Why Garden in School (Part 1)

Why Garden in School (Part 1)

Can School Gardening Help Save Civilization?

(An Essay in Four Parts)



by Carter D. Latendresse
The Catlin Gabel School

This paper is an argument for gardening in schools, focusing on two months of integrated English-history sixth grade curriculum that explores the relationships between a number of current environmental problems—notably hunger, water scarcity, topsoil loss, and global warming—and the land-use practices that led to the downfall of ancient Mesopotamia. This paper suggests that world leaders today are repeating some of the same mistakes that caused desertification to topple the Sumerian empire. It then explains how our sixth grade class explores solutions to the existing emergencies by studying Mesopotamia, ancient myth, gardening, and contemporary dystopian fiction. Finally, this paper posits a new cosmology that might help to remake western civilization, saving it from the threat of present-day ecological crises.

Why Garden in School?

Part I: Four Enduring Understandings

During the fall months in my 6th grade English class, I teach gardening, ancient flood stories, contemporary dystopian literature, and ancient Mesopotamia. My colleagues and I ask our students to look backward to identify essential characteristics of the first human civilizations, so that they might look forward and imagine remaking Western civilization in the 21st century. During these lessons, my history teacher partner focuses on the development of agriculture in the Neolithic Age (8000 BCE to 3000 BCE), the rise of Sumerian city-states, the four empires of Mesopotamia, and the characteristics of ancient civilizations. In my English class, my curriculum parallels and interweaves with these topics at crucial points, especially around issues of soil, water, food, climate, environmental justice, and the stories we tell ourselves as humans to orient ourselves to Earth, to one another, to the other animals, and to the cosmos. Sixth grade students and teachers at our school can often be found outside during September and October, harvesting apples, grinding wheat, learning about bee keeping, planting overwintering lettuce, or baking pita bread in the garden cob oven. Several people have asked, “What does the garden have to do with English or history class?” or “Why do you garden in school?” This essay is an attempt to answer these questions.

The sixth grade teaching team begins its unit from the principles enunciated in the seminal curriculum design text, Understanding by Design, by Grant McTighue and Wiggins (2005). The authors show that the best teaching is, paradoxically, in preparation for college while it is also, at the same time, as John Dewey (1897) says, part of an informed “process of living and not a preparation for future living” (Article Two: What the School Is section, para. 2). We strive to present riveting, relevant, future-thinking curriculum that is rooted in solving the problems and celebrating the wisdom that exist today. The problem-based teaching with a backward design process outlined in Understanding by Design offers us a good model on how to remain, simultaneously, college preparatory and focused on today’s most pressing issues. The garden is our place of intersection for the teaching of ancient history, the novel, writing, economics, politics, anthropology, religion, myth, and science. Pedagogically, we have nine reasons for teaching the Sumerian empire in our organic garden behind the middle school building. These nine reasons grow up out of the four enduring understandings we want our students to chew on for the rest of their lives.

The first enduring idea or understanding is that the aims and desires of most people on Earth have been fundamentally similar since hunter gatherers first domesticated crops and animals in Iraq 10,000 years ago, and we can empathize with those people because we too desire, at bottom, the same things, which are connection and belonging. As humanities teachers, we do not present what some might term a traditional history curriculum to our students that focuses on names, dates, generals on battlefields, or famous men elected president. Such a presentation presupposes that the victors of confrontations make history, and that conflict, violence, and the will to power are the unconscious driving impulses scaffolding the metanarrative of the human species. Instead, influenced by new scholarship focusing on empathy, mirror neurons, the lives of women, the colonized, and ordinary people throughout history, we begin by asking, Whose stories get left out of history, and why? We unearth representative stories that could stand for the great silent majority of human history, and we presuppose, along with Jeremy Rifkin (2009, p. 9-26), that the deepest unconscious desires of Homo sapiens include companionship in towns that provide nutritious food, clean water, and safe homes for our children. By studying Mesopotamia, we get a snapshot of people putting these desires into action when they created the world’s first cities.

Our second enduring idea that we want our students to return to throughout their lives is that there exists today a phalanx of interwoven problems facing the human species—global warming, hunger, biodiversity loss, deforestation, poverty, water scarcity, topsoil depletion, each of which is exacerbated by overpopulation. While these global issues may feel both overwhelming and unapproachable, during the autumn of the sixth grade year, we teach that several of these problems are causal, one giving way to the other, and all have their roots in practices one can find in Mesopotamia. Such practices included clearing the land of trees, erecting massive irrigation systems, then farming monocultures, which led to erosion, then desertification, and then later empire collapse.

Ten years ago, Time magazine, in its August 26, 2002 edition, released a Special Report entitled How to Save the Earth. “Up to a third of the world,” the authors noted, “is in danger of starving. Two billion people lack reliable access to safe, nutritious food, and 800 million of them—including 300 million children—are chronically malnourished” (Dorfman & Kluger, 2002, p. A9). The authors also presented startling statistics on water scarcity: “At present 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water and more than 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation. ‘Unless we take swift and decisive action,’ says [then] U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ‘by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may be living in countries that face serious water shortages” (Dorfman & Kluger, 2002, p. A10). Whereas Time magazine did not then connect the dots on the ecological problems it investigated, other writers since that time have.

J.R. Rischard’s (2002) High Noon was similarly foreboding but more thorough. The former vice-president of the World Bank gave us twenty years to address twenty pressing and mutually destructive environmental concerns such as global warming, deforestation, biodiversity loss, fisheries depletion, and water shortages. One wonders how far we’ve come in half our twenty years. Joining the chorus, the eminent historian Jared Diamond (2005) likewise proposed, in his book Collapse, his own list of eleven similar and overlapping ecological problems that require immediate attention: problems such as—pardon the repetition—deforestation, coral reef destruction, fisheries depletion, erosion and topsoil loss, the end of peak oil, lack of potable water, toxic chemical pollution, global warming, and overpopulation (Diamond, 2005, p. 487-496). Similarly, Clive Ponting (1991) argued that each empire, whether Sumerian, Egyptian, Roman, or Mayan, follows the same paradigm, already alluded to, during its downfall: deforestation, erosion, monocropping, overwatering, desertification, and eventual collapse.

What we want our students to investigate, as part of this second enduring understanding, is that these problems are interconnected. Global warming, peak oil, the global food crisis, poverty, the loss of healthy local economies, and biodiversity loss are mutually-supporting spokes of a wheel that continues to roll over the backs of billions, especially in the southern hemisphere. “It is wrong to grow temperate-zone vegetables [as monocrops for export, such as bananas] in the tropics and fly them back to rich consumers,” Vandana Shiva (2008) writes, articulating some of the sometimes hidden interplay between injustice and ecology. “This uproots local peasants, creates hunger and poverty, and destroys local agro-biodiversity. . . . Since vegetables and fruits are perishable, transporting them long distances is highly energy-intensive, contributing to climate change” (p. 128). Throughout the years, Shiva has continued to elucidate the point that the global food industry perpetuates economic and environmental injustice for local, most southern hemisphere economies that export monocultured cash crops such as sugar, bananas, coffee, cotton, chocolate, and tea to more wealthy countries overseas. Healthy local economies and ecosystems overseas are compromised, even ruined, by the industrialized global food system.

Carolyn Merchant (1989, p. 52) and Shiva (2008, p. 105) likewise note the tendrils connecting seemingly disparate issues: when lands are cleared for monocrop exports, pesticides and inorganic nitrate fertilizers are typically poured into the diminishing soil, which then invites pests and disease—as monocultures have easier genetic codes to crack than biodiverse fields—which in turn increases the need to clear and deforest more land for cultivation. So-called free trade agreements and exporter-friendly loaning institutions—such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization—conspire to wrest land from local subsistence farmers so that the multination agribusiness corporations can buy out smaller farmers and expand.

Noting the preceding, concerned parents might worry that their children will look around the world—at India, Mexico, Ecuador, Indonesia—and assume that we in the U.S. are foisting our relative strong economy on other nations and therefore insisting that the errors of Mesopotamia be repeated in other modern countries today. We teachers share this concern, but we lean toward the notion that people, in their deepest recesses, seek belonging and connection rather than power and exploitation. In addition, we resist the hard-hearted theory of British economist Thomas Malthus (1999), who in 1798 proposed that population growth would outrun the ability of the world to produce food. Overpopulation, he said, would lead to war, famine, disease, and other calamities that would curtail human reproduction in a kind of macabre, unsentimental balance. Instead of simply cataloguing wrongdoing across the world and assigning blame, shrugging our shoulders in an unfeeling social Darwinism—which is counterproductive, in the end, to the creation of the empathic civilization that we hope to create—we sixth grade teachers like to move quickly to our third enduring understanding, which seeks to empower the students with problem-solving strategies.

The third enduring understanding we unpack for our students is that just as the current aforementioned global problems are interwoven and therefore seemingly intractable, multiple solutions will be employed this century on an international scale, and we, paradoxically, might most easily help on campus by studying local, organic food, responsible water use, and enlightened community engagement. If we grow organic vegetables at school, for example, in raised beds using low-evaporation drip irrigation, using seed we’ve collected from the previous year, and then we later harvest and eat that produce at lunch in our salad bar, we show the students how to support healthy, local, biodiverse economies—and overseas farming economies, by extension, who might convert their fields back to feeding their own peoples—while also reducing the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, as well as diminishing global warming that follows energy-intensive global packaging, refrigeration, and shipping.

Paul Hawken (2007) states that the movement to establish a more sustainable world “has three basic roots: environmental activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous cultures’ resistance to globalization, all of which have become intertwined” (p. 12). We in the sixth grade teach all of these topics during our fall Mesopotamia unit so that our students begin to see that environmental movements are really about social justice and health, at bottom, just as biodiversity is about local sustainability.

Various historians and social theorists suggest ways to live in post-oil economies. Indeed, the genre has become a nonfiction subgenre, claiming whole sections in bookstores. In addition, leading intellectuals, such as Richard Tarnas (2012), are pointing to ecovillages, intentional communities, and small, independent schools such as Catlin Gabel as ways to address a coming crisis of living in the world with more people and dwindling fossil fuel reserves, since smaller nontraditional living and educational sites can more deliberately incorporate the use of alternative energy sources and the new paradigms that are needed to sustain them.

What becomes clear after reviewing the three enduring understandings—human desire creates multilayered problems requiring multilayered solutions—is that the vision of human history we are presenting is paradoxical. Surely, the overall quality of life for most people on the planet today is more comfortable, safe, and enjoyable than it was for people living in the city of Ur in 2500 BCE. Smallpox vaccinations, electricity, indoor plumbing, telephones, computers, automobiles, and a thousand other technological innovations have bettered the quality of human life since the great cities of Mesopotamia fell and were reclaimed by the desert. However, we also live in an age of contradiction, during a time of converging ecological emergencies, and climate scientists might easily join Hamlet in his enigmatic assessment:

“What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust?” (Shakespeare, 2.2.295-300)

How should we synopsize these seeming contradictions? The students live on a beautiful, amazing planet, but one that is engulfed in growing environmental calamities. It’s our job as educators to resist dichotomous, simplistic thinking; rather, we strive to admit the complex truths and to problem solve collaboratively across coalitions and issues. It is also our job to resist cynicism, hopelessness, and paralyzing guilt as we explore these topics with our students. When we look to the past with our students, we can see the choices our ancestors made when they settled around reliable food sources in the Middle East at the end of the last ice age, building the world’s first cities, and we can imagine remaking our future cities this century with smaller carbon footprints.

Our curriculum design around Mesopotamia and the garden is to explicitly connect issues while resisting reductionist mono-issue, silver-bullet thinking. We do not proceed with the idea that a hydrogen economy will replace the topsoil, the fish in the ocean, or the trees being clear-cut in the Amazon. At the same time, we don’t deny it won’t help. We agree, in short, with Paul Hawken’s (2007) premise, in his book Blessed Unrest, that there is a massive social justice and environmental conservation movement afoot without one monolithic mission statement or central leadership. This movement is systemic, global, and broad, focusing on many issues and comprised of thousands of groups—for clean air, better public education, water conservation, and bans on GMO in food, for example. Despite the fact that there does not exist some central agency dispensing strategy and dogma, their aims intersect around two main principles: social justice and environmental conservation, which both lead to our last pedagogical goal.

Our fourth enduring understanding is that the stories a culture tells itself about its origins, its purpose, and its future will determine to a large extent that culture’s ability to survive the tests of time. Another way of saying this is that the stories we tell ourselves will help us to imagine the solutions we will need to fix the problems we have created. We teachers find that we are able to present both the intersecting problems and the possible solutions by retelling the oldest stories humanity has told itself about its creation, its place in the cosmos, its meaning and purpose. I therefore teach Gilgamesh (McCaughrean, 2003), the first of all written stories, from Mesopotamia. I also teach Genesis (Holy Bible, 2003), perhaps the world’s most influential narrative, plus a host of Greek myths, from the beginnings with Gaea and Uranus, through Cronos to Zeus, Prometheus, and Pandora, finally culminating with Deucalion and Pyrrha (Baker & Rosenberg, 1992). Similarities jump out when the three narrative strands are laid side-by-side: Gods create the world, including humanity; humans either lose or try to gain eternal life and fail; Gods become displeased with humans and send a flood, killing all except for a favored few, who survive in a boat and then go on to repopulate the world with the Gods’ blessings. The fact that the oldest stories all focus on an ecological catastrophe that is not dissimilar to the one featured on our nightly news today is not lost on our students. They see, for example, that global warming is melting the polar ice caps today, threatening coastal civilizations with flooding. This isn’t a grim news story “out there” somewhere or a tall tale easily relegated to a bookshelf labeled “myth and legend.” NOAA reports that half of Americans live within fifty miles of the coast (2011). If the ice caps melt, hundreds of millions worldwide will become ecological refugees. Studying the ancient stories in the contexts of both the founding of human civilization and our current ecological predicaments makes sense, then, as we want the students to analyze the old stories in order to eventually imagine new narratives for the coming century that will include heroic deeds of collaboration in order to create a just global village.

In addition to studying the world’s oldest stories, I also teach contemporary dystopian literature to explore a number of possible reactions to potential environmental troubles of the future. The science fiction and fantasy novelists have been at the vanguard of imagining solutions to life’s problems for over a century. The students are directed to probe the reasons for civilization collapse in their novels and to imagine resurrections based upon sustainable principles involving soil, water, food, housing, and energy production. I also pair the dystopian novels and civilization creation projects with nonfiction reading of four National Geographic articles on the first civilizations, food insecurity, topsoil loss, and water scarcity. Students are asked to image themselves creating their own civilizations in the next century, given certain definitions for advanced civilization and all of the ecological challenges we are facing right now.

Taken together, these four enduring understandings undergird our nine reasons for teaching in the garden. We want to provide students with the backstory for how we got to 2012 as a human species, emphasizing that the study of human history should elicit our empathy rather than condemnation. We also want to provide our students with interpretive lenses with which they can analyze both our current human impact and utter reliance upon Earth. Last, we want to offer students the schemata to remake a more sustainable, just, and enjoyable civilization for the world’s citizens in the 21st century.

Click here for Part 2


Using Snowpack to Teach Climate Change

Using Snowpack to Teach Climate Change

Climate Change Education

SWEet!: Using Cascade Snowpack to Teach Climate Change

by Padraic Quinn, Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School


Illustration by Bill Reiswig

Three years ago I was given the opportunity to learn with the scientific leaders of climate change research as part of a teacher-research partnership through NASA, Oregon State University and the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program (ONREP). I heard scientists talk about how forests act as carbon sinks or carbon sources, how LANDSAT data are showing us changes to our landscape, how ocean currents are affecting the availability of copepods eaten by salmon, and how the growth rings in the ear bone of a fish can be studied and correlated with the growth rings of trees on the nearby coast. All of these researchers were making discoveries that played a role in our knowledge of climate change. In addition, teachers were assigned to a scientist each year to conduct research over a two-week period. This allowed both the teachers and researchers to discuss their work and determine ways that it could be transferred from climate researcher work to middle school student work. This sharing of information included access to the scientists and their work, even when I returned to my classroom.


Transferring Professional Development to the Classroom

A significant portion of my classroom science curriculum is spent on independent research projects where students work through the inquiry process to answer a question to a problem on a science topic of their choice. Prior to starting our projects this year I assessed students on their graphing and analysis skills by teaching lessons on climate change in the Northwest, primarily using the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) SNOTEL system. This automated system, under the technical guidance of the National Water and Climate Center (NWCC) provides snowpack and climate data in the Western U.S. and Alaska. SNOTEL provides real-time data that is critical for understanding future water supplies and allows my students exposure to natural resource issues that will directly affect them and their families.  Based on my experiences working with snow pack research, I designed a multiday lesson on climate change that used SNOTEL data to form the basis of the students’ inquiry.


Climate Change and NW Snowpack Lessons

Day 1

Each student was asked to build a concept map for climate change showing connections among different components. Examples were given for a concept we had just finished studying (photosynthesis) so they were clear on how to see and depict interactions. The concept maps varied drastically, partially due to the fact that my classes include a mix of 6 – 8 graders but also because of the wide range of knowledge about climate change knowledge among my students. The discussion after the students completed their concept map and pretest was valuable, with many students wanting to share, ask questions and verbalize their current understanding of climate change.

Day 2

Students were excited when they sat down, and I was in the back of the room with a very loud snow-cone machine. After they got over the initial disappointment of not getting a refreshing snow-cone, each table group was asked to agree on the volume of “snow” that was in the beaker I had filled and placed on their table. Students recorded their information along with a definition of SWE or Snow Water Equivalent.  Our basic definition was the amount of water in the snow. Students also made a prediction of the SWE for the “snow” that was on their table. At the end of class, after melting, students determined the percent water content in their snow.

To show a real life example on a large scale of global climate change and melting I had students watch the TED Talk, “James Balog: Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss”.  Balog shows photographs from the Extreme Ice Survey that he began in 2005 and shared in his TED Talk from 2009. Students were asked to write down new information, “WOW” information and questions they had from the talk. Connections were made since some students had been to Alaska, while others had been in the Cascades Mountains; but the majority of the students did not realize that glaciers were present in the mountains located just 65 miles from where they were sitting in Beaverton, Oregon.

Days 3 & 4

To help connect students to their surroundings I had them pick an Oregon SNOTEL site out of a hat. The sites didn’t make sense to them yet but the names are intriguing with the likes of Jump Off Joe, Blazed Alder, Bear Grass and Mud Ridge. Students went online to gather general information about their SNOTEL site such as county, latitude-longitude, and elevation. The students also collected SWE, snow depth, YTD precipitation, and Max., Min. and Average Temperature (see attached student activity sheet). To get a view of the historical context of how SWE has changed over time students collected mean SWE for March in every year that SNOTEL data have been collected. In most cases this was approximately 1978. Students found wide variations in SWE from year to year but soon were asking about specific years from other sites and realized how data were similar from site to site. Many discussions revolved around why such large fluctuations exist, trends over time, temperature’s impact on SWE and elevation impact on SWE. These discussions were difficult for even some of the more accomplished 8th graders, but interest did not diminish due to complexity. Students graphed data, wrote a short analysis and compared data with another student whose site elevation differed (+/-2000’) from their own site.

Adopt-a-SNOTEL site: Long Term Snowpack & Water Availability Activities

As a follow-up to this activity students have been monitoring their SNOTEL sites since November daily for SWE, snow depth, YTD Precipitation and Observed Temperature. (See attached student monitoring sheet.)  This work has continued to keep students interested and active in local mountain snowfall and their own SNOTEL site. Each month I am asking students to conduct activities and answer questions on their SNOTEL data. This includes graphing one or more of the parameters, discussing monthly trends in the data, comparing site data with another student and finding sciences article related to snowpack, glaciers and climate change. Students will conduct this activity throughout the winter and spring months as a way to continue their learning on climate change, make a connection to their sense of place and better understand how their water supply will be affected in the short and long term.

The range of benefits to me and my students provided by the Researcher-Teacher Partnerships project have been immeasurable. I have been given open access to an elite scientific community, the collaboration among educators has been inspiring, and my current and future students will continue to learn as researchers.


Natural Resources Conservation Service. (2013) SNOTELand Snow Survey & Water Supply Forecasting Brochure. National Weather and Climate Center, Portland, Oregon


Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL Data, http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/

TED Conferences, LLC. (2009) James Balog: Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss http://www.ted.com/talks/james_balog_time_lapse_proof_of_extreme_ice_loss.html

Science expertise was provided by the following Oregon State University Faculty:  Dr. Anne Nolin – Professor and Travis Roth-Doctoral Student in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences



These lessons were created using information learned in the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program’s Researcher Teacher Partnerships: Making global climate change relevant in the classroom project.  This project was supported by a NASA Innovations in Climate Education award (NNXI0AT82A).


Student Activity Sheet Attached

SNOTEL Activity for Oregon.docx


SNOTEL SWE for Oregon                                                                                                name: _______________________



Use this to record data for your SNOTEL site for the next month.  In the table below you will find the information you will need to record for your site.  This should be collected at least once per week for each day that week.


1. Go to Google Search and type Oregon SNOTEL

2. Click on first site shown which will be a map of Oregon

3. Use the drop down menu Select a SNOTEL Site to find your site by name.  Or if you know where your site is located you can click on the correct red dot on the map.


Site Name: ____________________________________                        Site Number: ___________________________

County: _______________________________________                                    Elevation: _______________________________

Latitude: _____________________________________                                    Longitude: _______________________________


5. Click on Last 7 Days under the Daily column for Snow Water Equivalent.  Record the following.

Date Snow Water


The Power of One

The Power of One



The Power of One

by Michael J. Caduto

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
—    Mahatma Gandhi


About five years ago I started to plan for a new book for children, parents and teachers about global climate change. I soon found that there was no shortage of materials that addressed how humankind is generating greenhouse gases, and explained the myriad ways in which this pollution is changing the weather and impacting people’s lives and environmental health worldwide.

Climate Change on a Kid’s Scale

When I began presenting a related program called Kids’ Power, I encountered a deep-seated concern among many young people who were struggling with this overarching environmental issue. Children’s natural instincts lead them to want to do something about the issues that affect people and the natural world, especially plants and animals, but climate change doesn’t lend itself to clear cut projects like Pennies for Peace or setting up a school-wide recycling program. Some students were vexed by the complexity of climate change; some felt that the issue was so grand they couldn’t take meaningful personal action to help solve the problem; still others saw it as a challenge to meet head-on. One thing was clear: In order for children to know what can be done to solve the problem of climate change, they must have a solid understanding of how our actions affect the environment, as well as what kinds of natural and physical forces can be used to solve the related problems.

The book that was finally published, Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun, explores climate change and includes activities for helping to solve the problem. It then takes a critical step beyond—helping youth to understand the principles behind the forces of nature so that they can harness the power of the sun and wind to generate renewable energy for use in everyday life. To those ends, it covers essential concepts in physics, such as the electromagnetic energy engaged in wind turbines and when pedaling a bicycle generator.


CadutoSidebar1The Power of One

I also discovered a phenomenon that I call The Power of One: every single positive action taken by each individual adds up to create a huge impact. For example: whenever fortyfive kids convince their parents to replace just one incandescent lightbulb at home with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulb, they save more than enough energy to supply all of the lighting for one entire household. If every home in the United States replaced just one incandescent lightbulb with an energy-efficient bulb, it would have the same effect as taking 800,000 cars off the road— reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 9 billion pounds each year. And if each and every household in the United States simply started drying clothes online, instead of using a clothes dryer, we would immediately cut down on the use of enough electricity to shut down thirty average-sized coal-fired power plants. Every action we take to cut down on energy use and generate renewable energy combines with the actions of others to produce a positive synergistic effect.

Green Giants

Still, something else was needed in the book; inspirational stories about young people who have responded to current environmental challenges with projects and programs that are creating a brighter future. These young people come from throughout North America and from such far-flung countries as the United Arab Emirates. Their projects range from the “Cool Coventry Club” (Connecticut) that encourages commitments to reduce energy consumption, generate renewable energy and cut back on greenhouse gases; to anti engine-idling campaigns in Utah and Manitoba; and to generating local hydroelectric power for rural villages in the mountains of Indonesia.

The common element among all of these successful projects is that the children use local resources, harnessed by virtue of their own ingenuity, to make a real contribution toward fighting climate change and other environmental problems. They demonstrate how the solutions are all around us—blowing in the wind, shining down upon us from our home star and flowing through remote mountain streams. These “Green Giants” show that it is possible to (literally) set and run our clocks by using the forces of nature; to create a new world of renewable energy in which fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) will become obsolete.

We adults have left today’s children with a legacy of environmental problems on a global scale. The least we can do is provide them with the knowledge and skills they need, as well as a sense of their own personal power, so that they can understand how to live in balance with the environment today in order to create a sustainable future. Saving our home planet us an exciting, empowering and fun way to connect with other youth in a common cause. Following is an example of how twelve-year-old Adeline Tiffanie Suwana started an environmental movement in Indonesia that has become a powerful force for improving the lives of many people and caring for the natural world.


Friend of Nature

Adeline Tiffanie Suwana
Kelapa Gading Permai, Indonesia

Excerpted from: Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun: 22 Super-Charged Science Projects for Kids. ©2011 by Michael J. Caduto. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

CadutoPic1Adeline was eleven years old and had just graduated from Primary Six in Indonesia when she first got involved with protecting the environment. “I think the most important environmental issue that we face in Indonesia and the world today is Climate Change, which has already disrupted our environment and communities,” she says, “Disasters such as floods, drought, and sinking islands could become more frequent and more severe. Those concerns encouraged me to start asking children to understand, commit and act to save our Earth.”

Many of Indonesia’s low-lying coastal farms would flood if sea levels continue to rise due to global warming. Two thousand of the nation’s smaller islands could be underwater by 2030. Rising temperatures may shorten the rainy season and make storms more severe. These changes would affect Indonesia’s rice yield—the staple food for more than 230 million people.

“Nature is declining in quality at an alarming rate,” Adeline says, “starting from where we live and stretching to the sea—the river, the forest and the air that we breathe. The effects can be felt in the form of floods, air pollution and beach erosion due to climate change and global warming.”

But Adeline is hopeful. Speaking with wisdom beyond her years, she says that, starting at an early age, children need to be encouraged to grow a sense of love and caring toward nature and the environment.

CadutoSidebar2Planting Trees in a Fragile Land

How does an eleven-year-old start to save the world? In July 2008, after graduating from primary school, Adeline spent her holiday teaching friends about the importance of mangrove trees. Soon they were planting mangroves at Taman Wisata Alam Angke Kapuk, the Jakarta Mangrove Rehabilitation Center.

She says that in order for the project to succeed, it was important “to make children include their parents so that they start realizing that it is time that we contribute to the world to save our mother nature from destruction.”

Adeline’s enthusiasm is contagious. She and her colleagues soon formed a group called Sahabat Alam, or “Friends of Nature.” The number of children who joined Sahabat Alam and the environmental projects they took on grew quickly. The group’s activities included ecotourism, planting coral reefs, freeing Penyu Sisik (hawksbill turtles) and cleaning marine debris from beaches.

Several national and international Environmental Organizations have now recognized the work of Sahabat Alam. In May of 2009 Friends of Nature received the Biodiversity Foundation’s (Yayasan Kehati’s) Highest Award and Appreciation in honor of the group’s commitment toward developing awareness among children and youth as the next generation of stewards of Indonesia’s biodiversity.

CadutoPic2Adeline says she feels honored that she was awarded first place in the 2009 International Young Eco-Hero Awards (for ages eight to thirteen) by the San Francisco-based Action for Nature, a non-profit organization that aims to inspire young people to take action for the environment and protect the natural world in their own neighborhood and around the globe. She was also selected as an Indonesian Delegate by UNEP (United Nation Environment Programme) to participate in the 2009 TUNZA International Children’s Conference in Daejon, Korea in August 2009.

Adeline doesn’t see herself as being much different from any other twelve-year-old. “I am not the only Eco-Hero,” she says. “Children, youths and adults all over the world can do the same thing as long as they have the willingness and commitment. This comes first from the heart, then from sharing with friends and starting to take action.”

CadutoPic3Helping Rural Families

Adeline also sees the connection between the needs of people and the natural world. “I would like to help our remote brothers and sisters to fulfill their dream [of] flowing electricity into their houses for children to study, watch television, cook and all other activities, especially at night.” She is now involved with a program that is bringing electricity into remote areas that have never before had power. She points out that, “Nearly half of Indonesia’s 235 million people live in areas without electricity.”

The solution? An Electric Generator Water Reel, a small hydroelectric generator that uses the natural power of a waterfall to produce what Adeline describes as “clean, environmentally friendly, Green, renewable and sustainable energy that does not increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or worsen the greenhouse effect.” The water reel simply turns in the falling water and doesn’t affect the waterfall or the flow of the stream. (See the box called “Reel Math”.)

Sahabat Alam is getting lots of help from parents and sisters, as well as the Indonesian Ministry of Environment. For the first installation, the group traveled to the region of South Cianjur, West Java, which is a four-hour drive from Jakarta. After walking up into the mountains for another two hours, the team finally reached the village of Kampung Cilulumpang. By the time they left, the villagers had electricity for the first time in their lives. The group is now building Electric Generator Water Reels for two other villages, and it plans to bring this project to villagers throughout Indonesia.

“Previously, children’s voices were not heard,” says Adeline, “but now, we are coming together to voice our commitment to our national leaders and world leaders, to make peace and start having one voice to save the Earth.”

CadutoPic4“I share and affirm with all of them that, even with our small hands, children can initiate, contribute and implement environmental projects starting from their small community to nation-wide projects to contributing to the world by helping hinder climate change and global warming and save the earth from further destruction.”

“We are the next and future generations of the world. In our hands, the world and its contents are at stake.”



Adeline Tiffanie Suwana’s Friends of Nature website
Action for Nature
Change the World Kids
Young Voices on Climate Change
YouTube video for Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun
Sources That Explain Global Climate Change:
Tiki the Penguin
Global Warming Question and Answer Web Site, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/
National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) Asheville, North Carolina
Renewable Energy for Kids:
EcoKids Canada, Earth Day Canada, Toronto, Ontario
Energy Kids, U.S. Energy Information Agency, Washington, D.C.
Curriculum Connections:
The Pembina Institute: Lessons & Activities, Curriculum Links
Natural Resources Canada’s Climate Change Teacher Resources: Grade 5


Michael J. Caduto, author, environmental educator, storyteller and ecologist, is well known as the creator and co-author of the landmark Keepers of the Earth® series and Native American Gardening. He also wrote Pond and Brook and Earth Tales from Around the World. His latest books are Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun: 22 Supercharged Projects for Kids (Storey Publishing) and Riparia’s  River (Tilbury House). His many awards include the Aesop Prize, NAPPA Gold Award and the Brimstone Award (National Storytelling Network). Michael’s programs and publications are described on his website: www.p-e-a-c-e.net



Using litter-fall to study carbon cycling

Using litter-fall to study carbon cycling


The LitTER Project: A field method for using litter-fall to study carbon cycling

by Lee Cain & Nick Baisley
Astoria High School Science Department

During a NASA funded Teacher-Researcher Partnership program focused on bringing Global Warming and Climate Change into the classroom, a long-term ecological study was created to get students into the field to research leaf litter fall as it relates to the carbon cycle.

Through photosynthesis, carbon in the atmosphere is converted into plant matter, which then will fall to the ground as it continues to be recycled in the carbon cycle. Our investigation is designed to answer the following question: “What is the rate at which carbon as leaf litter moves from a coniferous forest canopy to the forest floor (C-flux as Mg/ha/yr)?” A secondary question we are hoping to answer with this study is: “How does the rate of C-flux relate to coniferous age and management techniques?”

For comparison we selected one 60+ yr. old stand, a 30-50 yr. old recently thinned stand, and a young closed-canopy regenerating clearcut (15-20 yrs. old). In each stand we laid out two parallel transects, each with nine litter traps (plots) spaced 10 meters apart. Along each transect we also placed a HOBO temperature and light data logger.

We are collecting, drying, sorting, and finding the mass of leaf litter, and other sources of carbon, that have fallen into the traps. With only one fully completed set of data, we have yet to begin to answer the key questions of this study. We foresee a period of at least five years before we gather a significant data base. The purpose of this preliminary year was to choose our sites, establish transects, and work through any logistical or methodological challenges that present themselves. In the fall, students will begin taking regular field trips to the sites in order to collect and analyze the data.


Big forests, big trees. Steep slopes, moss, and mycorrhizal strands of hyphae exposed under sliding boots. Climb up the slope, scramble down the log, lay the tape out, and spread the calipers. Then back up the slope again over the crisscrossed giant pick-up sticks to get the next measurement.

Later, taking a break for lunch, smashing microscopic biting midges against our sweaty arms, we have the chance to gaze upwards at the giant columns and wonder about what each tree has witnessed in its four or five centuries of existence. Then lunch is over, and it’s time to lay the tape out again.

This goes on day after day. Two science teachers from Astoria High School, we were in the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the Cascade Mountains. This forest is part of the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network, created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1980 to conduct research on ecological issues that can last decades and span huge geographical areas. We were working with Dr. Mark Harmon of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry to take follow-up carbon storage measurements on forest research stands that had not been measured since the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In the following week in the computer lab, we take apart the measurements and put them back together again. On graphs, the data slowly begins to crystallize in our minds. We begin to realize that the carbon cycle is not working in the same time-frame as our short lives. It takes time for change to happen. Perhaps much more time than we have to repair the damage that we have done in a relative blink of an eye.

We now notice forests differently. We see logs in a way we did not before. Or rather, we see their absence. Replanted and managed forests appear to be empty – something is just missing. It is not just a sense of something missing – one can visibly notice the absence. No giant pick-up sticks lying crisscross on the forest floor. Such a void of stored carbon.

Back in the classroom, our challenge was to get students to see the actual carbon cycle as we have, and not just as an abstract diagram in a textbook. Then they might just be able to understand their own role in the cycle. We knew that time would be the enemy, because we never seem to have enough of it. But if we can get them to see the carbon falling, even one leaf at a time, then we will have begun the process. So we came up with the “LitTER Project,” a long-term ecological study (9th grade Integrated Science) of the movement of carbon from the forest canopy to the forest floor as falling leaves (litterfall). We realized it might take 5 years or more before we acquire any really significant database, but hoped that the process of getting kids to actually handle the litterfall would set into motion a greater awareness of the carbon cycle.
Our key investigative question was, “What is the rate at which carbon as leaf litter moves from a coniferous forest canopy to the forest floor (C-flux as Mg/ha/yr)?”

A secondary investigative question was, _“How does the rate of C-flux relate to coniferous age and management techniques?”


Litterfall Traps — Three sites were selected within the Astoria area to give a wide range of forest ages and management approaches, yet also to be close enough to the high school to be practically accessible. For comparison we selected one 60+ yr. old stand, a 30-50 yr. old recently thinned stand, and a young closed-canopy regenerating clearcut (15-20 yrs. old).


At each site, two transects were laid out parallel, 20 m apart. All transects were set to have a 360 N orientation to be consistent in terms of solar angle of incidence. Nine litterfall traps (plots) were spaced along each transect at 10 meter plot intervals.

Each litterfall trap consisted of a black plastic rectangular floral tray (43 cm by 43 cm ~0.2 m2) lined with window screen to keep all litterfall from passing through the grid of the floral tray. Two wire surveyor flags were used to anchor through the trap into the forest floor and hold the mesh in place. The fluorescent flags helped to aid finding the traps on later visits. In addition, a surveyor’s ribbon with plot identification was tied to a nearby branch. Each plot was cleared of branches for 1 meter above the center of the trap.


A canopy cover photograph was taken by standing directly over the trap and shooting straight up. A HOBO temperature and light data logger was also placed next to each transect. This photograph can be digitized for percent cover using Photoshop or a similar software. Percent cover can then be used to draw relationships with carbon flux rates.

Student Visits — Students were bussed to the study sites and allowed about 1.5 hours to collect the first samples from the traps. Each team of 2-3 students was responsible for collecting the samples from one plot, and re-setting the trap to level and clearing the forest floor to level, flagging the branch above the plot and taking the canopy cover photograph.


Processing Samples — Litter from the traps was placed into black plastic bags labeled with masking tape and trap information. The empty trap was returned to exactly the same position until the next collection date. The bags were tied shut and taken back to the lab, where they were then spread out to dry for two weeks at an average temperature of 25 C. In teams, students then sorted and weighed the litter samples to the nearest 0.1 grams (Table 1) in the following categories: needles, broadleaves, total leaf, woody matter, reproductive (seeds, flowers, etc.), total plant, mineral matter, and animal (bug parts).






Table 1 – Teams of students were given single data tables to initially record the sorted raw weights:


Table 2 – Excel was used to summarize the raw data:


Figure 1 – Graph of summarized results of the first month of data collection:


While only one data collection had been completed at the time of publishing, the tables and figures in the previous section should give an idea of how we have arranged the data.

The most obvious result in the data, though it is early yet, is that there are apparently significant differences between study sites in terms of total leaf mass compared to woody matter. Over time, these differences should develop into differences in the rate of carbon flux in the three different systems. This should not be surprising, yet is exactly these sorts of differences that students will likely not be able to see prior to participating in a LitTER project. Because there is only one sample event so far, we have not yet constructed picture of the carbon flux as litterfall over time. What is not known at this time if these differences maintain their relative distances or if it equalizes over time.

LiTER-6While we are looking forward to pulling out these and other relationships from the data, we are mostly excited by the potential of this project as a tool to get students involved in science inquiry. Students become highly engaged during the data collection and processing. There are also many directions that we can go with the student learning about climate change with this project as a base.

There are still a few areas in the project protocol that we need to revise. Originally, the data collection was planned as a monthly activity that rotated between six Integrated Science classes throughout the school year. But it immediately became apparent that this didn’t work with the busy pace of school and the unforeseen effect of weather (windstorms, rain, snow days).

It is also a major organizational effort to get even one class of student scientists out to the nearest of the sites, let alone bussing six different classes to all of them. To adjust to this, we are now planning on making the data collection quarterly. Three times throughout the year, we teachers will team to collect the data (about 2 hours per site). This approach may eventually fall into the form of a senior project, to be carried out by a capable science-minded individual or group of individuals. Our 9th grade students will now experience the field data collection just once per year, on a fall day devoted to the project. While this is not as ideal as more frequent field trips, we feel that this is a balance we have to make to accommodate the public school setting of our project. At least this way the students have that field experience to help them to better relate when participating in the multiple data analysis events in the laboratory.

Muller-Landau, H.C. and S.J. Wright. (2010) Litterfall Monitoring Protocol, March 2010 version.
F.S. Peterson, J. Sexton, K. Lajtha. (2013) Scaling litter fall in complex terrain: A study from the western Cascades Range, Oregon. Forest Ecology and Management 306, 118-127 Online publication date: 1-Oct-2013.

This article was submitted for ED 901 – Researcher Teacher Partnerships: Making global climate change relevant in the classroom Spring 2014 ; Oregon State University & Oregon Natural Resources Education Program (ONREP)

Using snowpack data for inquiry, graphing and analysis

Using snowpack data for inquiry, graphing and analysis

Middle School Students Use Historic Snowpack Data to Gain Inquiry, Graphing and Analysis Experience

by Joe Cameron
Beaverton Middle School teacher


NRCS Oregon hydrologists Melissa Webb and Julie Koeberle measure snow on Mt. Hood. Courtesy of USDA.


What do you get when you mix researchers, teachers, authentic science opportunities and a group of GREAT people? You get three summers of intense work, reinvigorated teachers, new ideas for the classroom and lots of fun!

For the last three summers I was lucky enough to be involved in the Oregon Natural Resource Education Program’s (ONREP) Climate Change Institute where teachers are matched with researchers to bridge the gap between the classroom and field research. The last two years I worked with Oregon State University’s Dr. Anne Nolin and Travis Roth examining snow pack changes in the McKenzie River Watershed. Investigating snow collection sites and collecting data led to discussions on how best to get students involved in authentic research and science inquiry investigations.


Handout for activity below.

One of my goals for the year was to get my students involved in authentic data collection and to gain more experience and practice in graphing. From this, SWEet! was born. SWEet is an activity that engages students in using historic snow data to investigate the SWE, or Snow Water Equivalent, and the changes taking place in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Students graph and analyze data from SNOTEL sites and compare their findings with others in class to make predictions about future snowpack. In extension activities students choose their own SNOTEL sites in the Western U.S. and monitor snow data monthly throughout the snow year. This type of activity will in turn introduce students to long-term ecological studies in progress and support them to begin studies of their own.

In doing this activity with my students we first investigated their particular sites. I found this helped them personalize the data and they were very involved, especially using this “local” data. Then using their data they were able to create comparative line graphs and look for trends in the data, even with a complex and varied data set. These trends were then used to hypothesize possible effects of changes in the snowpack to their world and the economy and ecosystems found in Oregon.

SWEet! Oregon’s Snowpack and Water Supply

Author: Joe Cameron
Time: 50+ minutes
Grade Level: 6-12


SNOTEL-The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) operates and maintains an automated system (SNOwpack TELemetry or SNOTEL) designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the Western United States and Alaska in order to develop accurate and reliable water supply forecasts. For over 30 years, data on snow depth and SWE (Snow Water Equivalent) have been collected from SNOTEL sites throughout the western US. This activity will use yearly SWE data from three SNOTEL sites in Oregon to look for changes and relate our snowpack to Oregon’s economy and environment.


Familiarize students with Snow Water Equivalent (SWE), which is the amount of water contained in the snowpack. A simple reference for background information is http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/or/snow/?cid=nrcs142p2_046155. Also, you can do a simple class demonstration by taking a 500ml beaker of snow (or blended ice) and melting it using a hot plate. I have students predict how much water will remain after the ‘snow’ is melted. Then, we calculate the percent water in the snow to give them an example of one way to analyze this type of data.

After getting the students comfortable with SWE, you can give them the SWEet! Oregon’s Snowpack and Water Supply activity page. When I led this activity, we read through the introduction as a class and then directed the students to graph the data provided, make sense of their plot, compare their results with others in class and then draw conclusions. This lesson leads to discussions of our changing climate and possible changes in store for the people, plants and animals of Oregon.

Students will access long term ecological data.
Students will graph SWE data.
Students will compare their data with data from their classmates.
Students will identify possible effects of a decrease in snowpack.


SWE-Snow Water Equivalent; the amount of water found in snow.
SNOTEL-automated system that records snow depth and related data in the western United States
Trend-a general direction that something is changing
Snowpack-the amount of snow that is found on the ground in the mountains; usually measured at specific sites.


Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

MS-ESS2-5. Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather.

MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Oregon Science Standards

Scientific Inquiry: Scientific inquiry is the investigation of the natural world based on observations and science principles that includes proposing questions or hypotheses, designing procedures for questioning, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting multiple forms of accurate and relevant data to produce justifiable evidence-based explanations.

Interaction and Change: The related parts within a system interact and change.
6.2E.1 Explain the water cycle and the relationship to landforms and weather.
7.2E.2 Describe the composition of Earth’s atmosphere, how it has changed over time, and implications for the future.
7.2E.3 Evaluate natural processes and human activities that affect global environmental change and suggest and evaluate possible solutions to problems.
8.2E.3 Explain the causes of patterns of atmospheric and oceanic movement and the effects on weather and climate.
8.2E.4 Analyze evidence for geologic, climatic, environmental, and life form changes over time.

For Demonstration:
1 500 ml beaker
1 50-100 ml graduated cylinder snow OR chopped/blended ice
1 hot plate

For Activity:
Copies of SWEet! Oregon’s Snowpack and Water Supply activity page
Graph paper
Optional: colored pencils/pens

Lesson Procedure

1. Give students the SWEet! Activity page.

2. As a class, read and review all directions.

3. Students may choose 1, 2, or 3 sets of data to graph. This option allows the activity to be modified to meet the individual students’ abilities. Also, students can create graphs that can be compared to multiple data sets.

4. Students graph the data in a line graph.

5. Students analyze the data. This part can be completed through drawing a trend line(s) on the graph, calculating averages, adding totals and/or comparing multiple data sets looking for similarities and differences. Note: having the students do their graphing using Excel spreadsheets is an option that is not always available in our school but from which the students would benefit.

6. Relate the observed trends in snowpack to possible effects in Oregon. Who/What will be affected? How will/might they be affected?

7. Students pose one other question OR concern they have after looking at their graphs and trends for possible additional exploration.


1-Related current event articles from Science Daily:

Warming Climate Is Affecting Cascades Snowpack In Pacific Northwest
Found at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090512153335.htm

Global Warming to Cut Snow Water Storage 56 Percent in Oregon Watershed
Found at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130726092431.htm

2-Students can access current snow year data online. They go to SNOTEL website, choose a specific site and collect daily, weekly or monthly data for this site throughout the winter months (the snow year stretches from November to March). Students can also access historic data going back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s for their sites.

References Science expertise was provided by the following Oregon State University Faculty: Dr. Anne Nolin – Professor and Travis Roth-Doctoral Student in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. Data are from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) SNOTEL website at: http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov

Acknowledgements These lessons were created using information learned in the Oregon Natural Resource Education Program’s Researcher Teacher Partnerships: Making Global Climate Change Relevant in the Classroom project. This project was supported by a NASA Innovations in Climate Education award (NNXI0AT82A).

Thanks to Dr. Kari O’Connell with the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program at Oregon State University and Dr. Patricia Morrell in the College of Education at University of Portland for their thoughtful review of this article.

Joe Cameron is a teacher at Beaverton Middle School in Beaverton, Oregon. He can be contacted at joe_cameron@beaverton.k12.or.us