Cornell Middle School STEM Program is for the Birds

Sometimes STEM is for the birds. That's what middle schoolers learned during a set of free workshops run this summer by Cornell University. The university's Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch citizen-science project brought students together to get lessons in biology, ecology, habitat, mapping and data exploration.

The goal of NestWatch is to monitor and analyze the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, the number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch and how many hatchlings survive. The program is funded in part by the Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant Program of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which gave a grant of $8,733; that will be repeated over the next two years. SFI is a non-profit that develops sustainable forest management practices and runs a certification program for wood, paper and packaging.

The students also learned how to make and install bird houses, which have provided homes for black-capped chickadees, eastern bluebirds, house wrens and tree swallows, the latter two species in decline in the northeastern United States. Those particular maker projects, which were placed on the grounds of a school in Watertown, NY and on a land trust property in Athens, NY, resulted in the laying of about 80 eggs, the organizers said.

"It has been fun seeing the kids' reactions to the nests and birds and how much they have learned in the process. I really hope some of them are able to channel their passion into lifelong support for conservation and perhaps for some even into a career in forestry or biology," said Robyn Bailey, NestWatch project leader, in a prepared statement. "Students are being exposed to all stages of the nesting cycle, from nest-building, to egg-laying, to young nestlings."

Additional supporters of the project included the university's extension program and the New York State 4-H.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.