 conference attendees.
This hands-on presentation demonstrated not only the capabilities of this incredible site, but also engaged the audience in a conversation on tips for training and learning the how to identify macroinvertebrates with audiences coming from diverse backgrounds.
We also revealed forthcoming training support and activities such as the ‘ID FOCUS WORKSHEETS’ which are meant to do just that, FOCUS! Starting with morphology (Tip # 1), we dove deep into the world of Trichoptera (Caddisfly Order) and focused on the Hydropsychidae Family (“water-spirit”) with a simple new activity you can do with students or volunteers and which gets them started in ID with caddisflies. We shared the list of the materials needed:
We are also starting to develop as a set of training supports using site imagery, a tool that we call ‘ID FOCUS SHEETS’ which guide noticing and point to key characters on the morphology of an Order (and Family, in this case).
Attendees also learned of super cool tools to come (i.e. Family-level ID cards and practice tests).
At the end of our presentation we asked for feedback and got many thumbs up! One teacher from South Carolina said ‘This is a game-changer! Combined with live insects, ID cards, and keys, this will revolutionize the way students learn, it’s incredible.’
One attendee who works with mosquitos in Florida was inspired in many ways to use the site when teaching students of all ages about mosquitos and is eager to make some ID sheets on this Family of Culicidae (mosquitos)!
The presentation generated excitement, and educators left feeling more empowered and able to support ID work. They loved the ID Focus sheets, the cards, and the clear guidance and structure to learning and teaching.
What’s next for the Stroud Center team? Time to create more of the Focus sheets, get them into the hands of others to use, and oh right, another presentation! We’ll see you in Montana next week at the 2018 MEA-MFT Educator Conference where we’ll be presenting on another NSF grant focused on the Net-spinning Caddisfly and, you guessed it, showing the new macroinvertebrates.org site!
By Tara Muenz, Stroud Water Research Center
Last winter we found a new use for the amazingly detailed imagery on macroinvertebrates.org. One of our Stroud Center educators and retired science teacher, Vince O’Donnell, realized students could benefit from 3D models of macroinvertebrates as teaching tools. Since none existed, we helped a team of high school engineering and art students create some! Check out our article in County Lines Magazine describing how we used macroinvertebrates.org to point out finer details of the taxa they were creating so the designers knew exactly what the characteristic looked like (e.g. wing pads on a mayfly, antennae structure of a stonefly, how the legs are poised, etc.). It was extremely helpful to be able to zoom into the character of the taxa and show students exactly how they needed to alter their 3D design model.
The project was a great success, and we are continuing to work with students to create more models this year!
An interdisciplinary team