STEAM in the Field: Students Learn How Science Helps Conservation Efforts in Rural Washington

Published On: June 4th, 2021|Categories: News, Program News|
STEAM in the Field: Students Learn How Science Helps Conservation Efforts in Rural Washington

Video created by Jamie Petitto

Over the course of two days in April 2021, eight Tonasket Elementary School teachers and 63 5th grade students visited the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area located near Conconully, WA.

The purpose of these visits was to take their classroom science learning into the field for an authentic science experience.

Led by the North Central Educational Service District, with funding from ClimeTime Proviso, students worked alongside scientists to collect data, engineer water retention devices, plant and identify important plant species and paint their observations all in their efforts to learn more about how science is helping conserve the state-endangered sharp-tailed grouse in Okanogan County.

During the field experience, students learned about the conservation efforts Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) were doing at the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, including installing Beaver Dam Analogs (BDAs) along a stretch of Scotch Creek in the fall of 2020.

WDFW staff explained to the students that BDAs slow the water flow of the creek and increase water retention in an effort to support the growth of water birch, which is an important plant species for winter survival of the endangered sharp-tailed grouse.

Mike Schroeder, WDFW biologist, supported student learning with a short presentation on sharp-tailed grouse and BDAs, explaining that the Scotch Creek area is one of the best (and only) places to find sharp-tailed grouse in Washington state.

“I’m grateful that we had this opportunity. It benefited the students, and it benefited the grouse and the systems that they live in. It’s important for their world and their culture. It is part of our history and having a lot of people care means we will be able to do a much better job of managing these birds.” – Mike Schroader, WDFW Biologist

Students spent their day rotating through four different stations. At the Planting Station students learned to use a dichotomous key to identify native plants commonly found in the shrub-steppe from The Methow Beaver Project’s Julie Nelson while also getting to plant water birch with WDFW’s Bryan Dupont and Oscar Medina.

Student using a surveying tool to determine the level of ground water in the stream bed with the help of Matt Young, fish biologist with the Colville Confederated Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department.

Student using natural materials to engineer a way to slow the movement of water.

In their next station, students explored stream transects with Colville Confederated Tribe Fish and Wildlife Department’s Matt Young and Oly Zacherle. At this station students used scientific tools to calculate the volume of water in the stream before and after a BDA as well as looked at ground water levels.

Following stream transects, students built their own water retention devices using recycled bottles and natural materials to see if they could slow the flow of stream water. This station was led by Kim Kogler of the Okanogan Conservation District.

And finally, students had an opportunity to put their observations to paper in a station led by retired art and science teacher, Dan Brown. Students used watercolor to capture the scenery as well as a feather from a grouse.

“When kids leave a field trip, I want them to take away the idea that what they are learning in the classroom applies to life, our world and where they live. It’s not just numbers, it’s the lives of grouse. It’s not just stream flow, it’s how that helps grouse live.” – Scott Olson, 5th Grade Teacher, Tonasket Elementary School

This unique learning experience was made possible in partnership between North Central Educational Service District and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife with funding from ClimeTime Proviso and Washington State LASER. Additional partners include Team Naturaleza, Methow Beaver Project, Tonasket School District, The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and Okanogan Conservation District.

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