May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Science Teacher Does Big Things

Posted: Monday, November 1st, 2010

by Valerie Joyner
Introducing S.T.R.A.W. —Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed
It all started with one student asking a simple question, “How can we save an endangered species”?  Who would know that this question would lead to a powerful project-based watershed project that has restored over 20 miles of creeks banks, planted over 25,000 native plants, and served more than 25,000 students?  The STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed) Project began in 1992 when the students in Ms. Laurette Rogers’ fourth grade class saw a video on endangered species.STRAW - girls working

The video naturally led to a discussion on what her students could do and how she could empower them to become good stewards of the land.  Ms. Rogers knew immediately that her students needed to do something big!

The class looked for an endangered species they could adopt and investigate. It wasn’t to be a warm cuddly mammal, but the small California Freshwater Shrimp, a native endangered invertebrate living in the Stemple Creek Watershed area of Sonoma and Marin counties.  The students found that the numbers of this tiny species were rapidly declining in their local watershed.  In some areas of the creek there were only 100 shrimp left, so how to save the shrimp was the bigger question Rogers and her students began to explore.

The class worked together on a plan to repair their local watershed.  Their investigations and research showed them a lack of protective shelter and higher water temperatures were impacting the survival of the shrimp.  The students decided to plant native trees and other plants along Stemple Creek.

To save their endangered species the students knew they needed to improve the shrimp’s natural habitat, but the plan came with a challenge.  With 90 percent of the watershed land owned by local ranchers and farmers, the creek beds they wanted to restore might not be accessible. New community  partnerships had to be developed with the ranchers and farmers, so the students would be able to work on the privately owned land. Initially, the ranchers were skeptical of student ideas, but soon came to realize that their land would benefit.

Finally, the long awaited watershed restoration day arrived.  The students armed themselves with shovels, hoes, gloves, and native plants.  They learned how to plant willow branches and willow wattles (woven willow branches).  They spent their day outdoors planting and wondering what impact their studies and work would have on their adopted shrimp.  Five months later when they returned to the creek they found the willows budding, soon to make shade and prevent erosion along the banks and encourage the shrimp and other riparian species to multiply.

This was just the beginning of STRAW, a successful project-based environmental education project that arose from one student’s question.  Today STRAW operates as an educational program of The Bay Institute, and it bring students, teachers, scientists, and community members together to restore local watersheds in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Marin Counties.  To date there have been over 275 watershed projects.  STRAW continues to grow each year with new projects and partnerships.

STRAW Summer Institute

Every summer the Bay Institute STRAW Project provides its network teachers with a free three day Summer Institute.  The institute helps teachers restore their passion for teaching by presenting learning as it would be presented to students.  There’s an essential emphasis on fitting required curriculum standards into project-based learning and connecting the smaller current picture to the wider future vision.  The course is designed to provide STRAW teachers with opportunities to experience firsthand watershed-based centers for students, expert speakers, field trips, and networking opportunities.  This past summer STRAW teachers gathered on a boat on the San Francisco Bay to look for invertebrates and later learn more about it at the Aquarium of the Bay.

The Bay Institute’s STRAW Project Website ( showcases previous projects, and shares the goals and history of the project, as well as resources, partners, and opportunities. Another great way to get acquainted with STRAW is through the short video Taking Root: Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed (

The STRAW experience is so inspiring, a 35 minute documentary called A Simple Question: The Story of the STRAW Project ( has won five awards, most recently the ‘Spirit of Activism Award’ at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival in January of 2010.

Valerie Joyner is a second grade teacher in Petaluma and is CSTA’s region 1 director.

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.

One Response

  1. What an outstanding and meaningful program…
    bringing the children to the mud and the shrimp…

    If now, only the whole world will pick-up a shovel
    and begin to restore, and to HEAL good ‘ol Mother

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.