12th Symposium on Education


The Sombrero Marsh environmental education partnership: a model for best practice in Earth science education

Lesley K. Smith, CIRES/Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, CO; and S. Buhr and S. Avery

Research institute partnerships can foster awareness by primary and secondary students of our valuable water resources. The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, CIRES, has been collaborating with a school district, a non-profit organization, and a local government agency to develop an innovative field-based curriculum for the Sombrero Marsh Environmental Education Center. The goal of this unique partnership is to provide exemplary science education for K-16 students and to promote environmental stewardship of the Sombrero Marsh, a rare saline wetland ecosystem recently restored by the city of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP).

The Sombrero Marsh Project incorporates many of the characteristics known to be important in district-university partnerships, including alignment with existing infra-structure, professional development of teachers, and integration of primary or secondary education and scientific research. For example, the Sombrero Marsh curriculum is being developed as an extension of targeted Full Option Science System (FOSS) modules, which are the keystone for implementing national, state, and district standards in Boulder Valley's elementary and middle schools. Inquiry-based pre-, post-, and on-site investigations have been formulated through the synergistic combination of teachers, scientists, and the BVSD FOSS Coordinator. An integral part of the curriculum is the professional development of elementary and middle school teachers to learn the inquiry-based activities conducted at the Sombrero Marsh Environmental Education Center. The after-school training is required before teachers can facilitate student groups visiting the marsh. A unique characteristic of the curriculum is to use students as scientists to develop a database that will be utilized by OSMP to monitor the restoration of the marsh ecosystem. For instance, groundwater level and water temperature is measured by each school group, entered into a District- and OSMP-wide database developed by undergraduates of CUís Department of Computer Science, and a graphic depiction of annual groundwater level and temperature is generated as part of the monitoring program. These data will provide vital information to OSMP, as groundwater discharge is the main source of water to the wetland, and it is imperative to determine the influence of the marsh restoration work on groundwater hydrology. Future water-related education activities include monitoring water chemistry, weather, wetland plants, waterfowl, and soils. All of these data will be fed into the database. In addition to scientific discovery, an important focus of this curriculum is to instill a sense of stewardship for this valuable water resource located within Boulder Valley. After visiting the marsh, students are encouraged to develop an environmental impact statement, write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper about environmental issues related to the marsh, or role play a scenario between the various stakeholders infringing on the marsh ecosystem.

Several dimensions of the Sombrero Marsh Education Program, such as community-based research and ecological stewardship, can serve as a model for similar science education partnerships that aim to promote knowledge of water resources. Dissemination of this innovative model will provide a valuable resource for nascent university-district partnerships.

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Session 4, Special Session on Water and the Water Cycle: Part II
Monday, 10 February 2003, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM

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