Category: Hannah P.

Some Reflections

I presented my final project this past week. Upon reflecting over its success, I realized some valuable things were I ever to repeat a similar process.

Firstly, I was rather disappointed I didn’t get the opportunity to carry this project to the next level with a creative aspect. I consider myself a rather creative person, and while I enjoyed the very research-heavy nature of my project, next time I’d prefer to try something where I get to be slightly more inventive of my own nature. For this particular project, this might mean the creation of an environmental education manual for teachers, or even the culmination of the worksheets I designed into a fun booklet for the kids.

Secondly, were I to redo this project, I might do some research on how environmental education could be effectively implemented in our home community. At my project, I got lots of questions surrounding that sort of topic- like “What did you observe with the infrastructure surrounding environmental education in Oregon that made it successful” and “How do you think we could bring this back to BASIS” and “What did you learn during this project that could be specifically relevant to our BASIS community”. Studying these things would be especially important for our community, but also pique my interest because I was educated at BASIS, and would wonder how our education could be improved to reflect the thesis of my project.

Lastly, one of my biggest regrets was that I never actually got the chance to see Wheeler Elementary in person. The 4th-5th grade students using Project Based Learning at Wheeler were doing all sorts of great work and had multiple open houses to display their projects, so I wish I could’ve been present to see it. It also would have been fun to see the worksheets I designed being used, but thankfully the teachers were lovely and gave lots of great feedback.

But overall, this project was wildly successful! It was made possible by Mrs. Lundt, Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Kramer, Mrs. Logan, Mr. Winkelman, and Dr. Paradise and the rest of BASIS Ed- so special thanks to all of them.


Some Opinions From Wheeler Elementary

I realized in my last few posts I spoke a lot about interviewing people associated with Wheeler Elementary but I never actually shared my results. Essentially, I wanted to talk to these people about whether or not they thought that Project Based Learning was an effective type of curriculum for Wheeler, and for environmental education. This would mean I could use Wheeler as a case study in my project as an example of PBL, and maybe turn to other environmental education theories to make up for the short comings of PBL.

So firstly, I talked to Mrs. Kramer, the Curriculum and Education Facilitator Chair for Wheeler Elementary’s District). She told me the method of Project Based Learning that Wheeler was using was called the Gold Standard method (one of many), and that the teachers had taken courses at the Buck Institute to be prepared to teach to this method. In talking about why they had decided to make this switch towards PBL, she told me that a community member had come forward to talk about the quality of environmental education from Douglass County Environmental Service. He advocated for using the PBL method to engage the students in environmental science, as he felt the field was suffering due to lack of student interest. This pushed Mrs. Kramer’s interest in PBL, and motivated her to make the switch. She told me that the district is watching/observing Project Based Learning in Wheeler the same way I am- as a pilot program to monitor success and see how difficult it would be to implement throughout the district.

Then, I spent a few days emailing with Ms. Logan, the 4th-5th grade teacher at Wheeler Elementary School. She helped me reach out to other teachers at Wheeler, and culminate lots of opinions about the success/failings of PBL.

Firstly, the successes. The teachers loved seeing the student engagement increase both inside and outside the classroom. The students were asking questions on deeper levels and taking interest in subjects outside the framework of the curriculum, which as Ms. Logan says, “is all that an educator can hope for.” She also told me that the students were getting more interested in the professional aspect to the material- students were asking questions about their journey to getting into the profession of different positions dealing with environmental and earth sciences. There is also an immense focus on 21st century skills that the teachers believed to be immensely helpful, such as collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

But then, the drawbacks. Project Based Learning is very different from the traditional classroom structure of learning, which brought its own struggles. Firstly, there were kids that actually benefited from the traditional routine and structure of a teacher-directed classroom- specifically students with behavioral issues. Secondly, the teachers struggled to balance the freedom of project-time with the structure of teaching time- how much time to allocate to each for the optimal learning experience. And lastly, lots of the teachers expressed concern with trusting the process. This was the first time anyone at Wheeler had taught to the Project Based Learning method, so trusting that it would be just as beneficial as traditional classroom teaching was hard. It was made worse, they said, by external messages like meeting curriculum standards for state testing.

I’ve done lots of research on educational theory that can hopefully correct these problems presented with PBL. I’ll try to keep you updated on it! The next few days will most likely be spent practicing my own final project incessantly. I’ll probably post a couple more times about the wrap-up of my internship, if I get some time.

Developing Worksheets

These last couple of weeks have been the most busy-work heavy of my entire internship. Mostly throughout this process, I was doing a lot of research- half research that would be sent to my adviser and used in curriculum for Wheeler, and half research that would be used in my own final project. But then, I got the opportunity to use the research I was doing for FYRA/Wheeler and actually begin building informational sheets.

What this meant in theory was that I was designing informational sheets for Wheeler Elementary’s 4th-5th grade students to use as a base resource for their final project. For this project, each student was assigned a different method of stormwater management (like rain gardens, filter strips, and rain barrels, to name a few), and they had to research questions like “How much does it cost?” “How effective is it in stormwater management?” “How hard would it be to implement at our school?”. From there, they would create a final project talking about their stormwater management device, and also a final creative product. This could be anything from a model of the device to an actual functioning, full sized device. The sheets I designed were the first step in this process.

What this meant in practice was that I spent a lot of time on Clipart attempting to find non-copyrighted images of stormwater management materials. (This proved to be harder than expected). If you’re interested in taking a look at some of the sheets, I have about half ready to go here. [Worksheet Guide Masterlist]

But for the kids, this project does play a crucial role in Project Based Learning, the curriculum structure that I studied as a part of my project. In PBL, a huge emphasis is placed on “21st century skills”, specifically the skills of “student voice and choice” and “student creativity”. There’s a lot of research in recent educational theory surrounding why these two skills are especially important to environmental education, as they encourage the student to take ownership over the material, thus motivating them to sustainable action.

More Relevant Research

This week I focused on doing more research to aid in my final project- scouring the internet and local libraries for anything having to do with the environmental education of youth.

I’m thinking I want to frame my project in two parts- 1. Create an educational trunk kit for the environmental education of the students at Wheeler Middle School (worksheets, resources, and help with their rain garden). Observe how effective this curriculum is. 2. Use things I learned from the effectiveness of the curriculum (and lots of research papers on education theory) to design optimal environmental education curriculum. The research I did today will most certainly help me with part 2.

There are three important terms that my research centered around- environmental literacy, ecological literacy, and ecoliteracy. Each of these terms are usable in different ways, meaning entirely different things- though the one I will mainly be focused on is ecoliteracy. This term that has been popping up often recently, the notion that a person/populous should share concern for the environment and recognition of the central role of education in enhancing human-environment relationships. It also calls for a fundamental reconstruction of the entire education system to achieve resolution to these environmental concerns.

There are six main elements to ecoliteracy- 1) ecological self- a sense of interconnectedness with the cycle of life based on care and compassion 2) sense of place and active citizenship- engagement with local culture, history, and organic community together with the ecosystem 3) systems thinking and relationship- a sense of rationality, connectedness, and context 4) the ecological paradigm- study of the whole relationships and networks, a focus on contextual knowledge 5) pedagogy of education for sustainability- an experimental, participatory, and multi-disciplinary approach, focusing on the learning process 6) reading the world of nature and culture- engaging with ecoliteracy as early as possible as the first type of literacy.  (Source)

My challenge is to make use of these facets of ecoliteracy in a series of lessons applicable for elementary/middle school aged children. Everything I’ve looked at has identified number 5 as the crucial facet when dealing with younger kids- providing an experience hands-on and interesting enough to engage them with the material and further interest them independently in the material. (This relates back to an article I wrote about earlier on my blog.) The curriculum I’m designing has lots of engaging bits thus far- mostly hands-on experiments to allow the students sensory contact with curriculum they know only from worksheets. (Also obviously while number 6 is important, it is not so easily achieved. Having children experience ecoliteracy before actual literacy would be a drastic chance from the way our Western Culture presents education- though that doesn’t mean the students can’t still be well-engaged at the elementary/middle school level.) Hopefully if time and circumstance allow, after I’m done designing the sample lesson, I’ll be able to present it to a test-group of BASIS 5th graders to gauge success.

[This week is a big(er) week for the project, FRYA engineering is sending out a representative to Wheeler Middle School to help them with the hands-on part of their eco unit. They’ll be using the soil test kits I talked so much about, and learning firsthand from an environmental engineer. I’ll be engaging with this visit as much as I can while still being here in Tucson, hopefully gauging the success of the presentation that will assist in building my own curriculum]


Soil Categories and Erodibility

This week centered around the relationship between soil categories and erodibility. This is a big aspect of environmental engineering because building on the wrong kind of soil can be absolutely catastrophic to your project. This is also where the work with the rain garden comes into play.

The concept behind a rain garden is straightforward: it is designed with a central depression to retain rainwater runoff and give it time to seep into the soil. This infiltration helps “recharge” groundwater and protects local water quality by reducing polluted runoff. Rain gardens usually grow native plant species that thrive without fertilizers and pesticides. These native plants also have elaborate root systems that create channels into the soil causing it to more readily absorb water. So then comes the central question of this week- based on erodibility and soil stability, which soil category would be best for building a rain garden?

Most soil can be divided into six categories- silty, sandy, clay, loamy, peaty, chalky. And of course, combinations of all six exist naturally as well. The optimal soil for a rain garden would be one that is nutrient rich enough to allow plants to grow, but also drains freely enough to absorb stormwater in about 2 days. And of course, like all science, categorizing these soils comes with a little bit of math.

The soil erodibility factor (K-factor) is a quantitative description of the inherent erodibility of a particular soil; it is a measure of the susceptibility of soil particles to detachment and transport by rainfall and runoff. {The preferred method for determining K-factors is the nomograph method based on the work by Wischmeier (1971) and is mathematically represented as follows}-

screenshot 5

The K values for the most common types of soil are as follows-

screenshot 4

After understanding the differences between these types of soil, my job was to make another guidesheet for the kids (of course, without all the higher level math). They would be using their soil stability kits to determine the numerical value of the soil stability, then from there they would use this sheet (Soil Categories and Erodibility) to determine the type of soil they had tested. The next step in their process is to answer whether or not their school’s soil would be optimal for constructing a rain garden.

This is also where the next phase of the project comes into play- I will hopefully get to interview some teachers at Wheeler Elementary about the success of the unit thus far- questions like “How well do you think the students are understanding the material and experiments”, “Do you think the students are engaged in the material and experiments”, and “How do you think the students could engage more effectively with the material.” I’ll keep you updated!

Base Map Uses

One of the most commonly used facets in environmental engineering is- you guessed it- a base map. A typical base map shows things such as streets, boundaries (country, country, state, city), digital elevation lines, waterways, and aerial or satellite imagery. Pictured below is a standard example of a base map of the Central Regions of Ancient Greece. Boundary lines are pictured in red, and darker greens show higher elevations. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The base map is especially relevant to my research because as a part of their curriculum, the students at Wheeler Elementary hope to build a rain garden somewhere on campus. The first step to this process is determining a safe place for the rain garden to be placed.

This is a rough copy of the base map of Wheeler Elementary- Wheeler-BaseMap-Hydrologic Soil Group. (Source: FYRA Engineering). The lines surrounding the school show the elevation, and the closer the lines are together, the steeper the slope. It’s crucial to keep this in mind when picking a place to build the rain garden where the soil is as stable as possible (stability includes factors such as soil density, proneness to slacking, permeability to water, and nutrient content).

My mission for the week is to study the best place for the rain garden to be built, and then design a sort of investigatory curriculum that the students could use to come to the same conclusion.

Of course, the base map is also relevant to the student’s soil testing experiments. When using the soil test kits, the students are looking for a specific type of soil (called A-horizon soil) that exists on a strictly parallel plane. This is because the steep changes in slope could ruin the parallel nature of the soil layer, and mess with the soil stability tests. For that reason, testing soil on as flat a ground as possible is optimal. If you’re curious, last week I wrote a guide to help the students use the soil stability kits (How to- soil stability kits) that will be included in the final curriculum trunk kit.

Learning all about SOIL

The next part of my project involved writing an effective guide for the students to use their soil stability test kits.(The link to the soil stability test kits that the kids will be using is here ). The kids will be using their kits to test the soil surrounding their school and determine its quality, which usually includes testing the soil density, proneness to slacking, permeability to water, and nutrient content.

Soil density and permeability to water are relevant in testing how easily water passes through soil, which then relates to slacking.(No, not the type that high school seniors are notorious for). Slacking is the breakdown of large, air-dry soil aggregates into smaller micro-aggregates when they are immersed in water. Usually when environmental scientists talk about slacking, it is in regards to the the soil’s ability to resist erosion. The better the soil’s ability to resist erosion, the higher the quality of soil.

Bad soil quality could mean a plethora of things for the environment. Stability is critical for infiltration, root growth, and resistance to water and wind erosion. Unstable soils disintegrate during rainstorms. Dispersed soil particles fill surface pores and a hard physical crust can develop when the soil dries. Infiltration is reduced, which can result in increased runoff and water erosion, and reduced water available in the soil for plant growth. A physical crust can also restrict seedling emergence.

Soil quality is also crucial when determining whether or not the students could build a rain garden. If the soil is too loose, building a structure on top of it will be impossible. But on the other hand, if a hard crust has formed over the soil, it will be difficult to break ground to build the structure.

There is the possibility to improve the soil stability of a certain area, mostly by increasing the amount of organic materials in the soil or applying specialized organic compounds. Specifically, common solutions include:

  • Crop Rotation
  • Covering Crop
  • Pest Management
  • Prescribed Grazing
  • Residue and Tillage Management
  • Salinity and Sodic Soil Management
  • Surface Roughening

Anyways, this all needed to be conveyed to the students who are attempting to learn about their school’s soil. I put together a few informational sheets that convey all of this (in more simple language) and encourage the kids to think about it while they are taking soil samples. My next step is to obtain the base map of the school (a map that shows relative elevation and often other environmental factors) so I can begin to understand the soil’s proneness to erosion, in order to relate it to the student’s tests. I’ll keep you posted!

Research Update- “Changing Learning Behavior through Environmental Education”

Today I read the first piece of evidence that I’ll need for my final project, a 1990 study entitled “Changing Learning Behavior through Environmental Education.” This is relevant to the bit of my thesis that deals with environmental education more generally, particularly because the study focused mostly on the adaptations of young adults, whereas I am studying the effects of environmental education on elementary-age children.

The main purpose of the authors, Harold R. Hungerfield and Trudi L. Volk, was to answer the following question- “How might responsible environmental behavior be operationalized?” Firstly, the authors noted how unique environmental education actually was- mainly because it is one of the few types of learning that demands action or change for the bettering of the world. They noticed a flaw in the current system of environmental education, the fact that there was some sort of disconnect between the actual education and the motivation to action.

The authors attributed this disconnect to the fact that many people assume education to linearly lead to a motivation to action. This is apparently a common misconception in the field of education in general, and one that likewise negatively affects other fields, such as the policy making field. Hungerfield and Volk predict that actually, the connection between environmental education and motivation to action has many more variables, and looks closer to this:

screenshot-1 Hungerfield and Volk believe that the combination of all of these variables must be precise in order to motivate responsible environmental behavior. To be able to account for the excessive number of variables that exist in this flow chart, the authors recommended two curricular approaches- the “Issue Investigation and Action Model” and the “Extended Case Study Model”. Both of these are teaching models meant to be applicable on the middle school and high school level.

In the “Issue Investigation and Action Model”, students will learn about environmental problems through an issue analysis approach, along with potential citizenship action. From there, they will develop issue-resolution action plans, and assess the social, cultural, and ecological implications of their plans. In the “Extended Case Study Model”, students will learn the same skills as in the other model, but all while focusing on a predetermined issue chosen by the course instructor. The authors note that they believe the more successful approach would be the “Issue Investigation and Action model” as it gives agency to the students, accounting for multiple variables presented in the chart above, such as the locus of control, personal responsibility, knowledge of issues, and knowledge of action strategies.

The authors concluded by saying that they believe the most effective way for young adult students to be motivated to action over environmental issues was to give them the opportunity to develop ownership over such issues. I believe this raises an interesting point in dealing with environmental education- especially because in my own BASIS Tucson North community, I see a populous well-educated on issues of the environment, but scarcely acting in responsible environmental behavior. This paper seemed to believe that simply giving the students careful choreographed projects could allow them to insert themselves into the issue enough to take action. What factors in our own community mean that the variables presented above don’t line up for our students? Just food for thought I suppose.

All of this is helpful to my project in determining effective environmental education that could surpass all of the variables and lead people to action. Of course, it isn’t exactly similar to what I’m studying- since I’m dealing with the environmental education of elementary age children. What I’m hoping, though, is that there will be one big change in the variables for children that will actually make them more likely to exhibit responsible environmental behavior- and that is in the “Intention to Act” variable. Assuming that the material is presented in a way that is easy to understand, I’m predicting that childlike enthusiasm will greatly increase their willingness to act.


Soil, Weathering, Landforms, Stormwater Runoff

My first mission with FYRA is to design curriculum for the first two investigations in their book- dealing with soil, weathering, landforms, and stormwater runoff. What this really meant was that I spent a long time browsing news sites for anything interesting that related to the curriculum. I wanted things that would bring to life what they were studying, making it easier to answer the following questions as learning standards for the investigations-

Investigation 1: What is soil? How do big rocks break down into smaller rocks? How are rocks affected by acid rain? What is in our schoolyard soils?

Investigation 2: How do weathered rocks move from one place to another? How does slope affect erosion and deposition? How do floods affect erosion and deposition? Where are erosion and deposition happening in our schoolyard? What events can change the Earth’s surface rapidly?

Extra: What is stormwater runoff? What can we do to combat the negative effects of stormwater runoff?

The highlights of my search were as follows:

  1. A cute video about stormwater runoff made by the EPA, titled “A Drop’s Life”(watch here)
  2. An article detailing the geology of the Grand Canyon (bringing the learning back to my Arizonian roots) (here)
  3. An interactive soil tetris game (here)
  4. A discovery that “Soil- Breaking Down” happens to be the name of an alternative rock song, completely unrelated to the earth’s processes. (Not highly recommended, but here if you’re interested)

If you’re interested in some other news articles that I’ve found (detailing Nebraskan landslides, Icelandic volcanoes, and erosion of British monuments) these were the most engaging. I struggled to find articles that painted a realistic picture of the material, were captivating, were fairly recent, and were also understandable on a 4th-5th grade reading level. Let me know what you think.

The next step when dealing with the curriculum involves getting my hands on a soil testing kit- I want to be able to test one out and hep write instructions/troubleshoot for when the kids use it to test the soil in their schoolyard. They are fairly expensive though, I’ll keep you posted.

It’s hard to coordinate so much long distance (what with both the company and the school based in Nebraska), but I’ll hopefully get better at it with time, and also have more substantive material to share on the blog.

Study of Community Factors in the Perpetuation of Environmental Conciousness

My internship for this project will be with FYRA Engineering, an environmental engineering firm based out of Nebraska. With FYRA, I will work closely with Wheeler Elementary School, a school in Nebraska that recently reached out to FYRA for help with their environmental science education. Wheeler wants their earth science curriculum to become more hands on, and it will be my job to help design the science curriculum by a) finding websites and articles about local environmental projects b) testing out hands on projects such as the soil samplers and c) guiding the students through the research and design of a rain garden. The students will also mainly be studying whether or not a rain garden would be beneficial to build on their school site, something FYRA engineering will help with. Out of this project, FYRA engineering hopes to compile a trunk kit of sorts for earth science education- so that if other schools also came to them for help they would have a curriculum with projects already designed. The final product of this project will be a research paper detailing the effects of the environmental education on the school’s environmental consciousness, in addition to the trunk kit for science education.