Tag Archives: Education

Gory science education remembered across the years

What do you remember about your early years at school? If you’re like me, chances are not too many of the specifics.  But I am pretty sure that my oldest son, now in the second grade, had one of those lessons last week. Why do I say that? Because I have a very similar memory from my time at school, as does my mother. More than 60 years separate these lessons, but they are essential the same.

And the lesson? Dissecting an eyeball and extracting the lens.

My mother worked on a sheep’s eye. I dissected a cow’s eye. And my son got to do the same with an anchovy.

It was amazing watching a class full of normally twitchy seven and eight year olds settle down and learn what makes a fish a fish.  The climax was removing the lens and feeling the tiny hard sphere that you could then take back to class. It made science-education real — if a little smelly!

The staff and many volunteers at the Shorebird Nature Center at the Berkeley Marina did a great job turning these students into scientists for the morning. I have a hunch that one of his early school memories will be of this day and that little anchovy.

Do you have a favorite lesson that has stuck with you through the years?

Dissecting an anchovy.
Dissecting an anchovy.

It looks like Shrek

“It looks like Shrek!” That’s what one of the Compton high schoolers said as he looked down into a rare soft bottom section of Compton Creek.  [and it wasn’t just because the teacher for the day was called Eddie Murphy, although he was]

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The thin ribbon of green, dotted with trees, is pretty rare around here.  As the students studied the map to assess the neighborhood of the creek they noted that parks were pretty uncommon. In this city of almost 100,000 due south of Los Angeles they could recount just three. What’s rarer still is a creek channel that still teems with life.

True the creek has its challenges, sandwiched as it is between high concrete banks, a massive culvert, and a mess of highway and train bridges. But if you spend a few minutes under the shade of the trees you’ll hear birds and bugs all around.

For the better part of a decade, Heal the Bay has been working with the local high school to help them use their local creek as a valuable resource for science and environmental education. Today the students were assessing the condition of the creek — is the water clear? Is there grass underfoot? Trees overhead? And just how much trash has been caught up?  They’re able to link this back to what happens in their neighborhood and how they can help protect the creek and the ocean that lies a few miles downstream.

But for me, what it gets back to is that singular moment when a kid is transported from the concrete jungle and connects with the creek for what it is. A river flowing through their city. Even if that means relating it to a fictional forest on the Hollywood stage. Perhaps next time they see Shrek they’ll remark it’s just like the creek in their backyard!

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On pie, storm drains and the Duke

DukesHTB 088If you have spent any time on a surf board you are probably familiar with Duke Paoa Kahanamoku — Hawaii’s legendary Olympic swimmer and surf evangelist. In 1912, he won the 100 meters freestyle in the Stockholm Olympics.  And starting in the 1920s stared in a dozen feature films. But between Olympic competition and filming he travelled the world inspiring a love of the ocean through his passion for swimming and his introduction of surfing on an unsuspecting world.

Today, Heal the Bay is continuing this legacy with an innovative partnership we call “Lunch and Learn.”  For the past three years we have partnered with a restaurant that bears his name, Duke’s in Malibu, to introduce kids to the ocean and give them simple things they can do to care for it everyday.  What’s unique about this partnership is how it combines an outdoor field-trip, with a hosted sit-down lunch overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Many of these kids, 90% of whom come from Title I schools, have never been to the ocean despite it being in their backyard. The icing on the cake is the white linen lunch that is served as they sit and watch for whales and dolphins (actually, the icing is fudge sauce and macadamia nuts….). I only recall having that once on a field trip growing up, but thats’s another story.

Testing permeability of differerent materials
Testing permeability of differerent materials

I was fortunate to help out with this morning’s field trip. From the moment the fourth grade classes arrived on the big red bus, to the last slice of famous Hula Pie, there were smiles all around. But this wasn’t just about buses and pie, as important as both are. The heart of the program teaches kids about the relationship between what they do in their everyday life and the life in the ocean. The link being the storm drain that washes the debris of life from their playground, street and home through to the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean.

It was inspiring to watch the kids work in groups to test hypotheses about how water will interact with various surfaces, or sieve sand in search of elusive crabs. After lunch, everyone got animated during the quiz as they shouted out answers like, “entanglement,” “impermeable,” and “stop littering” as they competed for prizes. They get it that they can do simple things to help out. But what was most touching was sharing desert and hearing them talk about their desire to become scientists and engineers when they grew up. All that through a day at the beach, and a slice of tasty pie. Thank you Duke’s and Heal the Bay!

What’s missing in our playgrounds?

Every day as I drop my oldest son off at school or collect him at the end of the day I walk across a maze of white and yellow lines that mark the playground. Straight lines, perfect curves, right angles and more. My son is beginning to recognize that marks that seemed random at first actually come along with a whole set of rules that describe the lore of the playground. To me it all seem both familiar, and somewhat sterile.

Lines mark space in the playground
Lines mark space in the playground

What fascinates me about the lines is that although similar to what I grew up with, many of the games he plays are as new to me as they are to him. I am having to learn a whole new vocabulary: cherry bombs, water melons, no-holdsies and across the world.  While we played football-against-the-wall, run-across, and if the teacher wasn’t looking “British bulldog,” my son plays four-square, wall-ball and tether ball. He’s starting to learn the elaborate rules that dictated the play — passed on no doubt from one year to another with slight mutations along the way. I wonder if one day he’ll spend as much time talking about “kiss chase” as we did — not that we ever played it of course….

Four Square
Four Square

I was fortunate that our playground had more grass — fields for football, rugby in winter and cricket in summer. They also had trees we’d build bases for our tiny lego-men and hedgerows that bordered the neighboring farmers field.  The greenery and semi-wild spaces added a whole new dimension — a dimension that is lacking in my son’s urban school. As California looks to renovate the failing infrastructure of its schools, I hope it will give some thought as to how the school playground can be transformed into part of the learning environment. Some schools have made a start by incorporating vegetable gardens for the kids. Adding to these tended gardens some wild spaces — the occasional patch of untended grass, dipping pond, or miniature forest groves — would go a long way to bringing nature closer to our kids. In an era when the school day is crammed and money for busing kids on a field trip is tight, anything we can do to enrich the school environment seems like a good option for our kids, their education, and our environment.

Tether Ball
Tether Ball