Monday, November 21, 2011

Thank you Oppenheimer Family Foundation! Kids will DO science.

We just found out that our proposal, Animal Behavior Symposium, has been funded by the Oppenheimer Family Foundation.  Each year the foundation gives out $250,000 in grant money to Chicago Public Schools teachers to support innovative hands-on project based learning.  If you are a CPS teacher or know a good one, please help spread the word about this funding opportunity by sharing the link below.

The curiosity is undeniable when a kid holds an unfamiliar animal in hand for the first time.  In our Animal Behavior Symposium project, students will work with one of three species- Giant Madagascar Cockroaches, African Dwarf Frogs, or Green Anole Lizards- while they design their own unique research projects to experimentally investigate animal behavior.  They will carry out their experiments over five weeks and then communicate their findings with scientific papers which will be reviewed by their in class peers.  They will then orally present their papers to classmates and invited guests at a symposium.  They will then switch species, and building on the work of their classmates, carry out new projects that further the knowledge of the community.  This will help kids learn about how science works in the professional science community.  The best way to learn is by DOING.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

New school year. New chance to push the limits of science education.

Last year The Lizard Project was a resounding success. We pushed the limits of science education. The partnership we had with Dr. Warner and Iowa State University could stand as a new model for science education in high school classrooms as well as a new model for education outreach for research scientists. We are currently working vary hard to publish our findings, that a female's nesting choices have significant effects on her offspring across multiple life stages, in a major scientific journal. Although the students involved with the project could already tell you what an impact it had on their learning, getting it published will be a nice way of telling the wider scientific and education communities what kids are capable of when you set the bar higher than it has ever been before. This type of science in a high school classroom would be nearly unheard of even in the most elite and wealthy high schools in the country. I am extremely proud that we achieved this at Kelly High School, where more than 90% of our students are designated as low income. So what are we up to this year? Well we have two major grants pending that could support some great projects this year. One would support an in class project that would give kids unprecedented creative freedom to design their own behavioral experiments with live animals. The other would allow us to bring even more field experiences to our students via live Skype chats from our island research sites along the Florida Atlantic coast. Oh, and we are still working on a documentary film about The Lizard Project. Check back for more updates soon.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Were you inspired to learn by following Dr. Warner and me as we worked in Florida? Did you feel like the blog and the live Skype chats helped bring you closer to science in the wider world? If you said yes, You might have the chance to be in a commercial for Sprint where you talk about how technology helped you learn and inspired you!

If you are interested, email me at aaronmreedy@gmail as soon as possible and I will put you in touch with casting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Learning by doing.

Salvador and the other high school students here at TREE have been busy designing and carrying out their own research projects in the field. In the picture above Sal is radio tracking western hognose snakes to study the home range of this little studied species. This is the kind of thing that really gets kids hooked on science and is hard to replicate in the classroom. Here is what he has to say about the experience:

The past three days here at TREE have been very interesting. I have met new people and made a couple of friends. TREE is a very cool program because I get to experience the science of biology, first hand. I don’t have to worry about anything here but just the projects that I am working on. There are three types of teams; the Trapping team, the Sand Prairie team, and the Predation type. Every team focuses on different side projects that revolve around Turtle camp. For my first year I have chosen, the Sand Prairie team. We focus on reptiles in the prairie such as Ornate Box Turtles, Hognose snakes, and the Six-lined Racerunners. My team members and I have developed an experiment to find out where Hognose snakes spend their time. To do this we are using a tracking device to follow them. The weather has not been the best but it has only been my third day. I can’t wait for what is in store for our team and what other animals we will get to see.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

TREE- A science immersion program for high school students.

For the next 2 weeks I am fortunate enough to be a part of the Turtle Research Ecology and Education (TREE) program. I like to think of this as a science immersion program. For two weeks high school students camp on an island in the Mississippi River, and live and work along side professional scientists, grad students and undergrads as they study the nesting ecology of turtles. While at TREE students develop their own study questions and design studies of the local turtle,snake and lizard populations. They carry out their research and present their findings at a US Fish & Wildlife office nearby. This program works so well because kids live, eat and breath science 24 hours a day while they are here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What have we been up to this year? Lizards (and an innovative way to teach kids to think and act like scientists)! A recap of The Lizard Project.

This year we tried to do something that is rarely done in high school science classrooms. We did science! With the help of the National Science Foundation and our friends Dr. Fred Janzen and Dr. Dan Warner at Iowa State University, we conducted research in ecology and evolution at the level of rigor practiced by professional scientists. Our research aimed to answer the basic questions of: "For animals that lay eggs, how do mothers choose nesting sites?" and "What effect does that choice have on the physical traits of her offspring?". We used 80 brown anole lizards in 20 different enclosures (although our project grew as babies hatched!) for our experiments and throughout the project we emphasized that our questions are questions to which no one (not even an expert evolutionary biologist) has the answers to for our study species. These are the kinds of questions which working scientists work to answer.

We used the entire experiment as the framework for learning the scientific method. Students identified a hypothesis and variables in the experiment. In our first experiment, we presented the female lizards (who were housed with males to ensure eggs) with choices in the types of locations available to lay their eggs. We presented the moms-to-be with five carefully measured levels of soil moisture, both with and without plants.
Then once a week, the students in my five classes carefully sifted through all of the soil to search for jelly bean sized eggs and record the choices that the females had made as well as the mass of each egg.

For our second experiment, each egg that was found was assigned to soil with a randomly chosen moisture content. The moisture content for the soils in the incubator were the same as the five moisture choices the females had in their cages. This allowed us to collect data on how the choices the mother made (and didn't make) could have affected her offspring. Once the lizards were hatched (they are about thumbnail sized and cute as can be) we measured their size and growth carefully to see if its incubation conditions had an effect on its physical attributes.

This was a powerful learning experience for me and my students. My students and I produced products at different levels to show our learning and communicate our findings. My sophomore biology students produced lab reports, my senior zoology students produced papers in the format of a peer reviewed scientific journal and I am currently working on a paper for publication in a peer reviewed journal.

We are looking forward to producing a movie for classroom use with footage from the the lizards' wild habitat and in the classroom to share our experiences and give teachers and students exciting material to teach and learn the scientific method and data analysis. Stay tuned for more!

Keep reading to learn about The Lizard Project in the field in the estuary ecosystems of central Florida.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What science did you do down there? (Click on the photo below for a slideshow of the field work.)

Click on the picture in this post to see a slideshow of more pictures from the field.

So as you know we had 3 different hypothesis that we were testing during our time in the field down in Florida. I want to review each of those hypothesis and let you know what we did to collect data to test each one.

#1) The Brown Anole population faces different relative selection pressures in different parts of the environment.
To test this one we put out 50 clay models in 5 locations that were carefully chosen (forest, park, residential area, beach and island) and recorded all bites in the models from predators and lizards. We only got one lizard bite but we got many predator bites. We tried putting out models with and without paper dewlaps. After the first week we moved the models to new but similar locations. We also took careful photos of the shade cover where each model was placed. A computer will analyze these photos and we will check to see if the amount of cover above a model affected how often it was attacked by predators.

#2) Morphological (physical) differences exist in the lizards in different parts of the habitat.
To test this one we planned to measure hundreds of lizards (we measured more than 800) and record careful data about the locations they were spotted in. Unfortunately this part of the project suffered a bit from our high work load. We did not have time to measure carefully the locations of each captured lizard. However, we do have careful measurements for each lizard in our island experiment so when we go back to collect lizards again we will be able to see if physical differences begin to exist on the different experimental islands.

#3 Biased Operational sex ratios will affect population growth and natural selection (evolution).
To test this hypothesis we released 835 lizards on 9 different islands. The islands were not all the same size so we released them in numbers that kept population densities (lizards per square meter) the same. On 4 of the islands we released 66.6% males and 33.3% females. On 5 other islands we did the opposite. We will be going back at the end of the summer to catch babies and record population sizes. We will take DNA samples of all the new hatchlings and compare them to the DNA of the founding populations to see which males and females are having the most reproductive success.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fine looking female and a handsome dude.

One of the questions that you guys asked was- "How do we tell the differences between male and female lizards?"

Many of you already know if you were part of our class in the first semester because we handled so many lizards in our experiment. However, if you don't know or even if you do know and just like seeing pictures of lizards, here are two photos showing fine looking examples of both a female and a male. The female is the one with the diamond pattern on her back and the male is the larger one with the little yellow spots on his side.

Thanks for all of your interest and support.

Thanks for following along with us as we worked.
Dr. Warner and I had so much fun communicating with all of you and answering your questions as we worked. We are now back home and in need of some much deserved rest. We worked extremely hard and slept very little! However, we love what we do and feel like we really did some great experiments that will give us tons of good data to evaluate our hypothesis and write conclusions to share with the scientific community.

I will continue to answer your questions and post on the blog as long as you guys are still following. This weekend I will get caught up and answer the most popular questions. If you email me a question directly at I will make sure that I answer it. Also look for a slide show with 20-30 pictures of lizards, other animals and our work sites. I will have it all posted by Monday so you won't be bored while you are on spring break. Check back with Wide World Science soon.

Thanks again. Your posts and questions were great. You are the best.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The island experiment is fully up and running.

Today was our last day in Florida and our busiest yet. We collected all of our clay models and took careful data about their placements. We also released the final 135 lizards on 3 islands in Tomoka State Park. This brings our experiment up to 835 lizards on 9 different islands. That is a truly large scale and should give us great data on how the sex ratio effects the ecology and evolution of populations.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Moving in to a new world.

This brown anole was just released into his new home on island H. How will he do? Will he succeed in this habitat? Will he mate and father many offspring? Will his dewlap tattoo give him an advantage? These are the questions we will try to answer when we return to Florida in the summer and fall. We are not quite done yet. We still have to release lizards on 3 more islands. Stay tuned for more updates.

698 lizards now have new homes.

The lizard release was a success. We took the boat out at 7:30 this morning filled with 698 lizards. We dropped them of at our six experimental islands in the Matanzas River. Now for our 4 islands back at Tomoka State Park.

Will this guy (X325) enjoy his new life on island H?

Each lizard is coded with a bag number which can be searched in our computer file to give us the recorded snout to vent length, tail length, mass, dewlap size, limb length and sex.

Release party rescheduled for today.

All experiments have at least some minor challenges. We have had one more to deal with. Yesterday we had more than 500 lizards bagged up and sorted into pillow cases labeled with the letter of the island where we plan to release the animals. We loaded the car and started the drive north to where we would pick up our boat. On the way there the owner of the boat rental called to tell us that storms were on the way and it would not be safe for us to take a boat out. We were disappointed, but since we can't control the weather we rescheduled for this morning. As I write this we are driving north to get our boat. The sun is just coming up over the ocean right outside my window.

Biggest lizard we have seen yet.

One of my favorite parts about working in the field is that we get the chance to see lots of wildlife in addition to our study animals. This is a broad headed skink. They eat invertebrates such as insects and worms and even brown anoles or other small reptiles. We found this one hanging out about 4 meters from one of our clay models.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The big release party is tomorrow.

This is a picture of our field lab that we temporarily set up here at Tomoka State Park. Everyone of those bags on the tables behind Dr. Warner are filled with lizards. Tomorrow we will paddle them out to the islands and release them in their new homes.

We have almost pulled it off.

First things first- thanks for all your posts with great questions. You guys are making this into a very cool educational experience. Dan, Alexis and I are glad to have you following along. We have been working truly insane hours the last couple of days to get the lizards ready to be released on our nine experimental islands. Last night we worked all night and never went to sleep. Today we took a 3 hour nap and are right back at it. There is so much to do. 812 lizards need to be weighed, measured, sorted by size and sex. If you remember from the in class presentation we are creating 9 different island populations where the ratio of males to females will be different. Some will have lots of males and some will have more females. We are doing this to test the hypothesis that the sex ratio will have an effect on which traits get selected for. The idea is that we suspect that on an island with more males, competion for mates will be the greatest selection pressure on the males in the population. On an island with more females, traits like the ability to choose nest sites and get away from predators while carrying eggs might be selected for. We will kayak out to the islands tomorrow with the lizards to release them to their new homes so the experiment can begin. This experiment may last as long as 10 years. Every year the lizards will be collected and we will do dna testing to see which lizards in the origional population had the most reproductive success. Tomorrow is a big day. Now it's time to get some sleep.

Will the color pattern of the dewlap have an effect on the mating success of male brown anoles?

Alexis Harrison is interested in finding out how important the physical appearance (phenotype) of the dewlap is in the reproductive success of the male brown anole. Alexis is testing the hypothesis that males with more red on their dewlaps will father more offspring than males with less red on their dewlaps. To test this question she is changing the dewlaps of some of the males we will be releasing on the islands. When we return to these islands we will take DNA samples of the new hatchlings to find out how many offspring each male has produced by the end of the season. To change the color of the dewlap she give the lizards tattoos that change the amount of red on the dewlap.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Green anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Many times over the last week on this blog and during the skype calls we have talked about invasive species. Invasive species are a major contributing factor to species extinction around the world. The brown anole is an invasive species and people are worried about the effect it is having on the green anole (Anolis carolinensis). We have seen many green anoles coexisting with the brown anoles on this trip.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Would you call security on this man?

We have discovered that the population density of lizards is very high in areas with artificial landscaping so we spend a lot of time looking for lizards there. We got some weird looks from people and yesterday we were questioned by security guards. However, once we explain that we are scientists, people are usually glad to let us do our work.


One of the classes asked about problems that we have faced so far in our experiments. As many of you know from class there are often problems that come up unexpectedly when doing an experiment. Last night we went to check on some of our clay models that were placed in a picnic area and we found that the state park had cut down dead trees including two that we had placed models on. The picture above shows a wood pile that probably has one of our models burrows in it somewhere. I don't think we are getting that one back. Now we will just change our experiment a bit to work with 48 models instead of 50. Solving unexpected problems is part of working as a scientist.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Here is a challenge for you students: Help me and Dr. Warner make a list of possible suspects who may have attacked our models.

Here is your assignment: Research the animals (other than brown anoles) that live in central Florida in and around Tomoka State Park. To figure out exactly who has been attacking our models we need to know what other animals are around. See Ms. Flemming for the details and grading criteria and specific detail of this assignment.

Now it's your turn. Students, post a question that you think would make for intelligent conversation.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

We have fooled the lizards.

One of the biggest worries about our experiments is that our models would not look real enough to fool the lizards. Well, this morning we were successful in recording our first lizard bite. The jaw marks were clearly visible in the model's head.

Time to catch more lizards.

So our projects are going well. Yesterday we weighed, measured and marked more than 200 lizards. It was a long day that started at 6:00am and ended at almost midnight. We have to work hard to get the data while we have the chance. We are now driving north to check out some new lizard collecting sites. We still have 550 animals to go to reach our goal of 850 lizards.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When predators attack!

This is a picture of our first clay model we found after a predator attack. Was it a racoon? Was it a bird? Was it a cat? What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Abnormal tail

3rd period zoology asked if we have seen any lizards with deformities. Well, we have caught and measured 304 lizards so far and this one had a really unique tail.

We want to hear from all of you!

We are absolutely loving having you guys be a part of our field work experience. Please leave comments on the blog and follow us on twitter (mr_reedy) to let us know you are paying attention. Come on, what are you waiting for? Click the comment button and drop us a line. We have been measuring lizards for 7 hours straight and we need something to keep us going.

Monday, April 4, 2011

21st century educational outreach.

I loved talking with my former first period students this morning via skype. It was amazing to be standing on an island in the middle of the Halifax River and be showing my students lizards in the field and showing them how science happens in the real world. 2nd period- get your questions ready because your class is next.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hard at work.

It is 11:54 pm and we just finished our work for today. We caught around 70 lizards today and checked on lots of clay models. After dinner we started measuring lizards and we are now calling it quits for the night. We'll be back at it early in the morning. Looking forward to the first skype call tomorrow.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 2 - Surveying islands and catching lizards

We had a busy first day of work yesterday. We placed all 50 clay models yesterday in 5 different types of habitat. I can't wait to see if we get any bites. Yesterday we also put out 20 nest boxes full of good moist soil to try to find out where the females are laying their eggs on our islands.
Today we are on our way to meet up with Alexis (from Harvard University) to survey islands at her field site near Marineland, 30 miles north of ours. We will also be hoping to catch and measure a lot of lizards. Check back soon for more.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fake lizard. Will it fool anyone?

This clay lizard will help us learn what selection pressures the brown anole faces in different environments. It will get attacked and we will identify and count the bite marks to learn about selection pressures.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Let the field work begin.

Dr. Warner and I have landed in Orlando. It's past midnight Florida time. We still have a 90 minute drive ahead of us before we get some sleep. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow- placing 50 clay model lizards, placing 20 nest boxes, and measuring our islands. Can't wait for the morning.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011