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Another Internet project seeking participants....

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 1994 23:05:52 -0400
From: Don Bass <bass@tenet.edu>
To: csimpson@tenet.edu
Subject: Pillbug Project Information (fwd)

        Please forward, but not Ednet, this interesting project. Also, it
may be a good idea to save and forward again in early September.
        Have a good  evening.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 1994 11:14:12 -0500 (CDT)
From: Stan Smith <ssmith@services.dese.state.mo.us>
To: Don Bass <bass@tenet.edu>
Subject: Pillbug Project Information


Some time ago I posted a message about a science project that I am
working on involving pillbugs.  I recieved a reply either from you or
from Rick Armstrong (I am not really sure which) which expressed some
interest in the project.  The project takes place in the fall of 1994 and
I would like to gather a list of participating teachers over the summer.
Please let me know if one of you is interested in participating, or
forward this message to any science teacher that you think may be

Below is a detailed description of the program and how teachers can be
involved.  Please let me know if you have any questions or input.


Stan Smith


Environmental Adaptation: The Pillbug Story

The project was funded by the TAPESTRY grant program, funded by Toyota
and administered by NSTA.  During the 1994-94 school year, my 7th grade
life science students will make contact (by E-mail) with several schools
(5 to 10 schools) from various locations throughout North America.  Each
school will collect live pillbugs (Isopoda; Crustacea, species will
certainly vary widely) locally, place the pillbugs in a suitable box (I
can supply the box and shipping cost) and send them to my school in
Missouri, along with a photograph or videotape of the local habitat in
which they were collected.  I will send these same materials from our
area to each school that participates.  If you wish to receive these
materials from the other schools you can contact them via E-mail and
arrange to establish a network.  I will provide you with information on
all of the participating schools (location, E-mail address, etc.) when
the project starts in the Fall.

My students will conduct a series of observations and experiments on the
pillbugs from each area, and will compare the resulting data to get a
picture of how this organism is adapted to different environments (hence
the name "Environmental Adaptation: The Pillbug Story").  If you are
interested in conducting these observations and experiments at your own
schools, I will provide the information you need to carry them out.  Most
of them require commonly available equipment and materials.  If you are
not interested in actually carrying out the observations and experiments
I will provide you with the resulting data from all of our activities
with pillbugs from all of the participating schools.  This way your
students could still see the results of our experiments and benefit from

Below is a partial list, and brief description, of the observations and
experiments that we will conduct with pillbugs from each location:

1.  The effect of habitat of origin on the rate of evaporation of body water.

This experiment is one of the more involved ones.  It will require
dessicators (not expensive, but not usually available) and an accurate
electronic balance (very expensive).  The pill bugs will be
placed in the dessicators and weighed periodically to determine the rate
of evaporation of body water.  It is presumed that those that are adapted
to drier climates will have bodies that allow less evaporative water
loss.  Pillbugs do not survive this procedure and only a few should be used.

2.  The effect of humidity on activity levels of pillbugs from different
habitats of origin.

It is presumed that pillbugs from drier locations will be active at lower
levels of humidity than those from more humid environments.  Pillbugs
become inactive (or even roll into a ball) when the humidity level is too
low for them.  Materials needed for this are minimal.  Pillbugs will be
placed in jars of different humidity levels and there activity will be
measured by counting the marks they make as they walk on the surface of
smoked paper.  The humidity levels will be controlled by placing water or
silica gel dessicant under a screen at the bottom of the jar.  The
pillbugs will be on a piece of smoked paper placed over the screen.

3.  The effect of habitat of origin on the position of pillbugs in a
chamber with a humidity gradient.

It is presumed that pillbugs from drier habitats will tend to position
themselves in areas of lower humidities than those from more humid
areas.  The materials for this experiment are minimal.  Pillbugs will be
placed in long rectangular trays in which a humidity gradient has been
established.  The bottom of the trays will be marked with a grid so that
the positions of the pillbugs can be easily observed and recorded.  The
trays will be covered with transparent plastic and the gradient will be
established by placing silica gel dessicant at one end and wet toweling
at the other.  Once covered, the gradient will form in about 1/2 hr.

4.  The effect of habitat of origin on the position of pillbugs in a
chamber with a temperature gradient.

This will be similar to experiment #3 above, but the gradient will be
established with a heat pad under one end of the tray.  Materials needed
for this experiment are minimal.

5.  The effect of habitat of origin on the position of pillbugs in a
chamber with a light gradient.

This will be similar to experiment #3  and #4 above, but the gradient
will be established with a light placed at one end of the tray.
Materials needed will be minimal.

6.  The effect of habitat of origin on length of respiratory organs

Terrestrial isopods (pillbugs and sowbugs) have several pair of modified
appendages under the first two abdominal segments called pleopods.
Pillbug blood in the pleopod picks up oxygen from the air as it bathes
inside the pleopod.  Insects have muscles that can close off the openings
for air (called spiracles) but pillbugs cannot close off the pleopods.
These organs therefore are responsible for as much as 42% of the body
water loss in pillbugs.  It is presumed that these pleopods would be
smaller (and therefore have less water-losing surface area) on pillbugs
from drier environments.  These observations will require precise
measuring equipment.  I have decided to use microscope stage
micrometers.  The pleopods will be placed on the stage micrometers (a
glass slide with a very small measuring scale etched ion it's surface)
and viewed with dissecting microscopes.  If these items are not
available, a simple visual comparison (perhaps with a hand lens) will
help the students to see if there is much difference between these

7.  Effect of habitat of origin on invertebrate diversity of leaf litter.

Pillbugs will need to be shipped in boxes containing moist substrate.
The easiest way to do this (and least stressful to the animals) is to
include some of the leaf litter from the area where the pillbugs are
collected.  I thought it would be interesting for students to
systematically observe the variety of invertebrates found in these leaf
litter samples from different areas of North America.  I realize that
there is no way that students can actually identify individual species,
but simple qualitative comparisons might prove fascinating to them.  The
organisms will be removed from the leaf litter using the standard Burlese
apparatus.  Simply place the leaf litter in a funnel, place the funnel
over a jar to collect the organisms, and place a bright incandescent bulb
over the top of the funnel.  The heat from the bulb will dry out the
contents of the funnel from the top down, driving all organisms out the
opening in the bottom.

The observations and experiments described above will be carried out by
my students during the Fall of 1994.  As a participant, you may want to
duplicate some or all of these experiments.  It would be nice if our
students could exchange and compare data from similar experiments using
E-mail.  But if you do not duplicate all of these experiments the
students should still communicate with E-mail as much as possible.  This
is an important aspect of the project.  You do not have to duplicate all
of these experiments to be part of the project.  All you really need to
do is collect the pillbugs from your area and send them to us, along with
a photo or videotape of the area and a leaf litter sample.  If you do
this we will return a similar package from our area and will communicate
all of our findings to you.  Your level of involvement beyond this is up
to you.

So basically, there are three general levels of participation:

LEVEL 1:  Participating classrooms will collect representative pillbugs
from their area and send them (alive) to my school, along with a leaf
litter sample and photograph (or videotape) of the area of collection (I
can supply the shipping box and shipping cost).  We will send you all of
our resulting data, as well as the final product, which is a book
produced by my students and myself.  This level of involvement requires
no experimentation, no materials (other than the photo or videotape), and
minimal class time.

LEVEL 2:  If you are interested, we will send you a similar set of
materials from our area of Missouri.  Your students can conduct the same
set of observations and experiments (or just those that you have the
equipment and materials for) and they can exchange information via E-mail
so that we can compare results.  This level of involvement would
establish interactive dialogue between your students and mine, as well as
two-way exchange of experimental results.

LEVEL 3:  If you wish to have your student experiment with pillbugs from
areas besides your area and ours, you can contact some or all of the
other project participants and arrange to exchange the same materials
with them.  I will supply information on all participating schools (from
5 to 10 schools) in the Fall when the project actually starts.  This
would involve your students in a large-scale, real world study of how
organisms are adapted to various environments.  This level of involvement
could require a considerable amount of class time, but I believe it will
be a fascinating and relevant project for students.  I encourage you to
take this as far as you can.

All observations and experiments take place in the Fall semester.  During
the Spring semester my
students will change gears and take on the roles of writers and artists,
in addition to scientists.  They will produce a book in which each
chapter will actually be two sections, one
will be a continuing fiction story, the other will be the corresponding
scientific information that is related to the fiction chapter and
which they have collected during the project.  A language arts teacher will
come into the classroom to help them with
writing fiction and our art teacher will help them with illustrations.  A
team of students will produce the book using desktop publishing and
will scan the artwork into each page.  I will produce a section of the
book myself that will be a teachers guide and
will explain the project and give suggestions for incorporating the book
and related activities into the curriculum.  The pages will be bound at a
professional printing shop.  My goal is that the book will prove to be
useful to middle-level teachers and will promote and facilitate
the use of pillbugs as a fascinating
subject of student research.  If you participate at any of the levels
described above we will send you a copy of finished book.

If you are still interested in participating I you know of any other
teachers anywhere in North America (especially in the six target areas
described above) who may be interested, please forward this message.

Warrensburg Middle School
522 East Gay St.
Warrensburg, MO 64093
(816) 747-5Y612 (school)
(816) 747-7534 (home)
E-mail:  ssmith@services.dese.state.mo.us

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