Stormwater Pathways

storm drain

storm drain

Guest Contributor: Jenna Kulluson

When exploring the outdoor exhibits at the High Desert Museum in Bend, OR the coastal watershed connection isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind, but that was not the case in early February when fourteen Central Oregon educators went out in search of water. While the coast sees much more rain than communities in the high desert (North Bend averages 65 inches/year while Bend sees closer to 11 inches) communities across Oregon still must think about what to do with excess rainwater, or stormwater runoff.

The Oregon Coast Education Program (OCEP) has been providing field based professional development and curriculum to 3rd-12th grade teachers since 2009. With funding from the NOAA B-WET program, OCEP began as a partnership between four coastal institutions, offering teacher workshops in Coos Bay and Newport, and creating education modules focused on coastal ecosystems. Shortly thereafter, OCEP gained two inland partners with the High Desert Museum and Portland State University’s Center for Science Education and added coastal education trainings for teachers located in the Willamette Valley and east of the Cascades. This recent set of community workshops aims to focus on discovering human impacts to watersheds and infiltration processes while making connections to the incoming Next Generation Science Standards.



Armed with local maps, a few tools, and a good sense of curiosity, the group set out to discover how the museum manages their stormwater runoff in a developed setting much like that of nearby communities. Historically, the high desert had undeveloped, permeable surfaces that efficiently soaked up large amounts of rainwater from storms into groundwater systems or nearby streams. However, when impermeable surfaces like asphalt roads and buildings were added, the excess water had to go somewhere. The group devised an experiment to see how different variables could impact infiltration rates on the loIMG_5048cal grounds. After digging test pits and watching water soak into them, teachers engaged in lively discussions about how the plant community, recent burns, livestock grazing, nearby parking lots, and soil types could impact the infiltration rate.

With the infiltration exploration under their belts, the group set off in search of drains, ditches, and potential human impacts to the watershed. This is one workshop where a recent rainstorm provides the much-needed clues for reading the landscape and following the pathways. Following the water’IMG_5033s path helped participants recognize examples of non-point source pollution, and discover that contaminants picked up from developed areas can run off into nearby rivers and, ultimately, reach the ocean. Discussing ways that communities deal with related problems and ways that students could help solve these issues was inspiring for everyone involved.

The Oregon Coast STEM Hub is one of three STEM Hubs that are helping to sponsor this set of workshops this winter. OCEP will be returning to the coast on February 28th for the last Stormwater Pathways workshop and hoping for a big rainstorm the day before! While the facilitators are excited to get back to familiar territory, the lessons learned from working in new settings in urban Beaverton and the High Desert Museum will help connect all Oregon teachers to stormwater and the ocean, and help them bring students outside on a meaningful watershed experiences while integrating the science and engineering practices outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards. One thing is for sure, no one involved will ever look at a stormdrain again without wondering “where does it go from here?”


Jenna Kulluson is a coordinator for the Oregon Coast Education Program, as well as an educator at South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, Director of the Oregon Chapter of the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators, and a member of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub Communications Committee. OCEP is a collaborative effort involving several Oregon Coast STEM Hub partner institutions, as well as leaders from the Portland Metro STEM Partnership and the Central Oregon STEM Hub.

Taft Tech Brings Robot to Tournament

Guest Contributor:  Noah Lambie

Taft Tech showed up to OSU’s Kelley Engineering center on Sunday, February 8th in anticipation of their first ever FTC High School Robotics Qualifying Tournament. Facing experienced robot teams from all over the region, the Taft high school team was tired from their early morning drive from Lincoln City, but they unloaded their robot, handed over their engineering notebook, and prepared for the inspection. Little did they know the adventure that awaited them.

Progressive JPEGThings started off well. The team breezed through the robot inspection. But the next phase was the software inspection, and it turned out we were missing a ‘Samantha’ module and two necessary programs on the NXT robot brain. The software programs were called ‘Santosan’, and ‘Program Chooser’. It turned out we were one of two teams using Labview software for programming. The other 22 teams used ‘RobotC’. The two necessary programs were absent from our Labview software, so the students bravely set forth to find these files somewhere, and load them on their robot.

It took them about two hours, but they finally located the correct programs and loaded them on the NXT brain. The final missing piece, the Samantha module, was donated to Taft from another team. Hopeful, Taft Tech headed out to the practice arena for another inspection.  They passed, but when they moved the robot to the practice arena for the field test, it failed to connect to the Wi-Fi operating the controllers. So Taft Tech returned to the pit, set back but determined to work on their robot.

With the help of another team, Taft Tech was able to convert their NXT brain programming to the more common ‘RobotC’ programming.   This was no easy task, and in fact involved programming and transferring as the team was walking up to their first appearance in the arena. Just as they disconnected the USB, Taft Tech placed their robot on the ramp for the first round.

Despite being completely worn out from the early morning drive and the busy, stressful morning antics, Taft Tech represented well in their 5 rounds, winning two rounds (in each round 2 teams ally against 2 others), and finishing 18th. The field of robots was really quite spectacular, with conveyor belts, sweeping devices, extensions, gears, and sophisticated sensors. After the event, Taft was tired… and inspired.  Eneki Trujillo explained, “Many hoops were jumped through”, to which Hunter Bishop added, “at a very fast pace”. Hunter went on to say that “The experience was amazing, especially to go to OSU to compete”. “And to see OSU’s Mars Rover,” Eneki added.

FTC stands for First Tech Challenge, and is the step between FIRST Lego League Robotics (Elementary and Middle School) and First Robotics Competition (for grades 9-12 with large robots and complex missions). The theme for this year’s FTC season was ‘Cascade Effect’, and the arena, a square 12’ x 12’, had a bin of whiffle balls held in an elevated tub in the center. The goal of each robot is to release the balls from the bin, and then load the balls into large vertical plastic tubes. Points can also be earned by ending inside designated areas, and for placing the plastic tubes in particular places.

The Taft Tech team emerged from students in Noah Lambie’s Advanced Robotics class at Taft, who decided to take this mission on, and worked on it every day for a few months. They ended up building a robot with an elevating arm and pinching claw, which could pick up one of the whiffle balls, and elevate it to drop into the plastic tubes. They also had to program software that moved the robot during the autonomous period, and allowed them to wirelessly control the robot during the rest of the 2:30 time period. Taft Tech found many avenues for support. Taft High bought the team the Tetrix base kit, which provided the aluminum building pieces. The Oregon Coast Stem Hub provided funds for travel, food, and Bluetooth devices. The team also fundraised at a home basketball game with a paper airplane contest, and allowed those interested to test the robot for themselves.

Watch a short video of Taft Tech and their robot in action!


Noah Lambie teaches Physics, Art, and Engineering classes at Taft High 7-12 and coaches the Taft Tech FTC team. He is also a Mentor Teacher with the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

Tillamook Students: Problem Solvers

Guest Contributor:  Annie Thorp

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T.S. Eliot

I have always thought that as an educator, I learned as much from my students as I taught them. A group of Tillamook students and their instructor recently had an opportunity to put what they had been taught into action. Their belief in what they had been taught combined with their enthusiasm for the project, resulted in achieving an invaluable success in the pursuit of research and exploration. Their findings and results were a huge help to their instructor and a very important project.

Photo credit:  Tillamook Estuaries Partnership

Photo credit: Tillamook Estuaries Partnership

Clair Thomas, an educator and researcher with Tillamook School District, is involved in numerous research projects, some involving water quality monitoring, habitat restoration, and estuary/wetlands management among others. He is also a Professional Development lead partner in the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, and his students have been learning about streams, salmon recovery, as well robotics and their numerous uses in aquatic environments.

East Beaver Creek

East Beaver Creek

One of their projects is to provide data for the BLM, the local watershed council, and the Oregon Department of Forestry, by measuring water temperatures in East Beaver Creek (near Tillamook) to determine if the water flow and temperature might be conducive for juvenile salmon migration. If the water flow is too fast, the juvenile salmon cannot swim up stream. The students have been experimenting with stream flow mitigation by placing large logs and boulders in strategic locations to slow the water flow and create areas of slower water called eddies. However, if water temperatures are too high, then oxygen levels may be too low for salmon, so monitoring the temperatures in the stream and pools is essential to provide necessary data for all the stakeholders involved.

HOBO data logger

HOBO data logger

They placed five instruments called HOBO data loggers in several places in the stream to measure the water temperatures. These instruments are checked periodically and the data are recorded. The HOBOs are secured to metal rebar to weight and anchor them to the streambed.

Usually, checking the data recorded is accomplished with a diver or person with a snorkel, but this past December, after heavy rains and water temperature of 8 degrees Centigrade, this normal method used to locate the HOBOs proved to be very difficult. The water visibility was poor due to recent heavy rains, and turbulence made it impossible to see the instruments and even when Clair went diving for them, he could neither see nor feel them, and the current made it difficult to maintain his position. The cold water also made his fingers so cold, they were numb, making feeling anything even more challenging. He managed to locate and retrieve only two of the instruments he needed.

Example of a student-built ROV

Example of a student-built ROV

Fortunately, his enterprising and clever students suggested that they use one of the ROVs they had designed and built in their robotics club. They proposed deploying the ROV in one of the eddies, as they had learned that this was an area where water flow would be minimal, hence increasing the odds of success at floating and maneuvering the device. Clair was skeptical at first, but his students reminded him that he had taught them about eddies, and they were confident they could use the ROV, that was equipped with camera, lights, and a grabber, to locate and retrieve the instruments.

They tethered the ROV on four sides with lines, deployed it in an eddy, and the search went wonderfully well. Within five minutes, they found the three missing loggers. The ROV picked up two of them, and the other could be seen wedged in a crack between two rocks, but after seeing its location, their ever-intrepid instructor, Clair Thomas, was able to retrieve it manually, after donning his wet suit again.

Clair is understandably proud of his student crew. Their collaboration and inspired use of the ROV technology they had designed and built, combined with thoughtful application of what they had learned, is a wonderful example of student success in a “real world” application. Kudos, to student team, Bryton Dorland, creator and builder of the ROV they used, Dylan Lundy, and Sabrina Polman. Another teacher, Nathan Sandberg, assisted Clair in his original diving search when the first two were located. Congratulations to students and staff for your remarkable teamwork.


Annie Thorp is a volunteer at HMSC and enjoys working on a variety of projects there. She is a retired community college adult educator, and a lifelong learner with a love of the ocean, ships, and all things aquatic. She was a Teacher at Sea, and a volunteer several times, along with her husband, on university research vessels. While at sea, they coauthored a blog called Buoy Tales, to help educate the public about the research being done by the scientists onboard. Her passion for marine sciences outreach and education, along with her involvement in HMSC education programs, inspired her to become a volunteer blogger with the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.