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Partnership for Environmental Education


IGERT trainees Tawny Mata, Alpa Wintzer, Elizabeth Bella, and Elizabeth Wells worked with a local non-profit organization to create an environmental education curriculum. This curriculum includes units on population ecology, community ecology, invasive species, and environmental history. As part of this project, IGERT Associate Alex Palmerlee created a set of illustrations that students can use to identify invasive species. Support from the NSF enabled these students to work on this project.

The organization, the Center for Land-Based Learning, includes the Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship (SLEWS) program, which engages high school students in habitat restoration projects that enhance classroom learning, develop leadership skills, and result in real habitat restoration. Throughout the year, students from high schools in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys visit SLEWS and participate in hands-on restoration projects. Restoration sites usually are privately held or public lands that otherwise would not be restored. Each participating class gets its own restoration site, which can foster students’ sense of personal investment and accomplishment. Over multiple visits, students learn about ecology and environmental science, career opportunities, and often improve their overall classroom performance. Further, because of the curriculum developed by IGERT trainees, they now can supplement their knowledge drawn from primary material and written for a general audience.

The curriculum includes information and classroom activities that can be used by participating high school teachers, whose training generally includes only limited exposure to ecological concepts. In developing the curriculum, the IGERT trainees worked with a local science teacher, Jerry Del Sol, to ensure that the curriculum conforms to the California Standards for High School Science. This increases the likelihood that teachers will use the modules in lesson plans.

In addition, the curriculum is tailored to California ecosystems. The unit on invasive species focuses on organisms commonly found in the American west; most other available curricula available (in 2008) concentrate on eastern invasives such as zebra mussels or kudzu. The curriculum builds on hands-on SLEWS activities because the plants and animals discussed in the curriculum are the ones that students encounter in their restoration sites.

Supply kits accompany the curricula. These include seeds, pots, and soil for doing experiments on ecological competition; readings on environmental history; a recording of Professor Louis Warren reading works by John Muir; a booklet detailing the California Ramblers’ modern-day re-tracing of John Muir’s walk around California; weed identification cards; a DVD of “Fear and Fishing in Lake Davis” (an environmental documentary filmed by the 2002 cohort of trainees in the Biological Invasions IGERT) with questions for discussion and follow-up; and fact sheets about invasive species.

This curriculum was shared with local teachers, academics, and staff from non-profits during a symposium in September 2007. The 100 participants gained information about SLEWS and the curriculum project and did a lot of networking to lay foundations for future collaborations.

Although they have completed their work on the curriculum, two of the trainees, Tawny Mata and Alpa Wintzer, continue to work with SLEWS as mentors for student groups.

Address Goals

Many students in modern high schools lack a connection with the land, and their schools often have minimal resources for environmental education. In particular, SLEWS works with classes from urban schools with an extremely high proportion of minority and first-generation college students (e.g., Latino/a and Hmong students). The partnership between SLEWS and the cohort of IGERT trainees improves the education of these students, helps increase their scientific literacy, particularly with regard to environmental concerns and awareness of the ecological and economic consequences of biological invasions, and potentially broadens participation in science.

Teachers who participate in the SLEWS program will be able to use the curriculum in their classrooms to complement their field days at SLEWS. Further, because the curriculum will be available for download at the SLEWS website, other teachers will have access to this valuable resource.

By providing this curriculum, the IGERT trainees improve environmental education for urban and rural students and their teachers.