Science Teacher Does Big Things
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.
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 (http://www.bay.org/watershed-education/about-straw) 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 (http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=ylLAOUOkG8s).
The STRAW experience is so inspiring, a 35 minute documentary called A Simple Question: The Story of the STRAW Project (http://www.asimplequestion.org/) 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.
by Michelle French
Since the public reviews of the Next Generation Science Standards have come to a close, like many primary teachers, I’ve been wondering what science will look like in kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms. Learn More…
“SOL Grotto, 2012. 1368 glass tubes, paint. Fabrication: Matarozzi Pelsinger, Rael San Fratello Architects. SOL Grotto is a contemporary take on a grotto or Throeau’s cabin – a spartan retreat that is a space of solitude and close to nature – where one is presented with a mediated experience of water, coolness and light. The SOL Grotto also explores Solyndra’s role as a company S#@t Out of Luck. 1,368 of the 24 million high tech glass tubes destined to be destroyed as a casualty of their bankruptcy, are used in the installation. The tube’s original role as a light concentrating element is extended to transmit cool air into the space via the Venturi effect, to amplify sounds from the adjacent waterfall via the vibrations of the tubes cantilevering over the creek, and to create distorted views of the garden. The form of the electric blue array evokes Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where shadows, light and sounds can call reality into question.”
Responses from Readers:
Peter A’Hearn: Rush hour in little blue circle land.
by Valerie Joyner
Congratulations to CSTA member and STEM Educator, Katherine Schenkelberg, of West High School, in Torrance, CA! Katherine was recently awarded one of the 2013 Vernier/NSTA Technology Awards. An appointed panel of experts selected her for her innovative use of data-collection technology. “The use of data-collection technology in the classroom helps foster students’ interest in STEM education and provides them with engaging, hands-on opportunities for scientific investigation,” said David Vernier, co-founder of Vernier and a former physics teacher. “For ten years Vernier and NSTA have recognized innovative STEM educators through this award and this year’s winners are no exception – their projects and programs truly utilize the power of data-collection technology as part of the teaching and learning process.” Learn More…
by Tim Williamson
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The election is being conducted electronically and opened for voting on April 16, 2013. Voting will close on May 16, 2013. All CSTA members were sent links to the online ballot. Members for whom we do not have current email addresses or who request a paper ballot have been mailed a ballot and candidate statements. Learn More…