By Phaela Peck
At The Watershed Project, we strive to offer high quality watershed education to K-12 students at Title 1 schools in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. One way that we do this is through emphasizing science in our programs. Science is the study of the natural world and we connect students to their local environment through the lens of observing and investigating natural phenomena. The Watershed Project programs focus on learning about locally relevant phenomena, such as: Why was there a huge die-off of Olympia oysters at our Point Pinole oyster reef between Fall 2016 and Spring 2017? Or, Why is there so much flooding on our city streets when it rains? Through investigating these questions, students are connected to what’s going on around them in their communities.
As we develop and improve our education programs, we consider the Next Generation Science Standards, which describe three dimensions for learning science: Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) (key science ideas), science practices (what scientists do) and cross-cutting concepts (concepts that apply across disciplines such as patterns). In our programs, we connect to relevant DCIs for each grade level and consider cross-cutting concepts. For example, our Explore Your Watershed program activities and field trip support these DCIs: ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes and LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems. In Wild Oysters, students consider cause and effect and stability and change (cross cutting concepts) as they investigate the effect of increased rainfall on the Point Pinole oyster reef. Furthermore, we try to offer as many experiences as possible where students are engaging in the practices of science. According to NGSS, “The practices describe behaviors that scientists engage in as they investigate and build models and theories about the natural world and the key set of engineering practices that engineers use as they design and build models and systems.”
Wild Oysters: In our middle school and high school Wild Oysters program, students collect and analyze data about Olympia oysters at our artificial oyster reef at Point Pinole. Students gather information from a variety of sources and work together to construct an explanation for what is happening at the oyster reef. Students also engage in argumentation as they evaluate evidence and discuss which hypothetical location would be best for a new oyster project.
Rains to Roots: Students develop models in our high school Rains to Roots program. They study and build models to explain how green infrastructure works and design a model of a functioning bioswale. Through the bioswale activity, students have the opportunity to design solutions, iterate on their designs and engage in peer review.
Explore Your Watershed: This elementary program has students asking questions about riparian and shoreline ecosystems and comparing and contrasting these local habitats. Students examine evidence about animals and plants and participate in small group discussion activities.
From Me to the Sea: In this marine debris focused program, students collect and interpret marine debris data, define problems and work together to communicate effective strategies for marine debris solutions.
During our field trips, we invite students to ask questions about what they see, discuss their observations with their peers and construct explanations based on the evidence that they gather. They are given opportunities to document their findings on data sheets and through scientific sketches and are encouraged to ask and investigate their own questions.
Back in the classroom, students make sense of what they observed on their field trips. Our lessons are designed so that they consider the evidence they gathered in the field to argue for the best solution or construct an explanation for the phenomena they observed. Our goal is to provide student-directed, engaging learning experiences so that students are inspired to keep investigating (and visiting natural spaces) even after the program.
Through quality science education and watershed education, we believe that students will be more inspired to learn about their natural environment and become stewards of their local parks, while at the same time becoming scientifically and watershed literate citizens.