By Kama Almasi and Kara Allan
What activities make middle school students excited about learning? What topics will engage their attention? What kinds of tasks will be appreciated as both fun and meaningful? For one week last summer, we were challenged to tackle these very questions for 25 middle school students from Lincoln County School District and beyond. Our answers included: A mystery involving death and our local area, lots of hands-on activities, a couple of field trips, and a few silly games thrown in. We named our camp: Mission Earth!
We began camp with a fictional situation in which scientists discovered a massive die-off of juvenile salmon along the Yaquina River. Oh NO! The kids brainstormed possible causes and designed tests. Their hypotheses included death from warm water temperature, disease, parasites, pollution, and much more. We then embarked on a journey of investigation and exploration with the kids. They spent the week:
- Learning techniques of sampling
- biosphere (living organisms)
- pedosphere (soils)
- hydrosphere (water)
- Using analog and digital tools
- Dissecting salmonids
- Collecting data from Brian Booth State Park, two sites in Toledo, and Hatfield Marine Science Center
- Learning to use a GPS (geographic positioning system)
- Listening to a guest speaker talk about parasites and invasive species
- Creating art/science journals, and made
- Making fish prints
- Creating barometers
- Conducting experiments on pH and ocean acidification
Our goals were that students would engage in science in a fun way and experience deepened learning by making local connections with the content that were relevant to their everyday experiences. With the help of our four high school/college counselors, students were able to work in small groups throughout the week allowing for lots of active learning and close interactions with instructors and peers.
In the end, students determined that both the Yaquina River and Beaver Creek are clean, but conditions during the fictional die-off were unusually warm. The students concluded that, likely due to climate change, the water became very warm too early in the season for juvenile salmon. This either would have caused their deaths outright, or weakened them and made them susceptible to disease or parasites.
There’s nothing more satisfying to a teacher than seeing her students excited and engaged in learning. Thanks to support from our sponsors, we were able to do just that for our campers. We received very positive feedback from students and parents alike, and were extremely gratified to see our kids excited about working in their local environments. They had fun and learned valuable skills that will someday allow them to contribute to their communities.
Mission Earth! Camp was made possible through outreach, training, and supplies from Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline (NESSP) and considerable logistical aid from the Oregon Coast STEM Hub. In addition, we received generous donations from the Siletz Tribal Charitable Contribution Fund and Thermo Fisher Scientific. NESSP is an offshoot of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that serves communities in the Pacific Northwest. In particular, they aim to strengthen STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and interest in careers by giving educators and students access to innovative materials that will excite and engage student interest in STEM. The Confederated Tribes of Siletz created a charitable fund in 1999, and since then, has donated millions of dollars to charitable funds for education, natural resources, and much more. Thermo Fisher Scientific Corporation also has a philanthropic fund through which they help to strengthen STEM education with the goal of increasing the STEM workforce in the United States. All of this generous support enabled us to offer a free environmental camp to improve equity and access for local students and parents.
Kama Almasi and Kara Allan are Community Curriculum Resource Liaisons (CCRLs) for Lincoln County School District, and they are also the Central Coast Coordinators for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.