This Fall semester, tea bags will be the stars of FIU Florida Coastal Everglades LTER’s new aptly named citizen science project: LTeaER.
The project will engage local high school students in the Teabag Index mission aiming to create a global soil map of plant material decay rates using tea bags to test the relationship between environment and decay.
Through a unique collaboration between the Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE) LTER program, FIUTeach, the Everglades Foundation, and Miami Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS), students will examine the factors affecting decomposition along the Shark River and Taylor River Sloughs of Everglades National Park.
With guidance from their teachers and mentors, students in FIUteach partner schools will deploy two different types of tea bags in their schoolyards and/or backyards and calculate their decomposition rates 2-3 months later. Students will then compare these decomposition rates with the rates of teabags deployed by their teachers in the Everglades, offering them the opportunity to learn about this concept in a unique, hands-on way.
In addition to serving as a powerful educational tool for students, this data will later be submitted to the Teabag Index where scientists from Utrecht University and Umeå University will use it to provide vital information on the global carbon cycle and improve climate modeling.
On par with the ingenuity of the project itself, the teachers participating in it- two of whom have received of Research Experience for Teacher (RET) grant awards from National Science Foundation– are no strangers to innovative science education.
Teresal Casal, a Chemistry and Forensics teacher at Felix Varela, has worked with FCE LTER through other RET research projects. Her students have gone on to use their experiences to compete in science fairs, winning several local, state, and international awards. Terri Reyes, an AP Environmental Science and Biology teacher, is a College Board Consultant for the AP Environmental Science Curriculum. Dr. Cristina Whelan, a former Academic Advisor for CASE who now teaches biology at BioTECH, will also be taking part in the project.
Adding to an already impressive team are Patrick Thompson, an FIU graduate in Biomedical Engineering who currently works with the STEM Transformation Institute, FIU Associate Professor and FCE LTER Principal Investigator Dr. John Kominoski, and FCE LTER Education and Outreach Coordinator and Master Teacher FIUteach Nick Oehm.
To learn more about FCE LTER’s outreach and education programs, visit their site here.