Cherry Tree Cookie Day 2017

Biology Faculty Tom Cone welcomes Spring and calls attention to one of the natural beauties of campus with cookies at the Cherry Tree

It is time again for a great tradition of Phillips Academy Andover, cookies at the Cherry Tree. For his last time, Tom Cone, put out cookies between under the nearly 65 year old Cherry Tree between Sam Phil and Morse Hall to commemorate Spring and to celebrate one of the natural treasures of the campus. Tom Cone is retiring (after 51 years of teaching!) at the end of this school year, so this is his last trip to the Cherry Tree. The Biology Department is committed to keeping this tradition alive for years to come!

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Keeping with tradition, the first period Bio100 classes helped make the trays and bring them out to the table set up under the tree.

And the crowds quickly followed! Mr. Cone reminds everyone who takes a cookie to look at the tree and marvel in its beauty.

This nearly 65-year-old cherry tree has a rich history on the campus – it has been around for decades and was almost cut down – twice! The first time was in the early 1970’s, when the old Evans Hall Science Building still stood. Some in the school thought that the cherry tree blocked the view of the building from the west side of campus and planned to cut the tree down. Students and faculty heard this and many people literally “hugged” the tree the day the cutters came so they could not cut the tree down. They did not come back.

Later, after the Gelb Science Center was built in 2004, some in the school again thought that the tree blocked the view of the building from the Foxcroft area. Members of the PA community fought to keep the tree and when the architects of Gelb agreed with the community, the result was an agreement to keep the tree.

If you look closely at the tree, you can see it is held together by wires! The tree would probably fall right over if they had not brought in an expert to repair the tree and keep it standing. Thank goodness they did, because this is certainly one of the most amazingly beautiful trees on campus. It only blooms for a few days – as you can see, the petals were already starting to fall off! So, enjoy this natural beauty while it lasts!

A Friday Treat!

Mr. Cone’s Ornithology Class Takes a Trip to the Bird Blind

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

After Mr. Cone’s bird quiz from last Thursday, we were all relieved to get outside on Friday. Though the weather predictions had said warm and sunny (which we all needed after the rainstorm on Thursday), dark clouds still loomed above us. Of course, this certainly didn’t stop my class from getting the most out of our outing last week!

Now that we have the lay of the land, I expect Mr. Cone thought it was time to take us down Salem Street to a designated bird watching area located off the beat and path of the main road. This re contains ten bird feeders, blocked off by paneled wooden walls, that attract many birds from the area; it’s the perfect destination to observe all the birds we are lucky enough to have around here. As soon as each of us took a seat around the walls and opened up the small panels that allowed us to see the bird feeders, the watching began.

A goldfinch with the most vibrant yellow coloring, a female downy woodpecker, and a peaceful cardinal were amongst the many birds that we had the privilege to watch on our outing. Not to mention the array of chickadees that paid us a visit. I attempted to get some photos through my binocs again:

It was an exciting day for me and my classmates, as we were introduced to some new faces in addition to ones more familiar to us. Mr. Cone was quick to point out a dark-eyed junco. He said they would not be around New England for much longer, as they start migrating north after our winter months! They must really like the cold!

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Dark-eyed Junco

Despite the gloomy skies, the excitement during our bird watching outing provided a nice change of pace. I think we are all starting to our embrace our newfound bird knowledge. I know I am! The other day, when I woke up to my alarm, I heard birds chirping outside my window. I thought to myself, that must be a house sparrow. And sure enough, it was!

With spring seeming to finally be upon us, I suspect there will be many more faces to come. Stay tuned for more adventures from Mr. Cone’s Bio 421 Ornithology class!

Spring is Near!

Mr. Cone’s Spring Ornithology Class Begins!

Guest Post by Sabrina Appleby ’17

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Photo from National Audubon Society [http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/downy-woodpecker]
As we donned our binoculars and prepped for our second outing in Mr. Cone’s Biology 421 Ornithology class, none other than Mr. Cone himself pointed out the rare sighting of a male downy woodpecker from the window of our classroom. This particular bird, according to Mr. Cone, does not often visit the bird-feeder by Gelb, but, that day, we were lucky enough to catch it. With its stark red field mark, Mr. Cone could immediately tell it was a male. The class watched as the bird climbed its way up the feeder, using its sharp tail as a “third foot.”

This is how our outings usually begin. We start from Gelb and make our way around campus, going from one bird feeder to the next, with the hopes of sighting a new bird or observing the behaviors of ones already familiar to us. We have already seen a number of chickadees and become especially accustomed to hearing their high pitched “dee-dee-dee” call. In addition, robins, white-breasted nuthatches, and tufted titmice have frequented our campus skies. Even some less common birds have paid a visit: a male and female house finch and a cardinal. When we made our way over to Rabbit Pond, we found two Canada Geese cleaning their wings in the water, ducking their heads and turning upside down. I was able to get a photo through the “binocs” (as Mr. Cone calls them) on my phone. If you look closely, there’s a mallard duck sleeping on the cluster of rocks.

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On our walks, Mr. Cone encourages us to not only be on the lookout for birds, but also to take some time to enjoy nature. In our world, it takes more effort to go outside than to revert to our tendencies to stay inside. Mr. Cone’s class not only gives us the opportunity to learn about birds, but also it reminds us how much we take nature for granted. I imagine that by the end of this term, my classmates and I will have taken the time to reconnect with nature and develop a greater appreciation for all the beauty that birds have to offer.

Happy Spring (Term)!

Today’s Vernal Equinox also brings the start of the Spring Term at Phillips Academy

This morning, Monday, March 20th, at 6:29am marks the vernal equinox and the official arrival of Spring. Though, it does not look very spring-like outside the Gelb Science Center.

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During the vernal equinox, “the sun’s most direct rays cross over from the southern hemisphere into the northern hemisphere. During this process, the sun is shining directly over the earth’s equator, bathing the earth’s northern and southern hemispheres in nearly an equal amount of sunlight.

Instead of a tilt away from or toward the sun, the Earth’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the line connecting the centers of the Earth and the sun during an equinox. During the equinox, both day and night are balanced to nearly 12 hours each all over the world.

Good news for those [of us] in the northern hemisphere: Daylight continues to grow longer until the summer solstice, which occurs on Wednesday, June 21. The opposite occurs in the southern hemisphere, where daylight continues to grow shorter toward their winter solstice on the same day.”*

Moviemaking on Campus!

Filming Has Begun on a Campus Documentary Featuring Tom Cone

The documentary is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Abbot Academy Association, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.

Filmmaker Charlie Stuart ’62 brought a film crew last week to document Mr. Tom Cone’s 51st year (and last as he is retiring at the end of this year) of teaching and his knowledge of the natural history of this campus. Dr. Christine Marshall-Walker and I applied for an Abbot Academy Association Grant to fund a short film featuring Tom Cone. His deep understanding of nature and his passion for teaching are gifts to be archived and cherished for years to come.

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Along with his crew, John Baynard and Mike Tridenti, Charlie filmed Tom Cone with his Biology 100 class observing different types of trees.

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First, Mr. Cone took his class to see a red oak tree which was planted after the Gelb Science Center was built in 2004. He was pointing out the characteristics of the Red Oak Leaves and pointing out the acorns. Each oak has its own variety of acorn and leaves. The Red Oak Leaves have lots of little points at the end of the divisions.

Then, they went to a beautiful Red Maple Tree in full color. He spoke about the pigments and how they are made and how the weather effects the color production. The Maples in particular may produce a red pigment that many other types of trees don’t have.

Next, they looked at a Copper Beech Tree located near Newman House on the Salem Street side of Gelb. They were talking about how this tree, like the American Beech, is characterized by smooth bark. If it is found in parks, this is the tree that many people will carve their initials into it. It can potentially grow to be 300 years old. We used to have an American Beech near Gelb, but it was removed to build the Sykes Center, so the students could not see it today.

They weren’t the only Biology 100 out that day! Dr. Catherine Kemp’s class was also looking at the same trees and talking about characteristics of each tree.

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Charlie and his team will be on campus throughout the year, so keep an eye out for more filming stills and the final product in the spring!

Learning at the Fish School

Animal Behavior Students Observe Schooling in Fish

In Mr. Tom Cone’s Animal Behavior classes last week, students participated in an interesting lab about determining the schooling ability of certain fish.

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According to Tom Cone, the significance of schooling in fish is that of safety, but also companionship. When fish are good at schooling (gathering in large groups), it helps them look bigger to other fish which is a great anti-predator mechanism. It also helps with procreation, as a fish to mate with is never far away. In addition, studies have shown that schooling fish live longer in groups, which indicates schooling is also a social behavior.

Mr. Cone set up multiple fish tanks with different species of fish inside. Students divided into groups and chose a type of fish to observe. The experiment is set up where one fish is in the large tank and the others are in an adjacent smaller tank. The large tank is separated into four equal quadrants.

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Students then began to observe the single fish in the large tank – for 10 minutes they record the location (which quadrant) of the fish. They repeat the recordings with the small tank on the other side of the large tank.

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The students then tried to make observations to determine what attracts the one fish to the others (the releaser or stimuli) – is it their color? their size? their markings? They then repeated the entire experiment, but instead of using the small jar of fish, they created their own model of a fish using paper and markers to see if the fish behave the same way.

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Students then took the data they gathered and used it to determine if their species of fish is a “schooling” fish. Some students found significant data that their species of fish is great at schooling – their fish stayed mostly in the quadrant adjacent to the other fish. Other students found that their fish may not be great at schooling as they swam all around the tank.

Happy First Day of Autumn!

Go Outside and Explore the New England Autumn

Nature in New England has so much to offer, especially in the Autumn when the leaves start to change. You don’t have to go far to witness the beauty of this event.

According to an article from the US Department of Agriculture, “A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays. During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. These conditions – lots of sugar and lots of light – spur production of the brilliant anthocyanin pigments, which tint reds, purples, and crimson.”

This seems to describe the weather we have been experiencing, so watch out for more color changing trees!

You can find the article on color changing here: http://www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/pubs/leaves/leaves.shtm

Baby Geese!

Ornithology Returns to the Pond to Feed the Baby Geese

Guest Blog Post by Peyton McGovern ’16

Hello Readers!

Classes are winding down but the birds on campus certainly are not! Between the baby geese (one of these adorable babies can be seen in a photo courtesy of Angela Dolan ’16), baby Phoebe and the other bird nest at Stuart, campus is bustling with bird activity. It has been so exciting to watch my final term at Andover transition from the brisk end of winter to the sunshine and warmth of spring. Along with the changes in weather, so many birds have returned and filled campus with their lovely songs. It’s been so amazing to watch each week as new species return from their winter migration.

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As my class enters it’s final week together, we will most likely take one more field trip and study to prepare for our final exam. As an all senior Ornithology class, it feels especially bizarre to know we have such a short time left at the school. However, it’s great to spend one period per day studying birds, which is such an interesting and fun topic. Ornithology has been a great class for me this term specifically for three reasons: I have learned a lot about identifying local birds, gotten to engage a lot with my classmates on our field adventures and finally tried a unique course that I wouldn’t be able to take at many other high schools. So much bird watching to do with such little time left!

Inside Look: Aquaponics Independent Project

Biology Independent Project: Aquaponics

Guest Post by Terrence Xiao ’16

Hi folks!

My name is Terrence Xiao, I’m a four year senior from Beijing, China, and I have a weird obsession with fish. For the past school year (and a little more), I’ve been conducting an independent research project about aquaponics. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics – in layman terms, that’s fish farming and gardening; the fish waste is used to fertilize the plants, and in the same process, the waste water is cleaned and can be recycled throughout the system.

For me, it all started with my when I was younger: I thought fish were basically the coolest things ever (I was a weird kid), and became obsessed with aquariums. I realized having more stuff in them (plants, shrimp, snail, clams, frogs, turtles, worms – you name it, I’ve tried it) not only made them more interesting, but more versatile ecological communities; I could let bottom feeders clean up uneaten food instead of having to do it myself, and I never had to worry about dissolved oxygen levels or ammonia build ups because I had plants to regulate all of those factors for me. All of this culminated in an academic interest in environmental science. When I learned about global crises such as the food challenge and global climate change, I began to explore ideas within the field that served as potential solutions. That’s when I stumbled across aquaponics.

This project started officially started during the Fall Term of the 2015-2016 school year. Fall term was all about research, winter term was all about building the system, and spring term has been focused on community engagement. I applied for an independent project through the Abbot Independent Scholars Program each term, to integrated the project within my academic curriculum, as well as an abbot grant through the Abbot Academy Association to fund the construction process, which I received in the winter.

The project had two broad goals – the first was to actually build an aquaponics system; to see if it actually worked, to deepen my own understanding, and most importantly, to reunite with my precious hobby of fishkeeping! The second goal was community engagement; often, issues such as environmental sustainability are construed as lofty and intangible, especially by us mere high school students. I wanted to show that these ideas, relevant on a global scale, could actually be substantiated and explored in a very physical, direct capacity, especially with the wealth of resources available to us as students here at PA.

Construction was complete by the end of winter term, and the system was left to cycle over spring break.

When I returned, the project switched focus to community outreach and utilizing the functioning system as a tool for engaging with others. I’ve given multiple presentations over the course of this last term – a NEST presentation in the makerspace, lectures for biology classes and science electives, and presentations to various student groups, just to name a few. Each of these presentations were learning opportunities for me because I switched my focus depending on individual venues and audiences. The subjects I’ve talked about range from the academic principles that aquaponics embodied, to a procedural focus on the project itself and how it helped shape my experience of hands on learning and engagement as a student.

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Aside from these presentations, I’ve been maintain a digital portfolio, in part as an organizational tool, but mostly as a platform for community engagement – the WordPress blog (linked below) I’m running contains a narrative documentation of the project since its beginning, as well as a synthesis of my research available for others to explore. Please feel free to check it out.

https://paaquaponics.wordpress.com/

The year may be almost over, but this project certainly isn’t! The system will be sticking around in Gelb 109 for the following years, where its maintenance will be taken over as a student work duty. I’m hoping that it can be used by others as a learning tool (A biology 580 group is already using it for their ecology project) and to maintain a conversation on campus about environmentalism and sustainability within our community.