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Cambridge Science Initiative Vacation Camp Alewife Trip 05-06
Report by Susan Agger, Coordinator, Maynard Ecology Center

On Thursday, April 21st thirty middle school students from Cambridge visited the Alewife Brook Reservation to study the bird, plant and benthic macro-invertebrates found along the Little River. Students from each elementary school in Cambridge participated in this first-time science camp. The program was a four-day April vacation day camp for students grade 6th-8th interested in science. The camp's curriculum included a biodiversity study comparing three very different habitats. Students toured the Engineering School and laboratory at Tufts University, participated in a Robotics Laboratory, visited the Boston University Marine Science Center located in Nahant, MA and participated in a solar design challenge.

Before taking the students to the Alewife Reservation, Mike Arnott, Appalachian Mountain Club naturalist and board member of FAR, suggested points of public access to the Reservation and its trail conditions. One participating camp teacher had participated in Friends of Alewife Reservation's docent training program by David Brown professional wildlife assessor, two years prior, who distributed valuable maps of the area and resources for planning future excursions with students. For this field trip, teachers used references from Biodiversity Study of Alewife Reservation Area: Species, Habitat and Ecosystems by FAR and the An Alewife Area Ecology Guide by Stewart Sanders. In preparation, students and teachers studied the Alewife Reservation website of FAR to investigate and to compare their data with the biodiversity lists on the site. Information about the FAR Stream Team's assessments helped plan their activities as well.

Before the trip Ellen Mass, president of FAR met me for a prewalk on Department of Conservation and Recreation land, around the silver maple forest area perimeters with varied ecosystems, beginning at the trail head across from the new Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysics building construction and ending in Belmont's urban wild section south of the forest and parallel to Little River. We wanted to give students a new view not usually seen from the south side. Cambridge students can rely on public transportation to Alewife thus accessing the wild from behind Alewife T Station. Permission was procured from the owner of the property for the bus to pull in and drop students on Acorn Park Drive, Discovery Park. Next, the camp teacher for the bird group assessed the area. On both trips we noted numerous animal dens, bird nests and emergent plants. The trail was well marked with blue tape at eye level to aid in navigating the well-maintained trail. We especially liked the variety of habitats found on such a relatively short hike. There were numerous bird boxes along the way to observe as well.

On the day of the trip, students were armed with binoculars, buckets, kick nets and clipboards with data sheets. The students headed off to make observations. As we got to the meadow and gathered students to divide into three groups I noticed four large dog ticks crawling on a student's pant leg. While scanning the others I noticed a number of students had ticks crawling on their legs. Fortunately, the word tick was not used and we calmly reminded students to pull up socks as we brushed off the insects and sprayed their pant legs with spray. We were surprised there were so many not seen on previous walks. The day before our trip outside temperatures reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit. I suspect the sudden heat caused activity in the tick population.

We spent two hours observing birds, sketching plant life and collecting data to take back to the classroom. The macro-invertebrate group collected river muck and water to analyze more closely using microscopes and identification keys. The students collected biodiversity data to be used in a culminating display and presentation attended by parents, the Assistant Superintendent of Cambridge Public Schools, Dr. Carolyn Turk, and a School Committee member, Fred Fantini. Student work was also featured at the CPS Middle School Science Fair at MIT.

Susan Agger
Coordinator, Maynard Ecology Center
Cambridge Public Schools