What does it take to be a batty hero? Kristen Lear writes to us about her experience mentoring two teams of creative young minds tackling some of the big issues affecting bats today.
The FIRST LEGO League competition offers 4th through 8th grade students the opportunity to tackle real-world problems such as food safety, recycling, and biodiversity conservation. Teams research an issue and develop a practical solution using science, technology, engineering, and math concepts (STEM), honing their critical thinking and team building skills along the way. This years theme was Animal Allies, and teams were challenged to come up with a solution to benefit both humans and animals and create a more symbiotic relationship. I was lucky enough to serve as a project mentor for two amazing teams.
The Osborne Middle School Firehawks from Hoschton, Georgia designed and built a Bionic Bat House to help scientists gather more data about bats and help fight White-nose Syndrome. The house is complete with counting sensors to count bats coming into and out of the house, thermometers to monitor temperature, a hygrometer to monitor humidity, and a camera to observe the bats behavior inside the house. We wanted to stay local in finding a human-animal relationship to improve, and after speaking with local bat experts, we learned about White-nose Syndrome killing bats and decided we could help by finding a way for scientists to gather more data about bats, says the team, led by coach Steven Clark. The Firehawks impressed the judges with their creative use of technology to help solve a real-world problem, and the team won the Georgia Regional competition and received First place in the Project category at the Super-Regional competition.
They also installed two 4-chamber bat houses at the Gwinnett Environmental Heritage Center and led educational activities about bats at an Atlanta Gladiators hockey game. We enjoyed educating the public about White-Nose Syndrome, and developing a solution that might help researchers. Presenting our project at an Atlanta Gladiators Hockey game was an exciting experience to share what we have learned, says the team.
Team Alpha, another Georgia-based team led by coach Aruna Eluri, focused on protecting bats through community awareness. Their innovative solution was a smartphone app called Batgo that would provide easily-accessible information about bats, a quick way to report unusual bat activity to local wildlife units, and a fun game (similar to Pokemon Go) to generate public interest in bats. They also held an informational community event and performed a puppet show about the importance of bats.
As a scientist, it was inspiring to see how enthusiastic these young people were to contribute to bat conservation. They asked some very insightful questions that even bat scientists are still investigating, and the projects they developed offered creative solutions to some of the issues facing bats today. With young people like these taking the lead, the future of bat conservation is in good hands.
Kristen Lear is a PhD Candidate in the Integrative Conservation Program at the University of Georgia and recipient of BCI’s Student Scholarship for Global Bat Conservation. Kristen is studying the interconnectedness of agave farming, rural Mexican communities and the Mexican long-nose bat (Leptonycteris nivalis). Read more about Kristen’s work here