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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.

The following are brief descriptions of select projects completed by NOAA Planet Stewards educators. We hope they inspire you to take positive environmental actions within your community, and consider applying to NOAA Planet Stewards for funding.

Recharging Recycling

(Michele — High school teacher, Chantilly, Virginia)

High school girls’ lacrosse team collecting recyclables from athletic field.

High school girls’ lacrosse team collecting recyclables from athletic field.

A teacher and her students at a large Virginia high school decided to do something about the huge number of potentially recyclable items ending up in the trash every day at her school. Understanding that plastic is the most common type of marine debris, and seeing that many of the trashed recyclables were plastic, Michele and 150 students developed a program to recharge the recycling efforts at their school.

The Recharging Recycling campaign focused on reducing plastic refuse by increasing the use of water bottle refilling stations and the correct use of recycling bins. To begin, the students circulated a recycling survey around school to determine attitudes about recycling. They placed recycling bins by the stadium field. Advertising for the recycling program was shared on the Knightly News school video program. By the end of the school year, the students engaged in 3,750 hours of stewardship activities, saving 14,754 single use 16.9 oz. water bottles from use and collecting over 3,260 1-gallon trash bags full of recycling from recycling bins they placed outside.

Michele became a NOAA Planet Steward in 2019. She teaches high school biology, geosystems, and oceanography in Chantilly, Virginia.

Invasive Beware

(Angela — Middle school teacher, Gorham, Maine)

Middle school students planting native species after removing invasive plants.

Middle school students planting native species after removing invasive plants.

Invasive plants are those from another region that do not belong in their new environment. They can cause extinctions of native plants, reduce biodiversity, compete with natives for limited resources, and alter habitats. Angela and her seventh grade students decided to do something about the invasive plants growing around their school yard. To engage and excite her students about science, Angela challenged her 82 seventh graders to identify local invasive planets, develop a removal and treatment program to keep invasive plants out of the school grounds, and choose and grow appropriate native plants for their area.

Starting in the fall, students counted and removed invasive plants in quadrats on the school grounds and measured the pH of the soil. When they weren’t counting and measuring, they researched and discussed potential native species to grow in the classroom to replace the invasives they planned to remove (based on their pH measurements). They continued the removal and watched their new native plants grow in the classroom throughout the winter. In the spring, the seventh graders conducted the final removal and transplanted their new plants to the cleared areas. By the end of the year, the students had engaged in 328 hours of stewardship activities and removed 405 pounds of invasive plants from their school grounds. Angela became a NOAA Planet Steward in 2019 and was invited to present her project during a NOAA Planet Stewards workshop at the National Science Teaching Association’s (NSTA) national conference in 2019. She teaches seventh grade earth science in Gorham, Maine.

The Colorado Coralition

(Matt — Middle school teacher, Fort Collins, Colorado)

Colorado Coralition student cleaning coral nursery.

Colorado Coralition student cleaning coral nursery.

Coral bleaching and mortality is an ongoing and increasing threat to marine ecosystems worldwide, impacting marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Carysfort Reef in the Florida Reef Tract is one such reef that has faced a significant decline over the past few decades. A once fertile ecosystem teeming with life is now algae-covered rubble. A group of 18 middle and high school students from Colorado, a headwater state, decided to help change that landscape by joining The Colorado Coralition.

During the 2018-2019 school year, the students accepted into the Coralition became certified divers while researching coral decline and fundraising for the culminating coral restoration trip to Carysfort Reef in Key Largo, Florida. They met with Dr. Mark Easkin from NOAA and Zack Rago from the film Chasing Coral to learn more about global coral bleaching trends and the future of corals worldwide. They also met with Congressman Joe Neguse. By the end of the trip to Carysfort Reef, the students had engaged in over 2,400 hours of preparation and stewardship activities.

Matt became a NOAA Planet Steward in 2019. He is a middle and high school English teacher at the Polaris Expeditionary School in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Increasing Biodiversity, Watershed Health, and Students’ Environmental Awareness

(Holly — High school teacher, Redford, Michigan)

Environmental science student takes measurements before invasive species removal.

Environmental science student takes measurements before invasive species removal.

Stormwater retention ponds ensure water is not returned to a watershed too quickly after a storm. An increased volume of water in streams and rivers can lead to bank erosion and the addition of pollutants and nutrients, lowering water quality and increasing the chance for algal blooms downstream. The ugly brown phragmites the students saw everyday was adequately cleaning the water in the retention pond, but there was little diversity in animal or plant life. The AP Environmental Science students decided to change that.

The students studied watersheds, invasive species, and biodiversity while planning their AP environmental stewardship action project. They chose a combination of removing invasive species from the storm water retention pond and replanting it with native plants for a rain and pollinator garden. They cleared 7,266 square feet. of invasive phragmites from the pond over numerous days. One of the students created an award-winning video about the retention pond project.

Another student wrote a grant application and was awarded additional funding. Instead of planting the 30+ native plants on their own, the high school students teamed up with local fifth graders for a planting day. Groups of environmental science students also planned educational stations where they designed short lessons that included fun demos for the younger students to learn about the importance of pollinators and how wetlands filter and clean water.

After planting, the students observed 20 different plants, nine macroinvertebrates, 15 terrestrial invertebrates, five protists and algae, red wing blackbirds, rabbits, and brown rats after planting. All together, the students involved with the project spent over 2,700 hours engaged in stewardship activities to bring their stewardship plan to life.

Pocket Prairie Restoration

(Stephanie — Middle school teacher, Maineville, Ohio)

Students planting plants.

Students planting native seeds and plants

At a middle school near Cincinnati, Ohio, students and teachers periodically heard the custodian running the gas-powered lawn mower back and forth across the 2.75 acres of lawn next to their school. The same area had once been a prairie. Because everyone lives in a watershed, Stephanie wanted to inspire students “to see native plants as beautiful and not weeds needing to be sprayed with pesticide and mowed regularly” and reduce the amount of atmosphere warming carbon emitted by the lawn mower (80 pounds per year according to the EPA).

The 89 students began their restoration effort by calculating a carbon footprint for maintaining the area to be restored. Working with the school custodian, they measured the amount of gas used to mow the 2.75 acres for the 30 weeks of the school year and calculated the resulting carbon emissions. They also recorded the types of plants and animals in the lawn area. After having the land tilled, the students planted native seeds and plants and took new measurements. Students recorded 20 types of plants in the restored prairie area compared to three types in the lawn area. The number of animals in the same area grew from 30 to 45 different species. And in the end, restoring the prairie area, which never needs mowing, saved 1,062 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere each year.

Stephanie became a NOAA Planet Steward in 2018. She is a middle school science teacher and the Conservation Teacher of the Year for her county.

Solarize Delta High School

(Ben — High school teacher, Delta, Colorado)

Students in the Solar Energy Training vocational course install a 2400 W solar array they designed

Students in the Solar Energy Training vocational course install a 2400 W solar array they designed.

A Colorado “community with deep roots in agriculture and coal mining is quickly transitioning into a booming destination for recreation, tourism, and renewable energy.” Ben decided to use that momentum to bring renewable energy to his school and train students in the burgeoning field. The project powered an outdoor classroom with a student-installed and monitored solar array, reduced the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere, and trained local students as solar technicians.

After learning phases of solar electric design and installation, the 14 students in the Solar Energy Training vocational course, designed and installed a 2400-watt solar array in the Solar PV Lap Yard. They planned the layout of the panels, diagramed the wiring, and installed and wired the array. The students collected data on the performance of the panels and created a Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) for operating the array to maximize production. In addition, 75 environmental science students quantified and monitored the array to correctly predict the amount of electricity needed and to calculate the climate benefit of the array. As a result of the project, 1.38 tons of carbon dioxide were kept out of the environment, 14 students graduated from the training program, and 10 teachers completed a professional development program to bring solar energy and technology into the classrooms.

Ben became a NOAA Planet Steward in 2018 and has had two projects funded by NOAA Planet Stewards. He is a high school environmental science teacher and a Knowles Teacher Initiative Senior Fellow. Through his Solar Energy Training class, students leave high school prepared to be technicians in the solar industry.

Cultivating Community: Empowered Resilience

(Amelia — High school teacher, Norman, Oklahoma)

Students plant a Three Sisters garden they designed and increase the school garden size to 500 ft2

Students plant a Three Sisters garden they designed and increase the school garden size to 500 ft2.

Climate projections for the Great Plains region include rising temperatures, declining precipitation, and greater evaporation. Understanding this, Amelia wanted to help Oklahomans understand that growing an organic, local food supply and incorporating efficient water usage would help them adapt to these anticipated changes in climate. She enlisted the help of 57 K-12 students from Norman High School and the Native Youth Science Club she founded to help make this happen through hands-on stewardship.

The Native Youth Science Club investigated Chickasaw beliefs about the environment and Native American agriculture through storytelling and traditional environmental knowledge. They designed and planted a Three Sisters garden as well as increasing the school garden size to 500 square feet. The new garden has increased biomass by 434% and sequestered approximately 40 pounds of carbon per year. The AP students researched, designed, and built a rainwater catchment system and xeriscaped 800 square feet to reduce water usage. The students’ stewardship activities resulted in over 1,100 people visiting the school garden yearly (up from 20-25) and seeing climate adaptation and mitigation in action through local food growth and thoughtful water usage.

Amelia became a NOAA Planet Steward in 2018. She is a high school science teacher and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation.

The Giving Trees

(John - High school teacher, Mishawaka, IN)

Students prepare to plant 125 three-to-four year old pear and apple trees at their school and in the local community

Students prepare to plant 125 three-to-four year old pear and apple trees at their school and in the local community

As the climate changes, the need for food producing plants in a greater variety of locations will become essential. Indiana’s temperature increased by 1℉ over the last two decades and heavy precipitation events are occurring. The use of trees to produce food provides a diverse source in the face of monocultures that could be more susceptible to flooding. Additionally, John wanted, over time, reduce the amount of carbon released in the atmosphere by giving the community options for locally grown fruit and his community and his students to see themselves as stewards of nature.

John enlisted the help of his 10th and 12th grade biology students to prepare and plant 125 three-to-four year old pear and apple trees at his school and in the local community. An additional 75 students helped graft trees for future planting. In total, the student spent almost 300 hours engaged in stewardship activities. In the first year, the trees will sequester 62 lbs. of CO2. Over a 15 year estimate life of the trees, they will sequester an estimate 65 tons of carbon

John became a NOAA Planet Steward in 2018 and is a high school biology teacher who sponsors his school’s Korean Club and TEAMS Engineering group.

Lead the Way to a Better World!

(David – Community College Instructor, Rockville, Maryland)

Students at a local community college in Maryland met several times over the course of a semester to learn how to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by changing their habits. Each student chose an action to take and even recruited a friend or family member to take part in the behavior change activity.

Students chose to reduce the miles they drove, reduce hairdryer use, turn off personal computers and monitors, reduce light bulb use, reduce shower time, turn off the TV when not watching, and not use the air conditioner as often. Their new choices resulted in approximately 5,459 pounds of carbon dioxide kept out of the atmosphere.

Weather Ready Bay Point Nation

(Chris – GCOOS Outreach and Education Manager, St. Petersburg, Florida)

Students restore vegetation in a Florida coastal wetland.

Students restore vegetation in a Florida coastal wetland.

Storm surge inundation of low-lying communities in the St. Petersburg area prompted 60 students in grades 3-5 to take action to help their community. Over three months, the students learned about a variety of topics including the role of coastal wetlands and assessing vulnerability to inundation in the classroom and through field trips. To put their new knowledge to work, the students restored 231 square meters of bay grass at Bay Vista Park in St. Petersburg. The students also hosted an exhibit at the St. Petersburg Science Festival and worked with peers in grades 2-5 to develop adaptation and emergency evacuation plans.

Oakton School Rain Garden

(Claire – School Volunteer, Evanston, IL)

Students planting the rain garden at their school.

Students planting the rain garden at their school.

Storms have become increasingly severe in the Great Lakes region. Students at an elementary school in Evanston, Illinois noticed there was a steady stream of water flowing out of two the school’s downspouts. After learning about weather, its connection to climate, and ways to make a difference in their environment, students created a rain garden to reduce the amount of water running out of the downspouts onto an adjacent driveway and sidewalk. Eighty kindergarten through fifth grade students researched plants, created school and garden maps, and planted and tended the garden. By the end of the project, a 600 square foot rain garden reduced the amount of water going into the storm sewers by 60-70%.

Recyclers at Waseca Montessori School

(Seri – Elementary School Science Specialist, Athens, Georgia)

Students measure the amount of compostables in their weekly cafeteria trash.

Students measure the amount of compostables in their weekly cafeteria trash.

Every day, students throw away pounds of food and food containers in school cafeterias. At a Montessori school in Georgia, 22 students decided to change that. They learned about compost microorganisms, observed the composting process, performed a waste audit in their cafeteria, built composting stalls, and recorded trash reduction and compost materials after the stalls were made. Ultimately, the students’ efforts resulted in a 95% increase in the amount of compostable wastes sent to the compost pile at their school, and they grew 100 tree seedlings in the compost to be planted in the local area.

Green Roof Performance

(Radika and Megan – Professors, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Philadelphia area college students begin preparation of green roof projects at their university.

Philadelphia area college students begin preparation of green roof projects at their university.

Fifteen students representing Architecture, Fashion Merchandising, Fashion Design, Engineering, Interior Design, Industrial Design, Psychology and Environmental Sustainability majors put their climate knowledge to use to design and test green roofs at their university. The students designed an experimental green roof research project to study the role of green roof substrates in storm water management and plant growth. Students planted a 64 square foot section with 320 plants. The students assessed how well their designs performed and measured the energy savings and amount of carbon held by the plants. The roofs saved between 20.8kWh and 101.3kWh per year and held approximately 274g Cm2 per month. The students shared their knowledge and the hands-on science activities they developed with local high school students and their neighbors at the Philadelphia Science Festival.