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Carroll students discover nature on high-tech hike

Biologist Sam Droege, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, speaks to Charles Carroll Middle School students. (Timothy Sandoval/THE GAZETTE)

Ala Hussen, 12, used her iPad recently to snap a photo of leaves from a red oak tree. The Charles Carroll Middle School seventh-grader and about a dozen fellow students identified plant and animal species in West Field Park in New Carrollton, near the school.

The children were involved in BioBlitz, a program in which students, with the help of scientists, document plant and animal life using iPads.

Ala said she learned that white oak leaf lobes are circular, and red oak leaf lobes are pointed.

The National Geographic Society, which holds similar events each year in national parks throughout the country, filmed the Carroll students to create materials for teachers across the United States, said Sean O’Connor, program manager of educational mapping for National Geographic.

To help students, Joy Long, a seventh-grade science teacher at Carroll, took off her shoes, rolled up her pants and searched through a stream for wildlife.

“They are not used to playing in a stream or being in the foliage,” Long said. “I thought it would be a nice opportunity for them to document what is going on out here.”

Ala said she took photos of many leaves and was going to find out their species by using a free mobile application. She also logged on a paper worksheet other species that she and other students could identify by sight.

“I think it’s fun, because it is my first time doing it,” she said. “I am learning new things and finding out more about the leaves.”

O’Connor said National Geographic hopes to publish the footage online this summer, along with other materials needed by teachers to hold a local BioBlitz. Internet seminars for teachers might even be produced.

The middle school was chosen for the event because it is one of four schools in Prince George’s County where each student has been issued an iPad for classroom use, said Kristin Townsend, project manager of the Innovative Learning Schools program for the Verizon Foundation, a co-sponsor of the event. In addition, she said, the staff members at the school have a good vision for how to use iPads in the classroom.

The Innovative Learning Schools program, which includes Carroll and 12 other schools across the nation, tries to improve school achievement and student interest in science, technology, engineering and math, she said.

Biologist Sam Droege led students through the park to identify insects. He explained to students a difference between a damselfly and a dragonfly. A damselfly’s wings are above its body when it is resting. A dragonfly has its wings spread out at its sides.

“It’s more about showing what all the different species are [at] a park they probably take for granted and walk by every day,” said Droege, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel. “You don’t have to go to Madagascar or the Bahamas. You can walk out into your back yard and find thousands of species.”


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