September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

The Kaweah Oaks Preserve: A Jewel in Central California

Posted: Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

by Michelle French

The last two years, my co-workers and I have taken our first grade students to the Kaweah Oaks Preserve (KOP).  According to its website, “Kaweah Oaks Preserve, a 322-acre nature preserve, protects one of the last remaining valley oak riparian forests in the San Joaquin Valley.”  It really is so much more than that.

KOP is an opportunity to take a journey back in time and imagine how ourKaweah Oaks valley looked hundreds of years ago.  Each year, close to 1000 students from the Tulare County area experience how science and nature are as beautifully intertwined as the wild grapevines that climb the majestic valley oak trees.  I recently had the pleasure of talking with Laura Childers, the Education and Volunteer Director of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust (SRT).  The SRT is a “non-profit land trust dedicated to conserving the natural and agricultural legacy of the southern Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley.”  The trust controls and protects over 10,000 acres of land, including that of the Kaweah Oaks Preserve.

As we talked over a cup of hot tea, Laura told me about how she came to serve in this position and espoused the SRT’s nature conservation efforts in Central California.   Her love of what she does is infectious, and she relishes exploring ways to educate both children and adults about the importance of nature conservancy.

MF: Tell me about your background and how you ended up in Central California.

LC: I am originally from Houston, TX.   I studied history and geography at the University of Texas in Austin.  A few years ago, I started an internship up in the Sequoia National Forest.  While interning, I set up the evening campfire program, patrolled and helped at campgrounds, and talked with hundreds of people about the Giant Sequoias.  I enjoyed hearing the different perspectives about the trees.  Some people had comments like “That’s a lot of wood.”  Others would say things like, “There is God in this tree.”   That’s when I really focused on expanding people’s perceptions and interests of land management.

After working for a while as a ranger at Yellowstone National Park, Laura returned to Central California for two reasons: she had fallen in love with her boyfriend who lives in the Springville area, and she found the hundreds of untouched acres of habitat in both the valley and in the mountains of Sequoia National Park enchanting.

MF: How long have you been with the SRT, and as the director of education and volunteers, what are your responsibilities?

LC: I started with the SRT in January of 2009.  For the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, I coordinate school field trips and train volunteer naturalists as docents.  I make sure that our field trips align with state science standards for all grade levels.   Students in elementary school will explore plants and animals in their native habitats.  For students in middle and high schools, I coordinate service learning projects.  SRT’s six properties in Tulare County are helped by the student projects.  When doing a conservancy project, I first visit the students’ classroom and provide background information about the preserves.  Students then decide what will be the focus of their project.  On past projects, students have planted trees or tested water quality through our “What’s in Your Water?” campaign.  Our plant survey offers an experience where students go through a scientific way of figuring what types of plants are growing in the preserve.  Then they classify them as native, non-native, or invasive species.

Laura went on to tell me about the Eagle Scout candidates who have spent numerous hours at the Dry Creek Preserve, one of SRT’s six preserves, rebuilding signs for trail boundaries.  They also built new cautionary signs and a native plant nursery.   Additionally, Laura leads seminars for teachers.  The seminars assist teachers in becoming more aware of how they can educate their students about current environmental issues centering on both air and water quality and other concerns seen within the habitats of the SRT’s land holdings.

MF: Tell me about the various land holdings of SRT.  How many of the locations host classroom fieldtrips?

LC: There are six properties held by SRT, and the Kaweah Oaks Preserve is currently the only one open to the public on a regular basis.  It is open to everyone year-round.  The Dry Creek Preserve used to be a gravel mine.   SRT took over the lease after mining operations ended and began restoring it 10 years ago.   You can see Bald and Golden eagles, coyotes, reptiles, and songbirds when visiting this preserve.  The Herbert Wetlands Prairie Preserve is one of the few pieces of the valley floor in our county that has never been farmed or disced.  Here you can find burrowing owls and vernal pools.   We are having a public nature walk on April 30th.  These two areas, in addition to the Homer Ranch, Lewis Hill, and Blue Oak Ranch preserves, are not currently open to the public on a regular basis.  SRT plans to have Dry Creek Preserve and Blue Oak Ranch Preserve open to the public on a regular basis later this year.  You can visit our website to find out more information on each of the preserves.Kaweah Oaks

MF: Who leads the students and what are their qualifications?

LC: Usually retired teachers are volunteer naturalists.  Also, we often have people come to us who went down career paths that didn’t follow their childhood dreams of being a naturalists or park rangers.

MF: How many students do you host each year?

LC: About 750 children come through the KOP each year.  We usually have about 150 students participate in service learning projects each year.

MF: Tell me about the types of experiences students might have when visiting.

LC: Students will go on hikes.  There are three different trails.  On one trail, they can scramble across our sycamore climbing tree.  On others, they will walk over creek and canal bridges.  A really fun thing to do is catch insects with nets.  It looks as if the grasslands have no animals living there, but we catch so many insects with one swipe of the net through the grass, that students are shocked.  Students might see coyotes, king snakes, and many types of birds.

MF: What is the best time of year for students to visit?

LC: In the fall acorns start falling off trees and begin sprouting.  The ripe grapes are all over the climbing grapevines.  Tiny wasps create many types of colorful galls in interesting shapes.   In the spring, plants are flowering; parts of the preserve look like a jungle.  We can also get a clear view of mountains and view of the Kaweah River Watershed.  We can see the sequence of how the watershed is shaped like a funnel from the mountains, where it hits the valley floor, and is distributed on the valley floor.

MF: What might teachers do before visiting to help their students get as much as they can from the visit?Kaweah Oaks

LC: It helps if the students have a basic understanding of what a habitat is, what wild animals are, and the difference between woodland and grassland areas.  He or she can explore those aspects with students on the trip.

MF: How far in advance should schools book their trips?

LC: At least two weeks in advance.  May is the most popular month, so they need to book early during May.

MF: This interview will be read by science educators across the state.  What message would you like to leave with them?

LC: I know it’s hard to teach anything besides language arts and math, but integrating science and the study of nature and habitats helps kids become aware of the issues regarding nature.  As they grow up, they will be the ones preserving and voting.

The Kaweah Oaks Preserve truly is a jewel in the heart of Central California.  I hope that if you are ever in the area to visit the Sequoia National Park, you take a few hours to explore the Kaweah Oaks Preserve.  Included here are a few photographs from my last field trip to the Preserve, and a correlation chart to the grades K-5 science standards can be found on the CSTA website at  Also, if you would like more information about the Sequoia Riverlands Trust, please visit their website:

Michelle French is a first-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Tulare and is CSTA’s primary director.

Written by Michelle French

Michelle French is a STEM Curriculum Specialist at the Tulare County Office of Education, was CSTA’s primary director (2011-2013), and is a member of CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. As a teacher I have taken my students out to KOP for the past two years. It is truly educational not only for the students, but for teachers as well. Students get the opportunity to see all that they have been studying in class. A great trip!

  2. The place is amazing and folks here love it. Students are there all day and best of all it’s free. It’s the best place to see what the valley looked like before development. It’s also the best place to see the giant valley oak and associate species in their native habitat.

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California Science Assessment Update

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 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

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. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

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

John Keller

John Keller

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…

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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

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…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

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…

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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.