Every day is an adventure for students at Talcott Mountain Academy, but this day was notably different. Students in all grades were working on a collective mission — identifying and documenting every living creature on Talcott Mountain.
It was the school’s second annual BioBlitz. Led by Dr. Brigette Zacharczenko, Talcott Mountain Academy’s Ecology Educator, the BioBlitz is a lot like an environmental treasure hunt. Students search high and low for their ‘treasure’ — which, in this case, is plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. Their ultimate goal is to find as many living species as possible, document their discoveries, and work with an advisor to identify them, if possible.
Each team of students spent a total of four class periods ‘on the hunt’ — scouring predetermined locations on campus for signs of life. Each location offered a slightly different habitat — forests, fields, the mountaintop, walkways and foundation landscapes — chosen to increase the diversity of species identified over the course of the day.
“A BioBlitz is a great way to engage students in authentic, hands-on science while maintaining COVID-19 safety measures. To spend a day outdoors exploring nature is a breath of fresh air for students and teachers alike. It can be challenging to find creative ways to make learning meaningful and fun, but everyone at Talcott is passionate about doing just that—and it shows,” says Zacharczenko.
In addition to outdoor activities, students engaged in hands-on nature-themed crafts that included making paper snakes and building 3D spiderwebs.
They also had a virtual visit from Dr. David Wagner, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCONN. A celebrity in BioBlitz circles, Dr. Wagner organized a 2016 BioBlitz in East Hartford that produced the highest one-day total species count on record in the United States, setting a world record with 2,765 species.
In his address to students, he emphasized the importance of student participation in these events. “Half of the organisms on the planets we can see with our eyes are insects. Kids have an advantage of being close to the ground with better eyesight than most adults — great for finding small critters.”
Why participate in a BioBlitz? Aside from the obvious answer–they help you learn, Dr. Wagner highlighted other, often overlooked, benefits:
- They collect data about wildlife and invasive species
- They raise awareness about Connecticut’s animals and plants
- They create a permanent record of what lives on the mountain at this point in time.
- They allow for the collection of images and specimens for researching and teaching.
- They help you see and appreciate more in nature.
- And, perhaps the most important reason of all for kids of all ages, because BioBlitzes are FUN!
The other benefit is that learning doesn’t end after the BioBlitz is over. The data collected from this year’s event will be used by students in the upper suites (grades 6-8) to learn about data analysis, interpretation, and visualization. They’ll help compile the data and compare it to that from previous years. Over time, students will gain more insight into their environment, making them better able to draw conclusions about changes and/or trends occurring around them.
Talcott Mountain Academy is an independent school for intellectually excited students K-8. Founded in 1983 as a division of the Talcott Mountain Science Center and located in Avon, Conn., the Academy is a unique on-site learning laboratory that nurtures children’s innate abilities from an early age. talcottacademy.org