Tag Archives: Dr. Augie’s after school programs

Reptile Movie

I just re-discovered this short film written, filmed, acted and directed by a group of after school students in Dr. Aguie’s after school program with the 21 Century Grant. We planned a longer version for SciTV, but in the end we got this trailer. Not too shabby I have to say. Click on the photo to get the link to the movie.





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Science in the Parks: Bullfrogs

frog in a jarThe American bullfrog, or simply the bullfrog goes by the name Rana catesbeiana, or Lithobates catesbeianus depending on who you are talking to.

This large green frog lives all around Berkshire County in ponds, swamps, lakes and streams. They like to hang out along the edge of the water and jump in when surprised or threatened.

leap frogs

The bull frog gets its name because during mating season the male defends a territory with its call, and if you ever heard it you know it sounds like the roar of a not too small bull. Click the photo above to hear the call of the bullfrog

These frogs spawn in the spring; this means the female lays eggs, up to 20,000 in shallow water while the male releases its sperm into the water near the eggs.

The fertilized eggs hatch out tadpoles that have external gills and rows of tiny teeth across the top of their mouths. They feed by pumping water through their gills and mixing up the bottom water that contains bacteria, algae, singled celled organisms and pollen grains which they eat through their mouths. As they get older they eat larger things such as copepods (small crustaceans) and larval aquatic insects as well as scraping off bits of vegetation.

tadpole with legs

Bullfrog tadpole with hind legs.

Metamorphosis from tadpole to frog in our climate takes 2-3 years. That means if you bring one in for a pet; don’t expect a frog for a couple of years at least. And remember to feed it lettuce. I should mention bullfrog tadpoles do not make very good pets. Releasing them in the fall is a good idea so they can hibernate through the winter.

The adult frog is voracious, this means they like to eat a lot, all the time. They are predators, eating any animal that will fit in their mouths even if they have to use their hands to get it in. Their usual diet is made up of invertebrates, such as insects and worms. If in captivity you will need to make the food move for them to ‘catch’.

Scientists estimate their lifespan in the wild to be eight to ten years, but one frog lived for 12 luxurious years in captivity at the Berkshire Museum.

releasing the frog

Releasing the bullfrog.

To tell the difference between the adult male and female, look at the ear drums or tympanic membranes, the round circles behind its eyes, if the circles are bigger than the eyes the frog is male. If  the circles are smaller or the same size the frog is female. These ear drum of sorts, connect to the inner ear in which they hear but they also hear with their lungs, but that is another story.

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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Berkshire BioBlitz, Camps, Children's Art & Science Classes, Science, science in the parks, Uncategorized


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Science in the Parks: Filtering Water

filtering water 4Filtered water is an important part of the water system here in Berkshire County. The water we drink comes from a water treatment plant that first filters our water for big bulky things like leaves, branches and live animals such as fish and frogs. This is a filter with big holes. Next the water is filtered through a finer medium like sand and finally it is filtered through an even finer medium to remove even smaller particles.

filtering waterToday the kids did some of their own experiments to see what would clean leaves and twigs out of water and then what worked best to remove dirt particles. They used, paper, cotton and filter paper. First one at a time, then in combination.

filtering water 2

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Posted by on August 11, 2013 in Berkshire BioBlitz, Camps, Children's Art & Science Classes, Nature Curios, Science, Uncategorized


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Science in the Parks: Garter Snake

snake habitatArriving at the school yard a few weeks ago, I was greeted by a group of excited children who had just caught a baby ‘garden’ snake. They had it in a pickle jar. They planned on taking it home as a pet.

We all took turns holding it and then I explained to them it was called a “garter” and should keep it in a larger container. We pulled out the critter carrier from the car and hiked across the grass to the edge of the woods.

I explained to them the snake would like some sand, soil, and moss to keep things moist. We used a spoon to pull up a carpet of moss, layered it over some sand, soil with plants and topped the whole thing off with a piece of round bark. That made a nice habitat. We promised each other we would release the snake in a few weeks.

For food, we threw in some crickets, worms and woodlice.

shedding baby snakeThe snake was observed by many children in the next two weeks. Finally it was time to release. Just in time too because it was getting ready to molt. You can see in the photo the covering over the eyes and the whitishness of the scales.

snake release

garter snakeThe scientific name for the Common Garter Snake  is Thamnophis sirtalis. It is native to North American.

There are thirteen subspecies of this snake found across the continent.

This snake is diurnal, that means it comes out during the day. But in hot weather it is crepuscular, being active in early morning and early evening.

This snake bites. I know this from experience. But it is not poisonous. The main reason for not handling this snake often though is that it secretes a foul-smelling fluid from postanal glands when handled or harmed.

These snakes hibernate over the winter, emerging en-mass in the spring. A sight to behold if you ever get a chance.

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Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Berkshire BioBlitz, Camps, Children's Art & Science Classes, Science, Uncategorized


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Science in the Park Kick Off

John Conte turtle On Monday my colleague John and I set off to Conte Community School to give the 4th and 5th graders a sneak peek at what will be in store this summer in the parks.

collection demonstrationWe talked about the local water system, turtles, leeches, insects and a few prehistoric plants. The kids got to take a turn collecting from the nearby brook after a quick demonstration by me of how to collect. Then we set up the specimens in white bowls, Petri dishes and containers to observe behavior and try to identify what we found. We did find a young salamander in the water we could not identify.

The kids had some great questions to ask and interesting information to share. I think we could have stayed there all day exploring. Conte Elementary School has the riches biodiversity of any schoolyard in the city.

Join us there this Saturday from 10-12 to do more exploring. Please note the location change from Dorothy Amos Park.

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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in Berkshire BioBlitz, Camps, Children's Art & Science Classes, insects, Science, Uncategorized


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Algae and Berkshire BioBlitz

bioblitz algae samplesDuring last year’s Berkshire BioBlitz we were lucky to have two phycologists, scientists who study algae, John Hall, from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Pennsylvania and Karolina Fucikova from the University of Connecticut, because we held the 3rd annual Berkshire BioBlitz at Onota Lake.

We don’t think about algae often. They are usually small, we don’t usually see them without a microscope, but algae are very important plants. They are primary producers in aquatic ecosystems. Most algae are eukaryotic, an organism whose cells contain complex structures enclosed within membranes, and are photosynthetic organisms, this means they make energy from the sun. They are distinguished from the higher plants by a lack of true roots, stems or leaves. Many species are single-celled and microscopic (including phytoplankton and other microalgae) but many others are multicellular growing to large size like seaweeds such as kelp and Sargassum. And still yet, some are microscopic, and occur as symbionts in lichens and corals.

John sent me some of these photos he took through his microscope during bioblitz. Yup, these things are in our lake. How cool is that?

algae 2 bioblitz 13

Penium margaritaceum

Here are some fun facts about algae:

Algae and Evolution: Algae…

  • live almost everywhere on Earth
  • are among the most ancient living organisms
  • gave rise to all the plants you see and eat (even flowers)
  • some are extremophiles, liking it either really hot, or really cold


Algae and People: Algae…

  • produce half the oxygen in the air you breathe
  • are used to make medicines, toothpaste and ice cream
  • can become fuel for cars

Pediastrum simplex

Algae and Biodiversity: Algae…

  • build coral reefs and kelp forests
  • are food for fish and even some whales
  • are every color of the rainbow!

For some interesting educational resources about algae click here.

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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Crosby Water Procession!

These 10 kids had a great time with us in the Dr. Augie’s Brain Booster After-school program! They learned all about the water system here in Berkshire County. Ask them some questions, they will love to tell you what they learned, especially about how we are lucky to have the water treatment plants that clean our water.

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Here are some poems they wrote about water:

Over the rainbow.
Under the flag.
“The water is gone!”
“The water is gone!”
The salamander cried.
And heaved a great sigh.
To which the ladybug said,
“Then we must find the critter who drank all our water or else find a river
To get our water delivered!”

Everyone shivered, the baby, the fox, the fish and the eagle.
Just to think of the horror of life without water.

Did the moon sip the stream ’til the drip ran dry?
Did the rainbow make a spout that the water poured out?!

They all went marching to find some water.
It was in the clouds they all decided.
So they danced in a circle and shouted out loud,
“Oh sky give us water, rain on our parade if you would!”
And the water cycle started again and everything was good.
-Chante, Emma, Sandi, Ashley, Aiyanna and Lisa

The days are calm like the wind.
The shy is blue like my friends eyes.
Everyone loves to watch the beautiful sunrise over the water.
-Chante and Lisa

Dr. Augie sends a special thanks to Ms. Driscoll and Ms. Sandi for making this session fun and educational!

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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


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