Environmental Literacy: Forest Ecology & Climate Change


Forests and plants sustain life on Earth and our scientists at SERC are studying how they are changing as the climate changes. One way is comparing modern trees to trees from millions of years ago. Another is by looking at native orchids of North America and seeing how their mutualism with fungus is affected by humans. Using a technique developed by scientists, we can show you how to study climate change by simply using the leaves from the forests outside. We can also share with you an introduction to the Native Orchids of Maryland and the orchid-gami 3D models created for SERC and the North American Orchid Conservation Center.

Stem Labs

Leafy Thermometers Leaf Lab
Grades: Adaptable for 5th-12th
Duration: 1-1.5 hours, customizable

In this lab, students will be asked to collect leaves, or take photos, and then we will calculate your region’s temperature using leaf margins or edges, a technique used by Smithsonian Scientists and archaeologists. We will discuss how this tool can be used to measure forest make-up and climate change of the past and how it might be used for the future.

Leafy Thermometers Lab Student Challenge
Grades: Adaptable for 5th-12th
Duration: 2 hours

Do you want to challenge your students to understand climate change using techniquest like our scientists? In this activity, our staff have set up a leafy thermometer challenge, where students will be given sets of leaves from around the US. They must use a basic ratio to figure out regional temperatures, using leaf margins, and then create a simple line of best fit for their data, then explain what it means. Students will be broken out into teams and, if there is time, given the opportunity to share their findings.


Talks & Steam

Introduction to Native Orchids of Maryland Talk
Grades: Adaptable for 8th-Adult
Duration: 1 hour

Orchids are found all over North America, including here in Maryland. In this talk, we’ll examine the types of orchids found here, SERC’s research into their relationship to mycorrhizal fungi, and why they are “canaries in the coal mine.”

Introduction to Native Orchids and Orchidgami for Students
Grades: Adaptable for 5th-8th
Duration: 1 hour

In this program, we’ll introduce your students to what orchids are, flower anatomy, and an orchid’s relationship with fungus, which our SERC scientists are studying. We will provide your class with a set of orchid-gami, or folding orchid cards, which you can distribute, and then we’ll fold them together using art and science to learn. There is an extra class fee for supplies of $0.50 per student.