Teacher Training: New Mexico Ecoregions

Last Saturday was our final weekend teacher training as part of the Improving Teacher Quality Grant from the Title II New Mexico Higher Education Department, which NMWC is hosting in conjunction with Northern New Mexico College. What better place could there be to end this series of science excursions than Valles Caldera?

This weekend our focus was ecoregions of New Mexico. We touched on this several weeks ago with our Forestry and Wildfire day, but this time we got to experience several different ecosystems first hand.

We began at the Highway 4 pull off looking out over the Valle Grande, where we briefly discussed how the caldera formed.

Putting the caldera formation flash cards in order is so much more fun than you'd expect!
Putting the caldera formation flash cards in order is so much more fun than you’d expect!

After this, we headed to the Valles Caldera visitor center. We found a nice place to sit in the middle of a prairie dog colony, and we discussed typical New Mexico ecosystems. We also received a short introduction to the history of Valles Caldera from one of the tour guides.

Expert tour guide Carmen explaining more about Valles Caldera.
Expert tour guide Carmen explaining more about Valles Caldera.

The prairie dogs around us were very entertaining during this time, and we got to watch a coyote watching the prairie dogs.

Our next stop was History Grove (thanks to our educational use permit- the public is not allowed out to this point). On the drive out, we saw 10 elk running across a meadow, which was another fantastic opportunity to discuss larger animals of New Mexico.

At History Grove, Dr. David Torres from NNMC showed teachers how to use shadows to measure the height of trees.

Dr. Torres explains the procedure.
Dr. Torres explains the procedure.
Dr. Torres and Dr. Linnell test out the method.
Dr. Torres and Dr. Linnell test out the method.
Teachers measure the shadow of a giant Ponderosa Pine.
Teachers measure the shadow of a giant Ponderosa Pine.
Measuring another tree shadow.
Measuring another tree shadow.

The teachers divided into groups, and each group used this method to estimate the height of at least 2 trees. This gave us a small pool of data, and we were able to plot the distribution of these tree heights. This plot lead to an excellent discussion of graphing data.

Plotting tree height data.
Plotting tree height data.

After discussing trees, we moved on to wildlife. Dr. Pedro Chavarria showed the group different ways to survey animals by trapping and tracking with collars.

A teacher examines a tracking device for a fox.
A teacher examines a tracking device for a fox.

Our next activity was a population estimate of an “animal species”. In this example, our “species” was black beans. White beans were the “marked” members of the population. By randomly selecting a number of beans from the population in a plastic container, teachers could mathematically estimate the total number of beans using the Lincoln-Peterson model.

Dr. Chavarria explains the activity.
Dr. Chavarria explains the activity.
Counting "animals".
Counting “animals”.

During this activity, we were treated to a fairly up-close view of a very vocal Northern Goshawk, which was the highlight of the trip for many participants.

It was another fantastic day of learning science with these teachers, and we’re looking forward to our summer institute where we take this new knowledge and apply it to teaching science standards!

Christy

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