FOSSconnect


The Shrimp Club Lives On!

Erica Beck Spencer, FOSS Curriculum Specialist, Lawrence Hall of Science
February 23, 2016 | FOSS Outdoors

Has a student of yours ever asked a question so big and so important that everything else had to stop until the answer could be found? Has a question been profound enough to lead to a project that energizes students to show up early and even ask to stay in from recess to do more work? This happened in Laurette Rogers's classroom in 1992 after she showed her fourth-grade students at Brookside School in Marin County, California, a depressing film about endangered species. The entire class felt helpless and then one of these students asked, "What can we do to help?" At that moment Rogers knew they had to do something big.

FOSS interviewed Rogers and one of her students for an article about the empowering and award-winning Shrimp Club in the FOSS Environments Science Resources book (SRB). Although the Shrimp Club itself no longer exists, the STRAW Program (Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed) is thriving, so much so that in March of 2015 they celebrated their 500th restoration project.

Students help prepare the soil for planting.

Students help prepare the soil for planting.

Laurette Rogers continues this work as a program of Point Blue Conservation Science, formerly known as PRBO Conservation Science. For more than two decades she and the STRAW team have led students and teachers in restoration projects along 32 miles of creek, with over 38,000 kids getting their hands dirty planting 40,000 native trees and shrubs. These students, from more than 50 schools, joined together with restoration managers, locals, and conservation groups to do the meaningful work to restore habitats but also to feel that they're doing something to improve the health of the Earth.

Giving students a sense of empowerment when confronting issues about climate change, rainforest destruction, or endangered animals instead of feeling powerless is both hard to do and really important. David Sobel has written extensively about how teachers should avoid the doom and gloom of the world's problems unless students are empowered to do something about it. Rogers was trying to do good by showing her students the movie about endangered animals, but inadvertently left them feeling discouraged. Her response to do something to empower her students is just what her class needed. In Sobel's powerful book, Beyond Ecophobia, he writes, "What's important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it and feel comfortable in it, before being asked to heal its wounds" (1996, pg. 10). Getting kids outside, doing restoration work, and being a part of something bigger than themselves is an excellent way to help form this nature connection while also affecting authentic change.

In today's testing and standards driven climate, it's next to impossible to drop everything and follow students' leads. But the decades-old question, "What can we do to help?" is still being answered by many, many students through the work that the STRAW Program continues to do. FOSS believes that this level of engagement is part of a formula to change students' lives. If students are taught our program in the classroom, go to the schoolyard for the outdoor parts as described in the Investigations Guide, and then go to do restoration work, such as that conducted by the STRAW Program, then students will be forever transformed.

Throughout our country there are fine organizations doing citizen science projects that empower students to improve habitats they live in while simultaneously connecting children to the natural world. Here in Maine, one of the many excellent organizations doing this work is the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), Vital Signs program. Vital Signs gets middle school students exploring their local habitats, learning about invasive species, and conducting field work to help combat the issue. There are thousands of like-minded organizations like Point Blue Conservation Science and GMRI, wanting to connect with schools because they, like you, want to impact the lives of kids. Reach out to one of these organizations and chances are, they'll welcome you with open arms. In fact, they're waiting for you!

Students plant native trees and shrubs. Young native plants arrive in tubes for planting.

Students plant native trees and shrubs. Young native plants arrive in tubes for planting.

For more information about Point Blue Conservation Science, visit: www.pointblue.org

For more information about the STRAW Program visit: http://tinyurl.com/straw-program

Watch the trailer for the STRAW Program documentary, A Simple Question, here: https://vimeo.com/7051769

To find local organizations near you, search for your environmental education state organization or go to the Regional Resources section on FOSSweb (under Digital-Only Resources).

References