“The Kids Are Where They Want To Be”: Hans Smith And Environmental Science, Part 2.

We also have a fish egg project.  We have seventeen aquariums throughout our district that were paid for by the Rogue Valley Fly Fishing Association.  They are ten-gallon tanks with styrofoam around them.  Each tank can hold up to 500 eggs.  We have a group of students that will set up the tanks for the teachers and then take the eggs to all the elementary schools that have tanks.  The kids put together a set of three to four lectures, and, in the classroom, they talk about life cycles of the salmon and what is happening with their eggs.  They play a game called Hooks and Ladders( a take off on the famous children’s game, Chutes and Ladders), which is a salmon game that shows the migration up and back and what obstacles the fish have to go through.

We also do various projects around the valley.  We do things for the stream survey for Boise Cascade Lumber Co.  We have gone up to the fish hatchery(on the Rogue River) when they have spawned fish with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  We have some kids working with the Bear Creek Greenway people doing some inventories.( The Greenway is a riparian project which starts above Central Point and finishes in Ashland, a distance of some twenty miles!  The Greenway is ideal for bicycles, joggers, or people who just want to enjoy nature’s scenery.)

We got together with North Medford, South Medford and some of the other high schools to start a project along Bear Creek.  Our component will be the natural invertebrates.  Our kids are about to get hip boots on and get into the water and get dirty.  They are going to be studying six spots along Bear Creek collecting the data, compiling it, and then we will trade information.  I think North Medford is doing the water quality testing, so we will get information from them and we will give them our natural invertebrate information.

Are there any questions?

Q:  What is the requirement for students to get into this program?  Can anyone get in?

Yes!  The first time we offered it, we had 190 kids sign up.  So, we drew names of 104.  We do not ask kids to come back if I cannot trust them, because they cannot work independently.  They need to be able to go down and take stream samples.  Our kids range from 4.0 students looking at Ivy League schools to kids taking Fundamental English.

Q:  What does the assessment look like?  What is success and not success for a student?  Are they learning the content that they are supposed to be learning?

Yes.  Every Friday is test day.  We give a lot of homework, because we cannot cover it all at the creek.  When we assess their work with the creek and their projects, we develop individual rubrics.  So, their grade is a total of their homework, written work, tests, quizzes and the project.

Q:  And are the tests over the content they would have gathered by participating in the projects, or do you have a certain amount of lectures or readings that go along with them?

When we get into genetics, we have genetics tests.  I will give tests for each of the content areas in biology.  They will also have written tests on some of the work we do.  This works the same way with health and government.

Q:  Have you seen any difference in the performance on those tests between the group in the Rogue Ecology School versus the others?

The results are better with those who are down at the creek.  It could be that they are a little more motivated and want to stay in the program.  We tell them that they have to keep their grades up, not only with us, but in the other classes.  A lot of kids do not want to be down on the creek.  They are happy doing what they are doing and our kids are happy.  That is one of the reasons our success rate gets up a little higher on pen and pencil tests;  the kids are where they want to be.

“The Kids Are Where They Want To Be”: Hans Smith And Environmental Science, Part 1.

Hans Smith was a biology teacher at Crater High School in Central Point Oregon.  He received a national award for environmental education for his innovative approach in linking scientific investigation to English and social studies.  Mr. Smith was one of Crater High School’s early visionaries.  Others have followed, resulting in the Crater Renaissance Academy and closer links to the nearby Crater Rock Museum.  Crater High School now has a claim to be the best high school in Southern Oregon.  What follows are some excerpts from a lecture, which Hans Smith gave at Medford Education International.

We started the Rogue Eco-Systems Project in the 1988-89 school year.  I was teaching a general biology class, and we were doing a unit on ecology and talking about the Rogue River.  Our kids at Crater High School did not have a clue of what they had in the Rogue River.  I spent three years, trying to put together a conservation program.

The first year we had fifteen kids enrolled in a single class.  Last year we had 104 students in our “school within a school,”, and we had to turn, probably, fifty away.

Everything we do will be centered around the environmental sciences.  We have picked two themes to center around, the first being watersheds, which we will study for the first twenty-seven weeks.  As we get to the end of the watersheds, we will give the students a project to do.  For one project, they will have to develop a plan for a campground and use their knowledge of government.  They have to use their biology when they put together their plans and give their presentations.  A second theme will be the life cycles of our Pacific salmon.  The students will pick one salmon and go through the complete life cycle of the fish.  Then at the end, they get this big piece of paper and they draw the river system in.  Let us say they have Coho.  They will tell us about the stream order, where the Coho was spawned and then tie the information together.

There are days that we get to go down to Bear Creek, and teach the kids how to take stream surveys.  We give each group of students 200 feet of Bear Creek.  They have to go out and measure it and tape it off.  That is their section for the year.  We will begin by teaching them how to take water quality tests and how to map natural invertebrates.  We take some pool and riffle ratios and do some data sheets on their section.  Once every nine weeks, about the end of the quarter, they have to give a presentation on the creek.  We also give them habitat projects on the creek.

Our juniors and seniors will meet for a three-hour block of time.  We integrate social studies, environmental science, and our communications or English.

Our community got together about four years ago, and built an 80’x40′ building for us.  We have forty-six acres, which we call the Land Lab where our FFA(Future Farmers of America) has its stalls , barns.  We have a baseball complex at the far end.  Bear Creek runs through it.  Half of our building is going to become a fish hatchery that our kids will run.  We are in the process of building our pond, so that we have a water source for the fish hatchery.  We will raise 2000 Coho to pre-smolts for the Department of Fish and Wildlife rather than raise them full-term, because we would have to try to get through the summer months and the water temperature would be a real problem.  So, we will get the eggs in Dec.-Jan. and then release them.  There is a lot of data collecting and knowledge that the kids will have to learn.

We are going to do more with the pond then just make it a little hole for water.  We have a very large swale down at the Land Lab and we can put together quite a little wetlands with some goose boxes.  We will be able to put an osprey tower in, but cannot put any warm water fish in, because the Department of Fish and Wildlife is afraid they might get into the Bear Creek system and cause a lot of problems.

During the fall, the students become teachers one day a week.  We will bus in a class of elementary school kids.  Then we have a group of students that become tour guides for that day.  They take these kids in small groups down to the creek and go through the stream surveys.  They teach them how to take the water quality tests, and all the kids love to get in the water and play with the bugs.  The kids spend about two to three hours with us.  Working with the elementary kids is is one of the favorite things our kids like to do.