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Educators who completed projects supported by NOAA Planet Stewards share their stories, innovations, and resources you may find useful in your own education setting in The Earth Scientist — a peer reviewed science education journal of The National Earth Science Teachers Association. The articles include links to background information, supporting materials, and student worksheets available for you to download and adapt. They reflect the enthusiasm, hard work and success of educators, their students, and communities. Find out how you can receive support from NOAA Planet Stewards to carry out a stewardship project.

Projects from the Spring and Summer 2023 editions of The Earth Scientist

Projects from Spring 2023

Advocates for Change

Every day, people use and discard single-use plastic items, many of which make their way to coastal areas as marine debris. As the population of Vero Beach, Florida continues to grow, so does our community’s potential to use and discard single-use plastics unless something is done to inspire our members of our community to switch to more sustainable options. Through this project, funded by the NOAA Planet Stewards, middle and high school youth volunteers at the Environmental Learning Center in Vero Beach collected over 200 pounds of marine debris from local waterways. A large portion of this debris was plastics in various sizes and forms, ranging from plastic forks, beach toys, and candy wrappers to tiny, unidentifiable fragments. After collecting and analyzing the debris, the youth were given the platform to educate others about the causes and impact of marine debris and single-use plastics. They created an advocacy video for younger students and an artful, interactive display that incorporated all of the plastic they collected during their beach clean-ups. Together, these two advocacy pieces show the impact that youth can have in addressing environmental issues through direct stewardship action and by using their unique perspective to educate and inspire others to take action in our local community.

interactive exhibit on display at the ELC’s visitor center.
“Wave of Garbage” interpretive, interactive exhibit on display at the ELC’s visitor center.
About the Author

Amy Durham Shea became a Planet Steward in 2020 while working as an environmental educator at the Environmental Learning Center in Vero Beach, FL. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Arkansas, a master’s degree in education from Vanderbilt University, and professional certificates in free-choice learning and fisheries management from Oregon State University. She is a Certified Interpretive Guide and Certified Interpretive Trainer through the National Association of Interpretation and a member of the National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation. She has worked in a variety of formal and informal educational settings since she relocated to Florida from Arkansas over twelve years ago. She enjoys educating people of all ages about fisheries, climate change, marine and estuarine ecosystems, and local Florida habitats through place-based experiences and has a strong interest in understanding how different messaging approaches impact people’s perceptions of environmental issues. Amy currently works as a Curator of Education Programs at Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, FL and can be reached at akdurham@gmail.com.

Download: Advocates for Change

Floating Wetlands for the Future

High school student volunteers at the Virginia Living Museum, inspired by the large amounts of litter they observed in their local waterways, wanted to complete a project focused on eliminating pollution and creating habitat for native wildlife. Through funding from NOAA Planet Stewards, the students learned about freshwater ecosystems, wetland habitats, and aquatic pollution while designing, building, and maintaining a floating wetland. During this project, the group worked together to build research skills, collect chemical and physical water quality data, remove pollution from the waterway, and develop an educational activity to encourage others to learn about the importance of protecting the Earth’s finite freshwater resources. At the conclusion of the project, students presented the work from the project along with their educational activity to the public at multiple events focused on the environment and conservation.

The permanent educational signage installed in front of the floating wetland. Photo credit: Deanna Orr
The permanent educational signage installed in front of the floating wetland. (Photo credit: Deanna Orr)
About the Author

Deanna Orr, Conservation and Ambassador Animal Manager at the Virginia Living Museum, has 8 years of experience in conservation, informal science education, and environmental field work. She received her Applied Global Conservation, B.S. from George Mason University. Before joining the Virginia Living Museum, Deanna built career skills with the help of mentors at organizations including the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and Conservation Biology Institute, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. She enjoys hiking, kayaking, relaxing at the beach, and improving her bird identification skills. Deanna can be contacted at deanna. orr@thevlm.org.

Additional support: Alice Agnew (Virginia Living Museum), Bo Baker (Virginia Living Museum), Emily Hoffman (Virginia Living Museum), Darl Fletcher (Virginia Living Museum), Meghan Garrity (Virginia Living Museum), Emmylou Kidder (Christopher Newport University), Ben Thompson (Dramby Environmental Consulting), and Katie Lee (College of William and Mary).

Download: Floating Wetlands for the Future

Clean Up Crew: Empowering Future Changemakers

“Clean Up Crew: Empowering Future Changemakers” is a NOAA Planet Stewards project designed to educate, inspire, and motivate students about marine debris mitigation in the K-5 public school setting. This was a year-long project integrating marine debris education, stewardship, and outreach with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013). Students embarked on a journey to understand and learn how marine debris impacts our coastal community, school, and homes. Together, we removed 327 pounds of trash from area beaches, completed more than 800 acts of environmental stewardship, and shared our learning with our community through outreach and art. Students applied STEM principles throughout the project to address marine debris through personal and civic action to improve our world.

The walls of our media center were transformed and used to showcase the importance of our waterways, marine animals, and marine ecosystems.
The walls of our media center were transformed and used to showcase the importance of our waterways, marine animals, and marine ecosystems. Recycled materials were integrated into a whimsical wonderland where Ms. Frizzle is in a submarine alongside sharks reading books and sea turtles nesting on beaches.
About the Author

Kelley Hodges is a Science Intervention Teacher at Patronis Elementary School and an Adjunct Professor of Science Education at Florida State University-Panama City. She lives in Panama City Beach, Florida, and is in her 20th year of teaching. Her career in education includes teaching college, high school, middle school, and elementary school science and mathematics. Her current role at Patronis Elementary School includes hands-on inquiry-based science instruction for students in grades 3, 4, and 5 and science instructional support and guidance for all classroom teachers. Since joining Patronis Elementary School, she has secured funding to support science instruction and environmental education and developed a schoolwide environmental stewardship program focused on marine debris and its impact on marine ecosystems. She established a multi-age First LEGO League robotics program at Patronis supporting efforts to bring coding, robotics, fun, and core values to young learners. Her work in the community includes curriculum development and teacher training for STEM in a Box, a joint effort between Florida State University and the Navy Lab-Panama City. Kelley earned a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Physiology and Neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego and a Master’s Degree in Science Education from Florida State University. Kelley can be reached at hodgekc@bay.k12.fl.us or khodges1993@comcast.net.

Download: Clean Up Crew: Empowering Future Changemakers

Beaumont Rain and Butterfly Garden

Beaumont Middle School (BMS) wanted to increase the capacity of the current rain garden to better handle the stormwater runoff that was coming from the main section of the parking lot. By increasing the size of the rain garden system through funding from the NOAA Planet Stewards, we were able to increase the capacity to catch, mitigate and filter stormwater runoff from a large impermeable surface, the main section of a parking lot. This project gave students the opportunity to investigate science in a real-world setting.

ruce Hutcheson, President of Friends of Wolf Run, comes in to talk with our rain garden club about the importance of the rain garden on the Wolf Run watershed.
Bruce Hutcheson, President of Friends of Wolf Run, comes in to talk with our rain garden club about the importance of the rain garden on the Wolf Run watershed.
About the Author

Patrick Goff is a 23 year veteran science teacher who works at Beaumont Middle School in Lexington, KY. He has his BS in Secondary Ed Earth/Space Science and a Masters in Administration and Supervision along with his National Boards Science/ Early Adolescence. He has helped to oversee the installation and expansion of the rain gardens at our school. Patrick can be reached at patrick.goff@fayette.kyschools.us.

Kyla Trahan is a 19 year veteran teacher with Beaumont Middle School located in Lexington, KY. Kyla teaches 6th grade science, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education 1-8 with an add on of PreK- K, a Master’s Degree in Arts of Elementary Education, and a Rank 1 in Educational Technology. Kyla can be reached at kyla.trahan@fayette.kyschools.us.

Download: Beaumont Rain and Butterfly Garden

Keepers of Turtle Island

Keepers of Turtle Island, a clan of Indigenous students, was an initiative to learn more about sustainable practices, revitalize Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) with our Native American communities, and actively engage in stewardship of our environment. This NOAA Planet Stewards project was designed to address the damage caused to the environment in terms of the loss of biodiversity and the growing threat to ecosystems and cultural heritage. One of the main challenges that the project addressed was the decreasing number of pollinators due to various factors including the eradication of native plants such as milkweed. The project restored habitats for pollinators by growing native plants, which provide ecosystem services and opportunities for students to learn about them. The project also focused on reducing carbon emissions and sequestering carbon. By braiding Indigenous Science perspectives into environmental education, the project emphasized relations, responsibility, and stewardship towards the environment. The program engaged middle and high school students in calculating their carbon footprints, planting a native pollinator garden, and learning about the local ecosystem and climate through their Indigenous cultures. The project’s partners collaborated with the students to design the garden space and donated native plant species. The project also involved cultural educational experiences to bridge learning about Indigenous culture and science and build participants’ climate literacy. The Keepers of Turtle Island project provided culturally relevant and sustaining science learning experiences, built community, and limited the effects of climate change by integrating education, culture, and community approaches informed by Indigenous knowledge.

Students planting native plants.
Students planting native plants. (Photo credit: Amelia Cook).
About the Author

Ameila Cook is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Science Education doctoral student at the University of Oklahoma, and high school science educator in Oklahoma. Amelia is a teacher ambassador with the National Center for Science Education, EcoRise, and a NOAA Planet Steward. Ameila can be reached at ameliacook@ou.edu.

Download: Keepers of Turtle Island

Seminole High School Landscape Architectural Project

The Landscape Architectural Project, an environmental awareness project funded by NOAA Planet Stewards, enabled students to take ownership in designing, creating, and maintaining natural gardens around Seminole High School (SHS). Students had, and continue to have, opportunities to earn service hours, and become leaders within the school community. Approximately 350 – 400 students, 8 educators, a high school administrator, and 2 outside horticulture experts were involved from Pinellas County Schools Gardens and the University of Florida (UF) Urban Horticulture Extension. Restoring Florida native plants to the campus and expanding access to the gardens by educators who have used them for lesson enhancements for their students are measures of success for this project.

Seminole High School Propagation Garden Space Prior to Improvements
Seminole High School Propagation Garden Space Prior to Improvements (Photo Credit: Jerry Cantrell)
About the Author

Jerry Cantrell is a science and engineering teacher at Seminole High School in Seminole, Florida. Jerry holds a BS from Southern Polytechnic State University in Electrical Engineering and an MS from University of South Florida in Environmental Science, Policy, and Geography. He has taught science and engineering in Pinellas County Schools for 8 years; prior to teaching Jerry was a biomedical engineer and had served 15 years in the US Army. Additionally, Jerry is a Top 10 Finalist for Pinellas County Schools 2023 Teacher of the Year. Jerry can be reached at cantrellj@pcsb.org.

Download: Seminole High School Landscape Architectural Project

Projects from Summer 2023

Unwelcome Guests: Combating Aquatic Invasive Species through Education, Habitat Conservation and Restoration

Aquatic invasive species are an environmental threat throughout the entire continent, and students in a landlocked, rural South Dakota school district also find themselves at the forefront of the struggle against invasive species. A NOAA Planet Stewards project in the 2021-22 school year for middle and high school students on aquatic invasive species resulted in a substantial attitudinal change along with increased content understanding. While the issue of aquatic invasive species presented its own logistical problems, these challenges were, for the most part, successfully navigated to meet stewardship goals resulting in a remarkable learning experience for both students and teachers alike.

Edmunds Central students inspecting riprap at Enemy Swim Lake for zebra mussels.
Edmunds Central students inspecting riprap at Enemy Swim Lake for zebra mussels. Invasive mussels can easily spread from lake to lake as hitchhikers on boats and recreation equipment. Enemy Swim was only a couple of miles from a lake with a known zebra mussel infestation at the time of our survey. While we did not find any zebra mussels on our stop in October of 2021, by July of 2022 zebra mussels were confirmed in the lake. (Pictured: Iana Weiland, Theo Haerter, Alexis Fischer, Joclyn Vargason, and Eden Weiland)
About the Author

Spencer Cody teacher 6-12 Science at Edmunds Central Middle and High School in the Edmunds Central School District in Roscoe, South Dakota. He holds a BA degree in Middle School and Secondary Biology Education from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and an MS degree in Chemistry Education from South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota. He has taught for 15 years in the middle and secondary sciences and is the recipient of numerous awards for his teaching including the 2018 Sanford Inspire Teacher of the Year for South Dakota, 2020 North Central Section Outstanding Earth Science Teacher, 2020 EPA Presidential Award for Environmental Education, and 2021 Region Four Teacher of the Year for South Dakota. Spencer can be reached at Spencer.Cody@k12.sd.us.

Download: Unwelcome Guests: Combating Aquatic Invasive Species through Education, Habitat Conservation and Restoration

Planting Roots in our Community: Leaving a Legacy Behind

This NOAA Planet Stewards project was designed to reduce the carbon dioxide in our environment through tree planting around the Defiance, Ohio area. Locations included a nature preserve, a therapeutic riding center called Lily Creek Farms, and the Defiance Elementary School, along with local church grounds and backyards. The project was responsible for planting 112 trees with a calculated 1,322 pounds of carbon absorbed for the first year which will continue to grow in years to come. Once the trees are fully grown, they will remove 5,555 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. Students involved in the project showed an increase from pretest to post-test about their desire to do science, choose a STEAM- related (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) career for their future job, and take care of the environment.

Defiance Elementary School planting
Defiance Elementary School planting
About the Author

Julie Houck became a NOAA Planet Steward in 2021. She is a K-5 STEAM Teacher at Defiance Elementary in Defiance, Ohio. She has been teaching for 20 years and has also taught students in Australia, Germany, and China. She earned her Bachelor of Early Childhood Education from Cedarville University and her masters from Regent University. She has been a part of GLOBE Mission Earth for three years and is also a GLOBE trainer. She is a My NASA GLOBE product reviewer, an NSTA member, and an Ohio STEM Learning Network Fellow. Julie can be contacted at jhouck@defianceschools.net.

Download: Planting Roots in our Community: Leaving a Legacy Behind

Young Stewards Promoting Border Resiliency

The city of El Paso is uniquely located along the Rio Grande River and borders of Mexico and New Mexico, all of which are situated in the Chihuahuan Desert. The region faces a variety of environmental threats, including habitat loss due to urbanization, deterioration of freshwater resources and climate change. The Border Region (82% Hispanic and poverty rate of 22%) is also very much an underserved community. Working in partnership with the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park and with funding provided by the NOAA Planet Stewards program, Insights Science Discovery (Insights) created the Young Stewards Promoting Border Resiliency project. The goal of this project was to arm high school students from underserved communities with the knowledge and skills to restore one acre of riparian wetland habitat. The project also fostered career development within STEM fields by providing students with opportunities to learn and engage with STEM experts. The students’ efforts of removing invasive species followed by the transplanting of native vegetation within the wetland, helped restore a small portion of this river- valley environment while instilling a greater sense of conservational awareness among the next generation of decision makers.

ruce Hutcheson, President of Friends of Wolf Run, comes in to talk with our rain garden club about the importance of the rain garden on the Wolf Run watershed.
Students conducting linear vegetation transects to measure and record present species and calculate the most dominant species at the site.
About the Author

Jennifer Ramos-Chavez, P.h.D., is the Environmental Education Manager at Insights Science Discovery where she coordinates and implements immersive environmental education programming. Additionally, Dr. Ramos- Chavez is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Texas at El Paso where she studies the intersection between the environment, energy and education. Specifically, her research focuses on community-based participatory environmental research and community-centered outreach. She is interested in understanding how student perceptions and behaviors are influenced by immersive environmental and engineering education programming. Prior to her appointments, Dr. Ramos-Chavez led a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded project centered around cost-effective environmental monitoring research in Indonesia. Jennifer can be reached at jennifer@insightselpaso.org.

Download: Young Stewards Promoting Border Resiliency

A Tiny Forest as an Outdoor Classroom and a Place for Hope

According to experts, such as psychotherapist Caroline Hickman (Hickman, 2020), climate anxiety in young people can be countered by engaging them in collaborative work that binds them to the environment and demonstrates for them the power of collective action. Inspired by such work at schools in Brazil, China, and Malaysia, and thanks to funding from the NOAA Planet Stewards program, our pre-K-throughtwelfth- grade school built a so-called “Tiny Forest” on our campus in 2022. Tiny Forests are dense plantings of native plants in a space about the size of a tennis court. Students took key roles in writing the proposal to the school, choosing the plants, preparing the ground, and planting. A year later, the Tiny Forest has become an outdoor classroom, offering a site for age-appropriate lessons about topics ranging from carbon capture to nature poetry. By sharing the positive effects of reforestation and species diversification, students could articulate the possibility of making small but meaningful impacts on environmental problems. At the Tiny Forest we hope our students might experience empowerment rather than anxiety.

Students help plant the 600 trees and shrubs on February 21st. (Photo Credit: Tea Bear)
Students help plant the 600 trees and shrubs on February 21st. (Photo Credit: Tea Bear)
About the Author

Dr. Patrick J. Walsh is the Chair of Social Studies at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon, where he has taught for seventeen years. At Catlin Gabel, he teaches courses on Civics, American Studies, Globalization, and Environmentalism. Patrick holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, where his graduate work focused on counter-cultural communities and movements in the twentieth-century American West. He has been granted two Fulbright awards, one to teach American Studies at the University of Passau in Germany and a Distinguished Award in Teaching grant for research in Finland. Patrick can be reached at walshp@catlin.edu.

Download: A Tiny Forest as an Outdoor Classroom and a Place for Hope