An Interview with Ryan Monger
Winner of 2015 EPA Presidential Award for Innovation in Environmental Education
Ryan Monger, Sultan High School
Ryan Monger, an environmental education teacher of students in grades 9 through 12 at Sultan High School in Sultan, Washington, uses this small, rural community as an outdoor classroom to encourage his students to explore science and learn about the local ecosystem. Students in Ryan’s classes participate in hands-on projects, including maintaining a salmon hatchery on the school’s grounds and releasing the fish into a local stream, surveying bacteria living on common surfaces such as those in the school’s weight room and on students’ cell phones, tapping maple trees at the school to make maple syrup, identifying trees and growing edible plants in the school greenhouse using environmentally sustainable, small-scale farming practices. Ryan’s students also participate in community-based projects, including environmental restoration projects to mitigate the impact of clear-cutting and the runoff of pollutants, and conducting an ongoing salmon study.
Ryan’s efforts to educate his students about the importance of environmental stewardship has garnered a great deal of support from the community. Local nurseries, hardware stores and seed companies donate supplies for the projects, and his students received recognition for their hard work when a local newspaper wrote a cover story on his unique curriculum. Students in his class are also working to integrate environmental education into the district’s preschool curriculum by involving preschoolers with the salmon hatchery project.
CLEARING: Tell us a little bit about yourself… how did you get started in environmental education?
Ryan Monger: I used to teach a pretty standard science curriculum, which was fun: explosions in chemistry and lasers in physics. However, when I got the job at Sultan, it was just Biology and there was not much money for fancy equipment. What we did have was a nearby river, a greenhouse, open fields, a salmon hatchery and a wonderful forest with trails behind the school. More than anything else, I was just taking advantage of the resources that I had.
CLEARING: Do you recall anything from your childhood growing up (vacations, time in the woods, etc.) that may have played a role in your becoming an environmental educator?
RM: When I was growing up I lived in the suburbs of Bellevue, but there happened to be a few acres of woods right next to our suburban home. I used to walk in those woods every day and I think they made a pretty profound impression on me. I loved catching frogs and salamanders, collecting plants, climbing trees and looking at forest flowers. Ever since, I have felt more at home and at peace in the woods than anywhere else. When I was about 10 the woods were developed into more suburban housing and I can remember feeling very angry and hopeless about this. I suppose I have wanted to do whatever I could to help the forest since that day.
CLEARING: Were you inspired or influenced by anybody in particular or anything you read or saw?
RM: I have been and always will be inspired by the natural world. I have never been into fantasy or science fiction because I always thought the real world was good enough for me.
CLEARING: How long have you been in the classroom?
RM: About nine years. I taught 4 years in England, 1.5 years on the Tulalip Indian Reservation and I have been at Sultan for almost 4 years now.
CLEARING: Talk about the inquiry and community-based projects that earned you the Presidential Award for Innovation.
RM: I think that I received the award for my work in helping to run our school’s salmon hatchery, starting gardens on school grounds, and doing habitat restoration in our forest. The hatchery could not have been successful without the help and guidance of community member Don Foltz. I have also received lots of help from Kelli Mack of Everett Steelhead and Salmon club, Trevor Jenison of the Wallace Falls State Hatchery, and our librarian Conan has helped tremendously by maintaining the trails in our forest. The district has also been helpful in their willingness to maintain the hatchery and our administration has given me the freedom to teach how I feel is right. Our students are also incredible people: helpful, humble, intelligent, and enthusiastic. I could not have done any of these projects successfully without their help.
CLEARING: What do you find most rewarding about inquiry-based learning?
RM: I love watching students figure out problems on their own. I feel like learning to problem solve is far more important than memorizing scientific facts and vocabulary. The only way that I have ever learned in my life is by trying things for myself, so I am trying to give my students that same experience. It is both more enjoyable for me and for them when they get to explore the world around them on their own terms.
CLEARING: Are there any resources (books, curriculum, community-based) that you use that you have found particularly valuable?
RM: I have found the river and the forest to be particularly valuable. They are ever changing and are full of teaching resources. I learn more in one minute in the forest than I could over a lifetime of studying pre-prescribed curriculum. In just the last few weeks, we have seen an owl, a hawk, deer and deer tracks, nursery logs, a forest floor golden with cottonwood leaves, salmon spawning, and the most beautiful mushrooms on earth. What more could you ask for?
CLEARING: What has been the response to your program from parents and the community?
RM: Overwhelmingly positive. As far as I can tell, most (if not all) students love learning outside, even in bad weather. I have received nothing but positive comments from parents and lots of help from people in the community, particularly those listed above. My most important community asset by far has been the help of my students. They have all shown interest and I have had many helpful TA’s. Of particular help have been students who were in the running start program, but have chosen to come back and to help. Jazmen Griggs, Liam McDonell, Olivia Gasselsdorfer, Logan Berti, and Josh Morehead have a spent countless hours helping me in the classroom when they did not have to be there. I would have been lost without them.
CLEARING: Have you been able to expand your program?
RM: Yes I have. We continue to restore habitat in the woods, garden, collect mushrooms, and run the salmon hatchery. Every year, we spend more time outside. I am currently applying for grants to build an outdoor classroom and take students to visit old-growth forest.
CLEARING: Can you share a particularly memorable moment from your student projects over the past couple of years?
RM: I love walking through the forest with them. They have taught me so much about life and how to appreciate it. I love kneeling before a tree or a mushroom and admiring them together.
CLEARING: What keeps you motivated to do the work that you do?
RM: The enthusiasm of the students and the serenity of the forest.
CLEARING: Who are your environmental heroes?
RM: Salmon, cedar trees, huckleberry bushes, douglas firs, big leaf maples, black bears, bald eagles, and beavers. Anyone who has done anything to help educate about or preserve our local forests.
CLEARING: What book(s) are you currently reading?
RM: ‘Salmon’ by Peter Coates and ‘The Final Forest’ by William Dietrich.
CLEARING: Do you have any advise for young teachers just getting started?
RM: Do what you feel is right and make sure your primary feedback comes from the students and the look in their eyes. This will tell you more about your teaching successes than a whole mountain of data will. Also, treat the students with respect and they will do the same to you.
CLEARING: Any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
RM: I love teaching about the forest and the river. I hope to be able to do it until the day that I die.
CLEARING: Thank you so much for your time, and best wishes for your continued success!
CMOP: The Best Environmental Education Program You’ve (Probably) Never Heard About
Coastal Margin Science and Education in the Era of Collaboratories
by Vanessa L. Green, Nievita Bueno Watts, Karen Wegner, Michael Thompson, Amy F. Johnson, Tawnya D. Peterson and António M. Baptista
nterdisciplinary science is needed to make big decisions when it comes to complex and fragile ecological environments such as the Columbia River estuary. Effective communication of that science is necessary to engage students and to work across scientists, educators. policy-makers and the general community. For these reasons, the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP) has developed a “coastal margin collaboratory,” which brings together sensor networks, computer models, cyber-infrastructure, people and institutions to better understand the Columbia River coastal margin ecosystem as a whole (Baptista et al. 2008).
CMOP scientists study the Columbia River and transform the openly shared data and tools into a better understanding of current conditions and into the anticipation of future trends from increasing climate and anthropogenic pressures. Many types of users access CMOP data for their own needs and/or collaborate with CMOP on joint scientific and educational efforts. Through the collaboratory, CMOP enables a common understanding among interested groups such as natural resource managers for local, state, federal and tribal agencies, enabling effective discussions and long-range planning.
WHAT ARE COASTAL MARGINS?
Coastal margins, broadly defined as the interface between land and ocean, contain important and highly productive ecosystems. They often mitigate the negative impacts of human activities from local to global scales, for example ‘filtering out’ excess nutrients that enter watersheds from fertilizer applications. Coastal margin environments are naturally variable because of tides, seasons and year-to- year differences in the forcing from rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere. Ecosystems adapt to that natural variability, but are often less well equipped to adjust to major shifts caused by population growth, economic development and global climate change. CMOP seeks to understand how biological and chemical components of the Columbia River interface with and are affected by physical processes, with the ultimate goal of predicting how they might respond to climate change and increased regional development.
A recent study (Frontier Economics Limited 2012) estimates that the world’s ten most populated river basins account today for l0% of the global gross domestic product, and that by 2050 that share will grow Io 25%, which will be more than the combined gross domestic product of the United States, Germany and Japan. This type of growth could be ecologically devastating, locally and globally, should it not be managed in a perspective of long-term sustainability and with the support of sound science. The datasets and predictions provided by the CMOP collaboratory can serve as useful examples that can be “exported” to other similar river and estuary systems worldwide.
THE COLUMBIA RIVER-TO-OCEAN ECOSYSTEM
The Columbia River watershed extends across seven states in the United States and two provinces in Canada, and contributes about 70% of the freshwater input to the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Juan de Fuca (Barnes et al. 1972). Big decisions are needed to determine policy about the hydroelectric dams, protection and regulation of the migratory salmon, and changes in water quality such as ocean-driven estuarine hypoxia and acidification. All of this is set in the context of continued population growth, economic development and climatic change-and amidst a complex regulatory environment that includes the Endangered Species Act, a federal treaty between the U.S government and Native American tribes, and a soon-to-be renegotiated treaty between the U.S. and Canada.
CMOP science has already led to the identification of previously unrecognized environmental issues, from a benign but ecologically relevant seasonal red water bloom in the Columbia River estuary (Hertfort et aI. 2012) to the development of seasonal and severe ocean-driven estuarine hypoxia (Roegner et al. 2011) and potential acidification- and is showing how those apparently distinct processes are tied together. CMOP science is also contributing to an understanding of anthropogenic and climatic changes to estuarine and ocean processes, which affect salmon habitat and life cycle.
THE CMOP EDUCATIONAL PATHWAY
Progress towards our scientific goals has opened exciting opportunities to entrain a new and diverse workforce in coastal margin science. CMOP offers an educational pathway that includes a broad range of age-appropriate activities for students and teachers. Our pathway includes short courses; camps; sustained professional development programs for teachers; curricula for high school classes; individualized research experiences through high school, undergraduate and teacher internships; interdisciplinary graduate curricula through Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and affiliated degree programs at partner universities; and lifelong opportunities for scientists and natural resources professionals to incorporate outcomes of CMOP science in their activities and decision-making processes (Figure 2).
From left, Sam Case third-grade teacher Fanny Drews, Newport Intermediate fifth-grade teacher Christie Walker, Taft Elementary fifth-grade teacher Valerie Baker and sixth-grade teachers Beth Parsons and Kara Allen identify microbes that live on marine debris. Photo courtesy of NewsGuard of Lincoln County, Oregon.
Teachers and informal educators engage with CMOP in a variety of ways. Teachers access data through user-friendly modules that can be used to plot time series and explore correlations between estuary variables. As an example, teachers could design an experiment that demonstrates how red water blooms influence dissolved oxygen levels, using CMOP’s models to explore various scenarios. CMOP offers a regularly updated activity archive on the CMOP website (Science Activities and Curriculum URL). Lessons are designed for adaptability between age groups and data are appropriate for math, science, and social science classrooms. These lesson plans align with the essential principles of Ocean Literacy and the Next Generation Science Standards (Ocean Literacy Guide URL) and were generated through an interactive teacher professional development workshop. Teachers can engage in individualized internships of their own, conducting original research within CMOP teams and incorporating their experiences into their classroom curricula.
A three-year collaboration of the Oregon Coast Aquatic and Marine Partnership (OCAMP) consisting of CMOP, the Lincoln County School District, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife/Oregon Hatchery Research Center, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area aimed to provide teachers with the tools needed to carry out meaningful field experiences and inquiry driven learning while improving ocean literacy during sustained, year-round professional development colloquia as well as summer workshops. A follow-up program, entitled the Oregon Coast Regional STEM Center, extended OCAMP’s partnership to include Tillamook School District, Western Oregon University, and a variety of local businesses and agencies, and seeks to support teachers in their use of problem-based learning to improve student outcomes in STEM disciplines through engagement and the incorporation of 2lst century skills. The latter program is being carried out in a blended model of professional development, with in-person and web-based activities. CMOP can also engage with an entire school community through the CMOP- School Collaboratories (CSC) program. Cohorts of teachers from CSC partner schools can engage with CMOP to develop an integrated curriculum that emphasizes an inter-connected environment (Hugo et al. 2013).
THE VALUE OF A SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY CENTER
The structure of the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center program (NSF STC) has greatly enabled the development of this educational pathway through the decade-long investment in exploratory yet rigorous, potentially transformative science. lt is this structure that allows CMOP to expose students to a multi-disciplinary approach, engaging scientists from a broad range of relevant fields and from several collaborating universities, as well as practitioners from many state, federal and tribal agencies and from industry. The longevity of the STC investment has also contributed to our ability to effectively engage in sustained efforts to broaden participation among Native American, Alaska Native (Bueno Watts and Smythe 2015) and other groups underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.
The synergy among anchoring academic partners (OHSU, Oregon State University and University of Washington, in the case of CMOP) is critically important to the success of a STC. Also critical is the engagement of regional stakeholders, which offer a natural, realistic, enriching and often pressing context for our science and education programs. For instance, Native American tribes of the Columbia River have historically been active and effective stewards of the land, water and natural resources in the basin. The Columbia River lnter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) has partnered with CMOP to identify potential threats to salmon and lamprey through investigation of factors that influence habitat quality. This collaboration has effectively engaged several Native American students in the CMOP education pathway and has also educated non-Native students on tribal cultures and natural resource management strategies.
DEVELOPING THE COASTAL MARGIN WORKFORCE
CMOP students are engaged at all levels of the collaboratory. They participate in the development of sensors and models, and take active part in oceanographic cruises that might range from research to mariner-training vessels, autonomous underwater vehicles (Figure 3) and even kayaks (Rathmell et al. 2013). CMOP students, from high school to graduate, conduct research projects that relate to important biological hotspots, attempting holistic descriptions of their underlying physics and biogeochemistry that cover gene-to-climate scales. Students learn, shoulder-to-shoulder with researchers and practitioners, how to characterize, predict and inter-relate processes driving estuarine hypoxia and acidification. plankton blooms, and the biogeochemistry of lateral bays and of estuarine turbidity maxima (ETM)-turbid water regions located at the heads of coastal plain estuaries near the freshwater/saltwater interface. CMOP students also gain an understanding of broad topics that provide context to CMOP research science initiatives, such as global nutrient cycles, climate change, managing natural resources, mitigating natural hazards, and protecting fragile ecosystems.
Within the curriculum or with their mentor teams, students conduct fieldwork in the Columbia River estuary and in the coastal waters of Oregon and Washington using a variety of approaches, ranging from simple river-front water sampling from a dock to participation in major research campaigns aboard University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) vessels. Students gain hands-on experience within laboratories, using state-of-the-art equipment such as imaging flow cytometers (FlowCAM), an Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Sensor (CTD), or a Scanning Electron Microscope. Students also gain exposure to the “Virtual Columbia River,” a data-rich simulation environment that offers multiple representations of circulation and ecological processes, including their variability and change across river-to-shelf scales (Virtual Columbia River URL). The models that form the Virtual Columbia River simulate estuarine conditions, enabling predictions of changing physical properties (tides, currents, salinity and temperature) and biogeochemical cycles (e.g., nitrogen and carbon) important to ecosystem management. Comparisons between field observations and model simulations allow for continued learning and refinement of the process.
INCORPORATING CMOP SCIENCE INTO THE CLASSROOM
Curricula available on the CMOP website combine elements of coastal oceanography, environmental microbiology, biogeochemistry, computational sciences, and information technology. Student participants in K-12 activities have continued working with CMOP, ‘graduating” to more sophisticated, longer-term participation as undergraduate interns. Likewise, undergraduate interns have continued their research by matriculating into the CMOP-affiliated M.S./Ph.D. Environmental Science and Engineering degree program offered through the lnstitute of Environmental Health (IEH) at OHSU. IEH graduates have gone on to related careers in academia, private research, and with related federal and state agencies. To date, CMOP has served over 800 K-l2 students, over 70 teachers, over 100 undergraduate students, and has graduated 28 M.S. and Ph.D. students. CMOP students have graduated from the Environmental Science and Engineering Program at Oregon Health & Science University; the Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Program at Oregon State University; the Computer Science program at Portland State University; the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences program at the University of Maryland; the Computer Science program at the University of Utah; the Physical Oceanography Program and the Biological Oceanography Program at the University of Washington. Students who have engaged in the CMOP Education “pathway” have become citizen scientists with a nuanced knowledge of coastal-margin science issues, and many have gained expertise and skills that have enabled them to contribute to a growing professional workforce in coastal margin science.
For middle- and high-school students, CMOP offers classes. day-camps and high-school internships in partnership with Saturday Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing hands-on, in-depth learning and problem-solving activities. Past topics have included microbiology, marine biology, oceanography, and ocean technology. The curriculum is designed to enable students to easily identify the importance of coastal-margin related issues to their own academic interests and personal lives.
Undergraduate interns join CMOP mentor teams, which include a “Frontline Mentor” and a “senior Scientist.” The Frontline Mentor-typically a graduate student, staff member or post-doctoral fellow-establishes a project relevant to one or more CMOP research initiative. The Senior Scientist mentor provides guidance and ensures academic caliber. Over the course of the ten-week program, interns gain autonomy within their mentor teams as they gain contextual knowledge and skills. lnterns regularly interact with each other and with other CMOP participants through professional development seminars encompassing scientific themes, career opportunities and scientific ethics. lnterns visit sites along the river from Bonneville Dam to downtown Portland and to the mouth of the Columbia River estuary, to gain a first-hand understanding and appreciation of the complex interactions of biological, chemical, and physical processes. lnterns document their work through a daily lab notebook, a weekly blog (Undergraduate lnternships URL), a final presentation and a synthesizing paper. lntern research projects have been thoroughly incorporated into CMOP research; interns have co-authored CMOP publications in peer-reviewed journals (Publications URL) and have presented at national and international conferences (Presentations URL).
The CMOP Education program seeks to make full use of the resources available to this NSF STC to enable a wide range of teachers, students, and other users to learn more about and contribute to place-based knowledge of coastal margins. The University of Washington’s Office of Educational Assessment regularly evaluates the effectiveness of our program. Evaluations include surveys and focus groups with each participant cohort as well as follow-up surveys for longitudinal data. Data analyses demonstrate that high school and undergraduate participants in CMOP programs have increased interest in STEM education; increased confidence in their ability to engage in STEM research; enhanced relevant technical and professional skills, and, for undergraduate students, clarified research foci both within their degree programs and related to their decision of graduate programs. Eighty-seven percent of undergraduate survey respondents who obtained bachelor degrees went on to matriculate into STEM graduate programs, 4O% in fields related to their internships. All of these graduates agreed or strongly agreed that “Being part of the [CMOP] summer internship strengthened my application to this graduate degree program.”
CMOP is primarily supported by the National Science Foundation, through cooperative agreement OCE-O4246O2. Crant CEO-I034611 extended our CSC program to Native Alaskans.
Baptista, A., Howe, B., Freire, J., Maier, D., & Silva, C. T. (2008).
Scientific exploration in the era of ocean observatories. Computing in Science & Engineering, l0 (3),53-58.
Barnes, C. A., Duxbury, A. C., and Morse, B. (1972). Circulation and selected properties of the Columbia River effluent at sea. ln: The Columbio River Estuory and Adjocent Oceon Woters: Bioenvironmental Studies, edited by A.T. Pruter and D.L. Alverson. Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 71-80.
Bueno Watts, N. & Smythe, W F. (2013). It takes a community to raise a scientist:A case for community-inspired research and science education in an Alaska Native community. Current: The Journal of Morine Educotion 2B(3).
Frontier Economics Limited. (2012). Exploring the links between woter ond economic growth: A report prepared for HSBC. London, England: Frontier Economics Limited.
Herfort, 1., Peterson, T. D., Prahl, F. C., McCue, L. A., Needoba, J. A., Crump, B. C., Roegner, C. C., Campbell, V., & Zuber, P. QO12). Red waters of Myrionecto rubrq are biogeochemical hotspots for the Columbia River estuary with impacts on primary/secondary productions and nutrient cycles. Estuories ond Coqsts,35 (3), B7B-891.
Hugo, R., Smythe, W., McAllister, S., Young, B., Maring, B. & Baptista, A. (2013). Lessons learned from a K-’12 geoscience education program in an Alaska Native community. Journal of Sustainability Education,5 (SSN 2-51:7452).
Ocean Literacy Cuide URL http:,/www.coexploration.orgl ocean literacy/documents/Ocea n LitC u ide_LettersizeV2.pdf
Presentations URL http://www.stccmop.orglknowledge_transfer/presentations
Publications URL http://www.stccmop.orglpublications
Rathmell, K., Wilkin, M., Welle, P., Mattson, T., & Baptista, A. (2015). A very smart kayak. Current: The Journal of Marine Education QB)3.
Roegner, C. C., Needoba, J. A., & Baptista, A. (20I). Coastal upwelling supplies oxygen-depleted water to the Columbia River estuary. PLoS ONE, 6 @), e18672.
doi:1O.137 1 /journal.pone.00l 8672
Science Activities and Curriculum URL http://www.stccmop.org/education/teacher/activityarchive
Undergraduate lnternships URL http://www.stccmop.org/education/undergraduate
Virtual Columbia River URL http://www.stccmop.org/datamart/virtualcolumbiariver
Vanessa L. Green M.S. serves as Director of Student Development and Diversity at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction. Having earned a M.S. in Higher Education Administration she has focused her career on broadening participation and increasing engagement, persistence and retention among first-generation and underrepresented students in high school, undergraduate and graduate programs. She served as a founding faculty member and Dean of Students at the King George School in Vermont and served as a member of the Board of Trustees at Marlboro College. She currently serves on the Education and Outreach Steering Committee for the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere lnvestigations (C-DEBI).
Nievita Bueno Watts Ph.D. is a geotogist, science educator and Director of Academic Programs at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. She conducts research on broadening the participation of underrepresented minorities in the sciences and serves on the Board of Directors of the Geoscience Alliance, a national organization dedicated to building pathways for Native American participation in the geosciences.
Karen Wegner MSW was rhe first Director for K-12 Education for the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. She brought years of experience as a wildlife biologist and environmental educator to CMOP. Along with education partners Saturday Academy and the SMILE Program she developed K-12 programs initially offered at CMOP. She credits the success of the K-12 program to the fantastic support offered by CMOP researches and students. Karen is now a Palliative Care Social Worker and Program Manager in Montana.
Michael Thompson Ph.D. is the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the NSF Science ahd Technology Center for Coastal Margin and Observation. He has an M.S. in Biochemistry and a PhD in Chemical Education with a focus in Engineering Education. He has been instrumental in the establishment of the EPICS High-school program, development and implementation of teacher training workshops, STEM learning communities for undergraduates, and service-learning experiences for high-school and undergraduate students.
Amy F. Johnson M.S, serves as the Managing Director for the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction. Having earned an M.S. in Management in Science and Technology, she has years of experience managing in science and technology companies and education institutions. Prior to joining CMOP she was the Assistant Dean for Craduate Education at the OCI School of Science & Engineering at the Oregon Health & Science University.
Tawnya D. Peterson Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Institute of Environmental Health at Oregon Health & Science University. She holds a Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography and carries out research that seeks to identify the factors that shape planktonic community diversity and function in aquatic systems. ln addition to scientific research, she is interested in the development and implementation of professional development programs for K-l2 teachers.
Antonio M. Baptista Ph.D. is a professor and director of the lnstitute of Environmental Health, Oregon Health & Science University and the director of the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. He has 25 years of experience in team science and graduate-level teaching, and uses leading edge coastal-margin science and technology as a catalyst for informed management decisions, workforce development and broadening participation.
All Photos: Courtesy of CMOP staff member Jeff Schilling
Reprinted from Current, the Journal of the National Marine Education Association
It Takes a Community to Raise a Scientist:
A Case for Community-Inspired Research and Science Education in an Alaskan Native Community
By Nievita Bueno Watts and Wendy F. Smythe
The quote, “lt takes a village to raise a child,” is attributed to African tradition and carries over to Alaskan Native communities as well (Hall, 2000). Without the support of their community and outside resources, Alaska Native children have a difficult time entering the world of science. Yet increasing the awareness of science, as a tool to help a tribal community monitor and maintain the health of their environment, introduces conflicts and misconceptions in context of traditional cultural practices. Rural communities depend upon traditional food harvested from the environment such as fish, wild game, roots, and berries. In many Native Alaskan villages the health of the environment equals the health of the people (Garza, 2001) . Integrating science with culture in pre-college education is a challenge that requires sensitivity and persistence.
The Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP) is a multi-institutional, National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center that takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying the region where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean. Two of CMOP’s focus areas are biogeochemical changes affecting the health of the coastal margin ecosystem, and socio-economic changes that might affect the lives of people who harvest and consume fish and shellfish.
The Columbia River waters touch the lives and livelihoods of many people, among them a large number of Pacific Northwest lndian tribes. These people depend on the natural and economic resources provided by the Columbia River. Native peoples from California through Alaska also depend on resources from their local rivers, and, currently, many tribes are developing-a workforce trained with scientific skills to manage their own natural resources in a way that is consistent with their traditional way of life. The relationship between Traditional Knowledge (TK) and practices, which are informed by centuries of observation, experimentation and carefully preserved oral records, and Western Science, which is deeply rooted in the philosophies and institutions of Europe, is often an uneasy one.
National progress is being made to open pathways for individuals from Native communities to Western Science higher education programs and back to the communities, where tribal members are empowered to evaluate and monitor the health of their environment. CMOP is part of this national movement. CMOP science is developing tools and techniques to observe and predict changes in the river to ocean system. CMOP education, an essential element of CMOB supports American lndian/Alaska Native students in pursuing academic and career pathways focusing on coastal margin sciences (Creen et al., 2013). One of CMOP’s initiatives is the CMOP- School Collaboratories (CSC) program.
The CMOP-school Collaboratories (CSC) program is based on the idea that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) pathway development requires an intensive and sustained effort to build relationships among science educators, students, school personnel, and the tribal community. The over-arching goal is to broaden participation in STEM disciplines. CMOP educators developed the CSC model that includes integration strategies for a community, development of appropriate lessons and field experiences and student action projects that connect local and traditional knowledge with science. Educational experiences are place- based, multi-disciplinary and culturally relevant. The objective is to open students’ minds to the reality of the need for scientists with many different world views and skill sets working together to address our planet’s pressing problems in a holistic manner. CMOP seeks to encourage these students to be part of that solution using both Traditional Knowledge and STEM disciplines.
The program encourages STEM education and promotes college preparatory awareness. This CSC program has three unique characteristics: it introduces coastal margin science as a relevant and viable field of employment; it integrates STEM learning with Traditional Knowledge; and, it invites family and community members to share science experiences. The example presented in this article describes a four-year program implemented in a small village in Southeast Alaska, 200 miles from the capital city of Juneau.
Figure 1: Students, scientists, a cultural expert. and a teacher with scientific equipment used to collect data from the river.
ALASKA NATIVE VILLAGE CASE STUDY
Wendy Smythe, a CMOP doctoral candidate and principal investigator for an NSF Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDC) award, is an Alaska Native Haida. As she advanced in her own education, she wanted to share what she had learned with the youth of her tribal community, striving to do so with the blessing of the tribal Elders, and in a way that respected the Traditional Knowledge of the Elders. Dr Bueno Watts is a mentor and expert on broadening participation. She acts in an advisory capacity on this project.
The village school consists of l5 staff members and 50 K-l2 students, with the school experiencing high administration turnover rates. ln the first two years of the program we recruited non-native graduate students to participate in the CSC program. This effort provided them experience working in Native communities. ln the last two years we recruited Native American undergraduate interns to teach lessons, assist with field activities and provide students with the opportunity to become familiar with Native scientists [Figure 1]. lnterns formed part of the science team.
STEPS TO GAIN ENTREE TO A VILLAGE
The community must support the concept to integrate science education with traditional practices. Even for this Alaska Native (Smythe), the process of building consensus from the tribe and gaining approval from the Elders and school district for the program was a lengthy one. The first step required letters of support from school district and tribal leaders. The difference in geographical locations proved difficult until Smythe was able to secure an advocate in the tribe who spoke for her at tribal meetings. Face-to-face communications were more successful than distance communications. Persistence proved to be the key to achieving success at getting the consensus of community leaders and school officials’ support. This was the top lesson of l0 learned from this project (Table l).
Traveling to the school to set up the program is no small feat and requires extensive coordination of transportation and supplies. A typical trip requires a day-long plane ride, overnight stay in a nearby town to prepare and gather supplies, a three-hour ferry ride, acquisition of a rental truck and a one-hour drive. Accommodations must be made to board with community members.
The development of appropriate lessons for the curriculum engaged discussions with tribal Elders and community Ieaders on an individual basis. Elders agreed to provide videoed interviews and were given honoraria as a thank you for their participation. Smythe asked the Elders what scientists could do to help the community, what stories can be used, where students and educators could work in the community to avoid intruding on sacred sites, and what information should not be made public. Once Elders agreed to provide interviews and share stories, other community members began to speak about their lives and concerns. This included influence of boarding schools, Iife as it was in the past, and changes they would like to see within the community. This was a significant breakthrough.
Table l . Lessons Learned: ten things to consider when developing a science program with Native communities
1. Persistence is key.
2. Face to-face communication is vital and Lakes time.
3. A community advocate with influence and respect in the community is critical.
4. Consult with the Elders first. They have their finger on the pulse of the community and are the center “of the communication network. Nothing happens without their approval. Find out what it is okay to talk about and where your boundaries are and abide by them. lnclude funds for honorariums in your proposal. Elders’ time and knowledge is valuable and they should be compensated as experts.
5. Partner with individuals or groups, such as the Department of Natural Resources.
6. Find a relevant topic. Be flexible with your curriculum choice. It must reflect the needs and interests of the community and the abilities of the teacher you are working with.
7 . Be prepared, bring supplies with you. Ship items in advance if going to a remote location
8. Have the ability to provide individual instruction for students who need it to prepare projects and practice giving presentations.
9. lnvolve the community. Hold events in a community center to encourage everyone to attend.
10. View your involvement as a long-term investment in a committed community relationship.
ln addition to the Elders, support was needed from a natural resources representative who functioned as a liaison between our group and the community members. This person’s role is found in most villages and could be the head of the Department of Natural Resources or a similar tribal agency that oversees fish, wildlife, and natural resources. This person provides a critical link between the natural environment and the community. The next step is to go in the field with the natural resources representative, science teachers, EIders, and interested students to identify a meaningful focus for the community. lnitially we focused the project with a scientist’s view of teaching microbiology and geology of mineral deposition in a river ecosystem. However, the team found community interest low and no enthusiasm for this project.
Upon our return to the village, the team and CMOP educators found the focus, almost by accident. We were intrigued by “boil water” notices posted both at the home in which we were staying and on the drinking fountains at the school: The students were all talking about water, as were the Elders. It was clear that the community cared about their water quality. The resulting community-inspired research educational plan was based on using aquatic invertebrate bioindicators as predictors of water quality (Adams, Vaughan & Hoffman Black, 2003). This student project combined science with community needs (Bueno Watts, 2011).
The first classroom lessons addressed water cycle and watershed concepts (Wolftree, 2OO4), which were followed by a field lesson on aquatic invertebrates. Students sampled different locations in an effort to determine biodiversity and quantity of macroinvertebrates. While students were sitting at the river’s edge, the site was described in the students’ Alaska Native tongue by a cultural expert, and then an English translation was provided. This introduced the combination of culture and language into the science lesson.
Figure 2: Students use data loggers to collect data on temperature, pH, and location.
The village water supply comes from a river that runs through the heart of the community. Thus, this river was our primary field site from which students collected water for chemical sampling and aquatic invertebrates using D-loop nets. Physical and chemical parameters of the river were collected using Vernier LabQuest hand-held data loggers. Students recorded data on turbidity, flow rate, temperature, pH, and pinpointed locations using CPS coordinates (Figure 2].
Aquatic invertebrate samples were sorted, classified, counted, recorded, and examined through stereoscopes back in the classroom. Water chemistry was determined by kits that measured concentrations of alkalinity, dissolved oxygen, iron, nitrate/nitrite, dissolved carbon dioxide, and phosphate.
Microbiology assessments were conducted in an effort to detect fecal coliform (using m_FC Agar plates). Students tested water from an estuary, river, drinking fountain, and toilet. Results from estuarine waters showed a high number of fecal coliform, indicating that a more thorough investigation was warranted While fecal coliform are non-disease causing microorganisms, they originate in the intestinal tract, the same place as disease causing bacteria, and so their presence is a bioindicator of the presence of human or animal wastes (Figure 3).
Students learned that the “dirty water” they observed in the river was actually the result of a natural process of acidic muskeg fluids dissolving iron minerals in the bedrock, no health danger. The real health threat was in the estuarine shellfish waters. Students shared all of their results with their families, after which community members began to approach the CMOP science team with questions about the quality of their drinking water. The community was relieved to find that the combined results of aquatic invertebrate counts and water chemistry indicated that the water flowing through their town was healthy. However they were concerned about the potential contamination as indicated by fecal coliform counts in the local estuary where shellfish were traditionally harvested.
ln the second year, a curriculum on oceanography developed by another STC, the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) was introduced (Bruno, Wiener, Kimura & Kimura, 2011). Oceanography lessons focused on water density as a function of salinity and temperature, ocean currents, phytoplankton, and ocean acidification, all areas of research at CMOP. Additional lessons used local shipworms, a burrowing mollusk known to the community, as a marine bioindicator (CMOP Education, 2013). Students continued to conduct bioassessments of local rivers and coastal marine waters.
Figure 3: Students sort and count aquatic invertebrates as a bioindicator of river health.
Students used teleconferencing technology to participate in scanning electron microscope (SEM) session with a scientist in Oregon who had their samples of aquatic invertebrates. Students showcased their experiments during parent day. Five students (l0%) had parents and/or siblings who attended the event.
As a reward for participation in the science program, two students were chosen to attend the American lndian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) 2009 conference in Oregon. Travel expenses were shared between the school, CSC program, and the tribe. ln the following three years an additional ten students attended the AISES conference and presented seven science research posters in New Mexico. Minnesota and Alaska. ln 2012, one student won 3rd place for her shipworm poster presentation (Figure 5). These conference presentations enabled some students to take their first trip out of Alaska.
ln May 20ll the first Science Symposium for grades K-12 allowed students to share their science projects with parents, Elders, and tribal community members. Both students and teachers were prepared on how to do a science fair project. Work with students had to be accomplished on a one-on-one basis, and members of the team were paired with students to assist with completing projects and polishing presentations. Students were not accustomed to speaking publicly, so this practice was a critical step.
The event was held at the local community center, which encouraged Elders and other community members to attend.
Elders requested a public education opportunity to teach the community about watersheds and the effects of logging. Our team incorporated this request into the science symposium. Students led this project by constructing a 5D model of the watershed for display. People could simulate rainfall, see how land use affects runoff and make runoff to river estuary connections. Scientists conducted hands-on demonstrations related to shipworms, local geology, ocean acidification and deepsea research. Language and culture booths were also included. During the symposium, a video of one of the interviews we had conducted with an Elder was shown as a memorial to his passing. The symposium was considered a huge success and was attended by 35 students and 50 community members.
The CSC program garnered results that could not have been predicted at the outset. For example, the tribe requested our input when deciding which students should attend a tribal leadership conference and summer camp. Three student interns participated in a collaborative project with the tribe to conduct bio-assessment studies of local rivers and a key sockeye breeding lake. lnterns operated a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) for data collection, resulting in video documentation of the salmon habitat. ln addition to the bio-assessment, the interns conducted interviews with Elders about the rivers in the monitoring project. The results of this study were used to stop logging around sockeye spawning habitat and to ban the harvest of shellfish from contaminated parts of the estuary. Now the tribe is monitoring rivers on its own. ln the near future CMOP plans to install a sensor that can be monitored remotely, and to train people to read and interpret the data.
Community-inspired research often produces a ripple effect of unforeseen results. ln this case, inclusion of Elders in the design and implementation of the project produced large scale buy-in from community members at all age levels. Consequently, in a village where traditionally students did not think about education beyond high school, we have had two students attend college, two students attend trade school, five students receive scholarships, and eight Native interns conducting science or science education in the community. And, given the low numbers of Alaska Natives pursuing careers in science, we find those numbers to be remarkable.
Adams, J., Vaughan, M., & Hoffman Black, S. (200i). Stream Bugs as Biomonitors: A Guide to Pacific Northwest Macroinvertebrate Monitoring and Identification. The Xerces Society. Available from: http://www.xerces.org/identification-guides/#
Bruno, B. C., Wiener, C., Kimura, A., & Kimura, R. (2011). Ocean FEST: Families exploring science together. Journal of Geoscience Education, 59, 132.1.
Bueno Watts, N. (20,1 1). Broadening the participation of Native Americans in Earth Science. (Doctoral dissertation).
Retrieved from Pro-Quest. UMI Number: 3466860. URL http ://repository.asu.edu/items / 9 438
Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. QO13). Shipworm lesson URL http://www.stccmop”org/ education/k1 2/geoscience/shipworms
Carza, D. (200.l). Alaska Natives assessing the health of their environment. lnt J Circumpolar Health. 6O@):a79-g6.
Creen, V., Bueno Watts, N., Wegner, K., Thompson, M., Johnson, A., Peterson, T., & Baptista, A. (201i). Coastal Margin Science and Education in the Era of Collaboratories. Current: The Journal of Marine Education. 28(3).
Hall, M. (2000). Facilitating a Natural Way: The Native American Approach to Education. Creating o Community of Learners: Using the Teacher os Facilitator Model. National Dropout Prevention Center. URL http://www. n iylp.org/articles/Facilitating-a-Natural-Way.pdf
Wolftree, lnc. (200a). Ecology Field Cuide: A Cuide to Wolftree’s Watershed Science Education Program, 5th Edition. Beavercreek, OR: Wolftree, lnc. URL http://www. beoutside.org/PUBLICATIONS/EFCEnglish.pdf
The educational resources of CMOP are available on their website : U R L http ://www. stccm o p. o rg / education / kl 2
CMOP is funded by NSF through cooperative agreement OCE- 0424602. Smythe was also supported by NSF grant CEO-I034611. We would like to thank Dr. Margo Haygood, Carolyn Sheehan, and Meghan Betcher for their assistance and guidance with the shipworm project. We would like to thank the Elders and HCA for their guidance, advice and encouragement throughout this program
Nievita Bueno Watts, Pn.D. is a geologist, science educator, and Director of Academic programs at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction (CMOP). She conducts research on broadening the participation of underrepresented minorities in the sciences and serves on the Board of Directors of the Geoscience Alliance, a national organization dedicated to building pathways for Native American participation in the Earth Sciences.
Wendy F. Smythe is an Alaska Native from the Haida tribe and a Ph.D. candidate at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. She runs a geoscience education program within her tribal community in Southeast Alaska focused on the incorporation of Traditional Knowledge into STEM disciplines.
Balancing waterfront development with the needs of salmon is a continuous challenge that requires innovative thinking. To step outside the box, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Pacific Northwest College of Arts formed a unique partnership. Art students challenged NOAA to develop new ways of communicating this complex environmental and societal issue; and NOAA provided students with the opportunity to apply their talents in a professional setting. Working together, NOAA and the students bridged art with science to create a call to action. The students produced an animated short story to communicate the importance of shorelines, looking at traditional methods for protecting them so they can be modified to support healthy salmon habitat.
Salmon Watch is back by popular demand and coming soon to a stream near you!
by Lizanne Saunders
his Fall ten classes of middle and high school students in the Portland metropolitan area are participating in a revitalized Salmon Watch program sponsored this pilot year by the World Salmon Council, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Trout Unlimited Clackamas Chapter, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Participating schools this year include Grant High School, Madison High School, Portland Waldorf School, Winterhaven School, Reynolds Middle School, and daVinci Arts Middle School.
Founded by Oregon Trout (later called the Freshwater Trust), the Salmon Watch environmental education program educated some 60,000 students across much of Oregon from 1993 to 2010. Much to the dismay of Salmon Watch devotees across the state, the program was discontinued by The Freshwater Trust in late 2010 due to a shift in organizational mission. (more…)