When educators inspire wonder and curiosity in their students, the students learn differently. They build an interest in observing more, in research and in understanding what they see. Students seek to develop their own explanation of how, why or what something is. It is this sense of wonder that CWC cultivates in students who participate in the Watershed Rangers program. Through a sequence of lessons and experiences, students develop an explanation or prediction on their own, cultivating their critical thinking and science skills.

Cultivating wonder and curiosity were at the forefront of a week-long Teacher Leadership Institute for local educators at the Seymour Science Center this June put on by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and the Santa Cruz City School District to develop leadership in science teaching and learning in connection to environmental literacy. During the Institute, CWC Education Coordinator Mollie Behn worked with kindergarten teachers from Delaveaga Elementary School, Bonny Doon Elementary, Mountain Elementary and Pacific Elementary school to build a sequence of lessons that engage students in the exploration of a simple observation, but complex situation: when there is less water in the San Lorenzo River, there are fewer steelhead trout.

Teachers participating in the Teacher Leadership Institute conduct their own explorations and observations in water quality monitoring as they collaborate with CWC to prepare lessons for the coming school year.

The product is a collaborative 10-lesson unit between the classroom teachers and the Coastal Watershed Council modeled after the 5 E’s instructional model in which learners build or construct new ideas on top of their old ideas. Students engage in modeling, storytelling, guided simulations and scientific investigations, while exploring the San Lorenzo River to understand that steelhead trout require water to breathe, move and reproduce. Water level and flow rate impacts their movement and can impact their reproduction if low water levels do not permit migration to and from the ocean to natal streams. Students elaborate upon their model to understand how humans depend on water and that humans extract water from the San Lorenzo River for their uses, having it pumped out of the river, treated at the water treatment plant and then piped to homes for human use. The amount of water humans use impacts the amount of water extracted from the river. Putting these two ideas together, students develop explanations for how and why less water might mean fewer fish in the San Lorenzo River. Students evaluate what they’ve learned and communicate water-saving solutions that will reduce human impact on the steelhead trout and the river. It is through these experiences we hope that students recognize their valuable contributions to our community and how they can make a difference. The 10-lesson sequence is a powerful example of the value of collaboration between teachers and informal educators to gather together, learn from each other and reflect on how we can continue to improve environmental and science learning for students so they leave the experience feeling connected and empowered to take action. Next school year, CWC and local schools will pilot this specific collaborative lesson sequence for students.

CWC Education Coordinator Mollie Behn was recognized by her fellow participants in the Teacher Leadership Institute as one of three educators who received an award for their inspiring leadership in science teaching and learning in connection to environmental literacy. Reflecting on the experience, Mollie shared, “As CWC Education Coordinator, I walked away from the Teacher Leadership Institute more inspired and connected to being an educator and to a true sense of purpose in empowering and inspiring youth. I see it as a calling to be an educator. In this vein, it is my commitment that CWC continues to listen to and learn from our classroom teachers to so we can ensure we are meeting their interests and needs.”

In the coming school year, CWC will continue to evolve its classroom and field trip lessons so they are anchored around observations that excite student interest, that help them explore and understand a local environmental condition related to the San Lorenzo River and that builds new skills and knowledge to help them make a difference in their community. And it all starts building questions from our wonder and curiosity.

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