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!
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.
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!
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
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…