01/30/12

Guest post: Teaching Kids about Frogs

We were happy to receive a guest post from Alicia Moore about how to teach children about amphibians. Alicia has always loved to learn and is working toward earning a teaching degree. She is particularly interested in how the advent of the Internet and technology are changing the educational landscape. When she is not exploring the future of education, Alicia enjoys writing about literature, languages, and online resources for teachers.

While it may sound surprising, the greatest threat to any animal on the planet is mankind. Humans are perched solidly at the top of the food chain, and our nation’s youth must understand the incredible responsibility that comes with that power. This responsibility, however, doesn’t end at protecting magnificent animals like tigers and whooping cranes. Even little creatures like amphibians are worthy of our help. Luckily, you can easily teach kids about endangered or threatened frogs and amphibians by talking openly with your students about the threats frogs face and what can be done to help them.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, nearly thirty percent of all the amphibians in the world are facing extinction. Many frogs species live in the United States, and you can easily teach your students about the choices made by man that have resulted in the near destruction of these animals. You can also discuss the fact that the damage has not always been intentional, making it even more important for people to carefully consider the full consequences of their choices on the environment.

One example is the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, which has seen a 90 percent drop in numbers in recent years. Part of the problem has been pesticides that wash in from surrounding farms and private properties. Suggesting that people quit using chemicals on their yards may land you in trouble with parents, but you can safely mention that there are environmentally-friendly options available for lawn care. Another issue harming the Sierra Nevada frog is the introduction of non-native trout to the lakes these frogs once called home. As the trout population has exploded, the frog population has plummeted. This provides your students with a clear example of why critters from one area should not be moved to another.

Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged frog, Courtesy of UC Berkeley, www.crcd.org

Another is the dusky gopher frog, which could once be found along the Gulf Coast from Alabama to Louisiana. Over the years, this frog’s territory range has decreased so much that it is now only found in a few breeding ponds located in southern Mississippi. The biggest challenge faced by these frogs is that they depend on the burrows created by gopher tortoises to survive, but these animals are also an endangered species. Thus, these frogs serve as a prime example of the circle of life, cascading results, and unintended consequences. As one seemingly insignificant animal is driven to extinction, another animal that depended on it will also perish.

Gopher frog, courtesy of Tennessee Watchable Wildlife, tnwatchablewildlife.org

There are also a few success stories among the endangered species of amphibians. The National Wildlife Foundation reports that the Amargosa toad is one such example. The Amargosa toad depends on springs and ponds in the Oasis Valley of Nevada. Most of these highly valued water resources are privately owned, a fact that could severely hamper conservation efforts. However, landowners in the region have willingly worked with wildlife agencies to preserve or create and maintain the toads’ habitats. The partnership has resulted in positive results for the toad, and the realization that private owners and conservation groups can work hand-in-hand to prevent the extinction of animals. This is a valuable lesson for students, as it teaches them to find ways to work together for the greater good and the benefit of creatures who are at man’s mercy.

Amargosa toad, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

These are just a few examples that you can use to teach students in the classroom about amphibians and the importance of protecting them. These critters are all native to different regions of the United States, and you can find wonderful pictures of them at the National Wildlife Federation’s website. The lessons can easily focus on habitat protection, not moving animals from one environment to another and finding ways to work as a team to help the animals.

Keep in mind that it may be hard for your students to understand why frogs matter in the beginning. There may be many jokes about how slimy they are, and depending on the grade level, there may even be jokes about having frog legs for dinner. As a result, you must be prepared to teach your students about the importance of frogs and amphibians. You can find a variety of lesson plans and materials online, such as this one: Frog Unit Study: Hopping to Learn. Likewise, The Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is another excellent resource that can help you explain the importance of frogs to your students.

If your students would like to get actively involved, you can provide them with an opportunity to do so as a class. In fact, PBS even has a website, Give and Get Back!, dedicated to volunteering and offering suggestions for how children can get more involved and make a difference. This site can help you and your students turn the concept of volunteering and making a difference into a concrete reality.

The first step in educating students about endangered amphibians is to show them the pictures available online and talk to them about why the creatures are now struggling to survive. It’s important to connect the dots between the actions of man and the unintentional habitat destruction that can result. It’s important for children to know how different actions by humans could have resulted in a more favorable outcome for the creatures.

Alicia Moore, OnlineTeachingDegree.com

08/18/10

Back to School at FROGS ARE GREEN!

It’s back-to-school time and we’d like to introduce you to a few notable children’s books about frogs and other amphibians published recently:

THE FROG SCIENTIST by Pamela S. Turner, photographs by Andy Comins (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

Dr. Tyrone Hayes, with his children, reads a book his mother gave him as a child, from THE FROG SCIENTIST. Photo copyright Andy Comins.

This book, part of the Scientist in the Field Series, is a biography of frog scientist Dr. Tyrone Hayes at UC-Berkeley, who has done groundbreaking studies about the effects of atrazine, a widely used herbicide, on frogs.  While the book is mainly a biography of Hayes, it is also a good overview of the global amphibian crisis and it includes an easy-to-understand explanation of the scientific method. The book has a lively, engaging design and many wonderful photos. It would be ideal for kids who are at that age (around 10 or so) when they decide that “science is boring.”

Dr. Hayes is an engaging subject for a biography, and the anecdotes about him are refreshing for this type of book (which can often be dry). A whole unit could be planned around THE FROG SCIENTIST, covering such topics as a science as a career, African Americans in science, the global amphibian decline, the scientific method, to name just a few.

A PLACE FOR FROGS by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Ford (Peachtree 2009).

A PLACE FOR FROGS by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond

For younger children (@5-8), this nonfiction picture book introduces different species of frogs and places them in their habitats. Each oversized double-page spread features a frogs species, their habitat, and shows some of the ways that human action and interaction can affect frog populations.

For example, one spread describes the Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged frog and its habitat, and explains why adding trout to the frogs ponds caused their decline (the trouts devoured the tadpoles). When people removed the trout, the frog populations began to recover. The frog and its habitat is depicted in gorgeous realistic paintings and is described in easy-to-understand language.

A Place for Frogs could be used for teaching kids about animal habitats (this author/artist team also did A Place for Butterflies and A Place for Birds). It could also be used in a unit about endangered animals, a unit devoted to frogs and amphibians, or it could be read as a springboard to study a local endangered frog in more detail, depending on where the school is located.

Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Marwil Lamstein, art by Carol Benioff (Boyds Mill, 2010).

Illustration from BIG NIGHT FOR SALAMANDERS by Sarah Marwil Lamstein, art by Carol Benioff

In this narrative nonfiction picture book, a boy waits for the Big Night, the first rainy night in late winter or early spring when the blue-spotted salamanders begin their annual migrations. The salamanders must travel from their forest burrows to vernal pools, where they breed and lay eggs. The problem is the salamanders must cross a busy highway to reach the vernal pools. The boy, along with other volunteers, helps the salamanders cross the road. A parallel text in italics describes the migration of salamanders.

This is a lovely simple story about how one boy helps an endangered species close to home. It is illustrated in richly-colored gouache. At the back is information about the life cycle of blue-spotted salamanders, as well as information about the Big Night and vernal pools.

Big Night for Salamanders would be a good read-aloud book for younger children. It could also be used in units about the life cycles of animals, and about species whose habitats are threatened. Teachers could read this book in the spring and plan a field trip to a local vernal pool.

Don’t forget about the FROGS ARE GREEN ART CONTEST FOR KIDS! Please download and print out this flyer to tell kids about the contest.