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Bourbonnais, IL 60914

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TEACHING RESOURCES & CITIZEN SCIENCE

Below is a collection of activities, presentations, lesson plans, and other teaching resources to use inside and out of the classroom. Many of the resources have been created by the Kankakee County Soil & Water Conservation District, while others are linked from external sources. Use the menu above to jump to a section that interests you, or simply scroll down to explore all content areas!

SOIL

Soil is the "skin of the earth" and serves many vital roles in the environment. Soil provides a growing medium for plants, and is a major source of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium needed to support healthy plant growth and function. Soil is at the foundation of our nation's agricultural industry. Without soil, we wouldn't have feed for animals, fiber for construction and textiles, food, fuel, or many of the antibiotics used to fight diseases. 

 

During the Pleistocene Epoch (the last Ice Age) glaciers formed over most of Illinois. As the glaciers moved across Illinois, they smoothed the landscape. As they receded, glaciers filled deeply eroded valleys with glacial deposits, which created the flat topography of the Midwest. The geological history of Illinois has shaped our soils. Loess (pronounced "luss") is a silty glacial deposit that became the parent material for soils that occupy ~63% of our state. Loessial soils are fertile, giving the Midwest some of the best soils for growing crops. There are over 700 different soil series found in Illinois, with Drummer as the state soil. 

 

Soil also provides a habitat for billions of organisms such as bacteria, protists, fungi, and critters like insects, worms, spiders, and other invertebrates. Often overlooked, soil houses a diverse and complex ecosystem with many components that contribute to overall soil health. Explore the tiny world beneath your feet with the soil resources below!

featured resources

A Recipe for Healthy Soil

by K3SWCD

01/19 - 01/23

Soil is alive! Explore the contents of healthy soil with your students by following a recipe together. Learn about soil particles, bacteria, microbes, worms, insects, roots, fungi, and more!

The Scoop on Compost

by K3SWCD

01/19 - 01/23

Teach students about composting, why we should compost, and what we should and should not compost. Build your own mini composter!

Soil Ag Mag
by Illinois Ag in the Classroom

01/19 - 01/23

What is soil and why is it important? Explore these questions and more with Illinois Ag in the Classroom's interactive Soil Ag Mag, an agricultural magazine for kids!

SOIL Education hubs

Nutrients for Life: K-12 teaching tools focused on the importance of soil nutrients in feeding our world.

Soils 4 Teachers: Soil Science Society of America K-12 teacher resources.

The Scoop on Soil: University of Illinois Extension

Dig It! The Secrets of Soil: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Underground Adventure: The Field Museum

Science of Agriculture: Short animations, interactives, and videos. 

National Geographic Resource Library: K-12 activities, articles, lessons, and more. 

National Ag in the Classroom: Lesson Plan Database

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science: Explore case studies for science teaching.

What's in YOUR Backyard?: University of Oklahoma's citizen science soil collection program.

CITIZEN SCIENCE: SOIL

 

WATER

Have you used water today? We all use water for drinking, washing, cleaning, and cooking. We also rely on water for things often overlooked, like farming and producing food, generating electricity, fighting fires, and recreational activities. A healthy watershed is vital to each and every one of us!

Rivers, streams, and ponds not only provide many of us with the water we use everyday, but house incredible biodiversity that often goes unnoticed. Fish, insects, insect larvae, mollusks, snails, and other invertebrates are a part of these aquatic ecosystems. 

The Kankakee River is the major waterway that flows through Kankakee County. Less than a century ago, there was an area in our own backyards that resembled the swamplands of the Florida Everglades called the Grand Kankakee Marsh. This immense wetland was home to some of the highest concentrations of wildlife on the planet. After the channelization of the Kankakee River and subsequent draining of the marsh, less than 5% of the "Everglades of the North" remain. 

featured resources

A Recipe for Healthy Soil

by K3SWCD

01/19 - 01/23

Soil is alive! Explore the contents of healthy soil with your students by following a recipe together. Learn about soil particles, bacteria, microbes, worms, insects, roots, fungi, and more!

H2Know Interactive Case Study

by the Nutrients for Life Foundation

01/19 - 01/23

Students will explore the science of water quality and challenges in Lake Erie through this interactive digital learning activity.

Water Ag Mag
by Illinois Ag in the Classroom

01/19 - 01/23

Water is all around us and we always take it for granted. Learn about water conservation, watersheds, the water cycle, and more with this interactive magazine for kids!

WATER Education hubs

Kankakee: The River that Connects Us 2017 watershed conference presentations

The Water Project: K-12 teaching tools focused on water conservation and concerns.

National Geographic Resource Library: K-12 activities, articles, lessons, and more. 

NOAA Education: National Ocean Service educator resources. 

National Ag in the Classroom: Lesson Plan Database

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science: Explore case studies for science teaching.

TOOLS

Miscellaneous Resources

Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh

National Association of Conservation Districts: Free Educational Materials to Download

Wad-a-Watershed Lesson Plan: National Agriculture in the Classroom

Water Pollution Activity: Demonstrate how water pollution spreads.

What is a Watershed? PBS video and classroom materials. 

Interactive Water Cycle: USGS

Major Watersheds of Illinois Map

Illinois RiverWatch: Monitor water quality with The National Great Rivers Research & Education Center's RiverWatch program!

CITIZEN SCIENCE: WATER

 

A Message from Anabel

Anabel says - "In school we were talking about how we can do a few small things to help the environment. A big topic was saving water because some places in California are still affected by the drought! I thought it was really interesting that anybody could make a change and it could help people!" 

Thank you Anabel! We are inspired to conserve our water in Kankakee County!

Anabel has some advice for Kankakee County... all the way from California! Anabel is about to go into 5th grade, and is very passionate about helping the environment. She and her mom are volunteers at their local library, where they teach people in the community how to be good stewards of our natural resources! Anabel has been helping her mom do research, and found an article she wanted to share about water conservation at home. You can read it here! We can all do a few, simple things each day to conserve water - like turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth, or taking showers instead of baths. 

PLANTS & PRAIRIE

Native plants are those that occur naturally and have existed in an area for many years without human introduction. Because they have established natural populations over a long period of time, native plants have adapted to a specific region's climate. Native plants are an integral part of an ecosystem, and have formed close, beneficial relationships with insects, birds, and other wildlife. Natives provide food, shelter, and nesting material for wildlife in our county. 

Important pollinator species such as bumble bees, honey bees, and butterflies have coevolved with native plants, forming symbiotic relationships that benefit both the insect and the plant. Plants provide food and shelter for insects, while insects return the favor by pollinating the plant. 

In the early 1800s, most of the northern 2/3 of Illinois was covered by approximately 22 million acres of prairie land. A prairie is a large open area of grassland and forbs (plants like wildflowers). Northeast Illinois was dominated by the tallgrass prairie. Plants such as big bluestem grew upwards of 8 feet tall, covering the land in a sea of grass. By 1900, most of Illinois' prairie was converted to agriculture. Today, less than 4% of the tallgrass prairie remains in the United States. 

featured resources

Native Plants & Pollinators Activity Booklet

by K3SWCD

01/19 - 01/23

Explore pollination, pollinators, native and invasive plants, and their importance in agriculture with our simple and fun activity booklet for elementary students!

A Walk Through the Prairie
by K3SWCD

01/19 - 01/23

This video gives a quick glimpse into the biodiversity that can be found in Kankakee County's pollinator habitat. Watch the video and explore our native plant, insect, and bird species! Turn the video into a classroom activity with our worksheet

PDF Plant Field Guides

by the Field Museum

01/19 - 01/23

Download free PDF field guides for plant families, woodland wildflowers, shrubs, oaks, and more! Students can take field guides with them to identify plants on-the-go.

PLANTS & PRAIRIE Education hubs

California Native Plant Society: Native plant activities for kids. 

Openlands Teacher Resources: K-12 lesson plans and activities.

Kids Gardening: Lesson plans, activities, designing a school garden, and more!

IDNR Education A to Z: A list of educational materials.

National Geographic Resource Library: K-12 activities, articles, lessons, and more. 

National Ag in the Classroom: Lesson Plan Database

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science: Explore case studies for science teaching.

TOOLS

Apps for Botanical Brains: 

Leafsnap: A free electronic field guide that uses visual recognition to help ID tree species based on their leaves.

TreeBook: A free guide to 100 common trees in North America - great for learning the basics!

XERCES Society: Pollinator Conservation Resources (some favorites listed below!)

Collecting and Using Your Own Wildflower Seed

Establishing Pollinator Habitat from Seed

Pollinator Plants of the Midwest Region

Milkweed Seed Finder

Monarch Nectar Plants of the Midwest

 

USDA Pollinator Gardens Design Guide

Selecting Plants for Pollinators: A Regional Guide

 

U of I  Pollinator Plot Designs

Short Plants: 1-2 ft. tall

Medium Plants: 2-4 ft. tall

Tall Plants: 4-8 ft. tall

Tall and Medium Plants with Grasses: 4-8 ft. tall

 

Possibility Place Nursery: Native Plant Nursery in Monee, IL

Pheasants Forever: Seed Mixes

Miscellaneous Resources

The Prairie Ecologist: Square Meter Photography Project

Kankakee County SWCD Native Prairie Plant Fact Cards

Root Systems of Prairie Plants: Visual

Pollination Activity: Use Cheetos to demonstrate pollination with your students - yummy and fun!

Classroom Investigation Series, Native Plants: Bureau of Land Management

The Biology of Plants: Anatomy, pollination, adaptations, etc.

Plant Adaptations Video and Test: Scholastic Study Jams

Crash Course Biology Videos: Witty and fun videos about plant cells, photosynthesis, and more!

Chicago Botanic Garden's Citizen Science Academy: Engage students in citizen science while earning CPDUs.

Plants of Concern: Become a rare plant monitor with the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Budburst: Uncover the stories of plants and animals affected by human impacts on the environment.

USA National Phrenology Network: Monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals.

New Invaders Watch Program: Become a part of a network to help identify, map, and control exotic invasive species.

Illinois Mycological Association: The mushroom club you've been looking for you're whole life!

CITIZEN SCIENCE: PLANTS (and fungi!)

 

Insects & Wildlife

There are many unique ecological areas in and around Kankakee County. Within our county we have forest, prairie, and savanna to explore, as well as many protected areas where can thrive. Not far from Kankakee County there are beaches where you can study ecological succession, vast prairie restorations with bison populations, bogs with native carnivorous plants, birding hot spots, and so much more! Be sure to check out this list of ecological treasures in and around our county. 

Such a great diversity of habitat ushers in an equally impressive array of wildlife. Mammals, birds, fish, reptile, amphibians, and insects play vital roles within our local ecosystems. There are so many things to discover right in your own backyard! Discover local ecological treasures, tools to observe and identify wildlife, activities and lessons to engage students, and much more below.  

featured resources

Insect Collections

by K3SWCD

01/19 - 01/23

Insect collection and pinning is a valuable way to document our local biodiversity and create a biological "snapshot in time". Insects play vital roles in our ecosystem, and learning more about insects will give you insight into many other aspects of biology, ecology, and agriculture! Click here to read the article "Ten Reasons for Collecting and Preserving Insect Specimens" from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Insect Detective
by K3SWCD

01/19 - 01/23

Explore the biodiversity of the most abundant creatures on earth: insects! Our major insect groups guide will walk students through the main orders of insects, discussing their similarities and defining characteristics. Wrap up your lesson with our Insect Detective activity, where students use their guides to identify different insect groups and species. 

Animal Field Guides

by the Field Museum

01/19 - 01/23

Download free Chicago Region PDF field guides for birds, amphibians, insects, reptilesand more! Students can take field guides with them to identify animals on-the-go.

INSECTS & WILDLIFE Education hubs

TOOLS

Apps for Nature Enthusiasts: 

iNaturalist: Our favorite website and app! Explore, share observations, and get help with identification.

eBird: Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website & app to find birds, birding hotspots, and share and track your sightings! 

Merlin Bird ID: Free, instant bird ID help for 3,000+ birds for North and South America, Europe, India, and Australia. This app syncs with eBird to help you track your life list!

Odonata 

Project Noah: A website designed to help people connect with the natural world and learn about wildlife. Project Noah enables amateurs and professionals alike to create and share multimedia nature journals. Join Project Noah and become a Citizen Scientist!

Miscellaneous Resources

Animals Past and Present: University of Illinois Extension

Wildlife in Nature: Photography of Midwest wildlife by Gary R. Soper

Natural Resources Training: Hands-on workshops hosted by the IL Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to earn Professional Development Hours and gain easy-to-use natural resources educational materials for your classroom. 

Monarch Joint Venture: Collect data during all phases of the annual life cycle of monarch breeding, migrating, and overwintering.

Lost Ladybug Project: Help figure out why native ladybugs are become extremely rare.

Butterflies and Moths of North America: Identify the moths and butterflies around your home.

CITIZEN SCIENCE: INSECTS & WILDLIFE

 

CITIZEN SCIENCE PROGRAMS

Your students can be involved in real research projects across the state and the nation by incorporating Citizen Science projects in your classroom!

The Nature Conservancy's List of Citizen Science Programs

The Nature Conservancy provides a list of great citizen science networks and projects. Get involved with monitoring butterflies, bees, dragonflies, birds, squirrels, mushrooms, invasive species, and more! 

The University of Oklahoma's Citizen Science Soil Collection Program

The key to the next life-saving biomedical discovery might be living right below your feet. Dozens of fungi can occupy a single handful of soil and many of them are adept at making new compounds called natural products. These remarkable molecules hold tremendous promise for treating human diseases. It only takes a few minutes to help by collecting a scoop of soil! 

"The conservation community relies heavily on volunteers to not only restore natural areas, but to help gauge the success of our restoration efforts. Volunteers team up with experienced stewards and scientists to monitor the recovery of native habitats, or to record data on rare species of wildflowers, butterflies and other wildlife. Below is a listing of several ecological monitoring programs offered by various organizations. Monitoring of species not only provides valuable information to assist with management decisions, but provides an exceptional opportunity for volunteers to learn more about that species and how to protect it."  

 

The Nature Conservancy 

The photos above were taken during RiverWatch macroinvertebrate sampling along the Kankakee River. Kevin Culver, Midwest Regional Environmental Compliance Manager at AQUA Illinois, samples Rock Creek, Davis Creek and a portion of the Kankakee River every year. Culver invited Emilie Janes, K3SWCD Resource Conservationist, and Katlyn Post, K3SWCD Intern, to learn sampling techniques and participate in RiverWatch. RiverWatch is a program that assesses the health of a stream or river based upon the abundance and diversity macroinvertebrate species.