May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Looking for Nature in All Kinds of Places

Posted: Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

by Annette Huddle

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is an unnatural place.

Now there’s a provocative statement – especially since we pride ourselves on the nature education programs we provide for urban children, reaching about 12,000 children and their teachers and parents each year! But in a sense, the statement is true. The 55 acres that comprise the botanical garden include about a dozen manmade water features, miles of paved roads and paths, green lawns, and thousands of exotic plants from around the world. Many of these need supplemental watering or occasional frost protection to survive. The sand dunes and associated ecologies of 150 years ago are gone, destroyed in the interest of the humans who built the city of San Francisco. Quite unnatural!

Teachers explore the diversity of life inside a hula-hoop on the garden lawn

Teachers explore the diversity of life inside a hula-hoop on the garden lawn

Except, of course, that it’s not. For one thing, human beings are a part of the natural world, and the actions we take that alter it are a part of that world too. That’s a key message that children, and adults too, need to learn. If we insist on separating ourselves from “nature”, we will miss the fact that we are truly linked to and dependent on the systems and organisms that surround us.

But another important point is that natural processes are at work everywhere on our planet, with living organisms and abiotic features linked through a rich variety of interactions, creating elaborate interconnected systems. These interactions and systems exist at one scale or another in even the most “unnatural” environments. In the San Francisco Botanical Garden, a wide variety of living things have found ways to meet their needs. While the players may be different than in a less human-altered area, the processes are the same – living things develop, grow and change while obtaining food and water, protecting themselves, and trying to reproduce, either limited or enhanced by the geology, climate and weather and the processes and cycles associated with them.

 A huge non-native snapping turtle basks in the pond near giant South American gunnera leaves, both dramatic sights for visitors.

A huge non-native snapping turtle basks in the pond near giant South American gunnera leaves, both dramatic sights for visitors.

In guided walks at the SFBG, students from kindergarten through 5th grade learn about various aspects of the natural world, including our place in it. The garden teaches us lessons both in spite of and because of its unusual diversity of plants. A five year old does not care, or particularly need to know, that a plant she is examining is an exotic monkey hand tree from Mexico, but she does need to learn that this plant, like any other plant, has specific parts that do certain jobs for the plant. A second-grader on a “Web of Life” walk can learn about food chains even if the native red tail hawk is eating a non-native squirrel which fattened up on exotic Chinese magnolia buds and human-supplied and officially forbidden peanuts. A fourth grader learning about traditional Ohlone uses of plants in our native garden can contemplate other ways humans use plants while passing the weaver’s bamboo from China or the fiber banana from Japan.

In our Children’s Garden, young people are immersed in experiencing the natural world, learning to recognize its cycles and processes, and the things we humans can, and cannot, do to alter or control these. We can add compost to build the soil on the sand dune on which our garden grows, helping retain water for our plants, but we can’t make it rain. We can plant pumpkin seeds in June, but are at the mercy of the fog that covers our San Francisco garden in July and August, allowing mildew to cover the stunted leaves. We can plant in containers to dissuade hungry gophers, but since they are even hungrier than we are, we never entirely outwit them!

A native heron hunts for fish in a man-made pond in the San Francisco Botanical Garden

A native heron hunts for fish in a man-made pond in the San Francisco Botanical Garden

It’s clear that a landscape can be quite altered by human activity and still support a rich web of life. Perhaps visiting a botanical garden is not the same as visiting an area of undeveloped wilderness, but there is still a lot to explore, discover, and learn. By the same token, a neighborhood park, a school yard, a vacant lot, even a cemetery can provide an opportunity to observe natural processes and cycles at work. Living organisms evolve and adapt to all kinds of habitats, even those that may seem barren at first glance. We humans need to learn to recognize nature in all its forms, whether in the densest urban center or the most pristine landscape, to truly understand that we too are part of it all.

Annette Huddle is Director of the Youth Education Program at the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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  1. […] else you might find interesting is this article I just wrote for the California Science Teachers Association called “Finding Nature in All […]

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.