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The City Journals

Jordan High Students Study Environmental Science, Biology in California

Apr 07, 2016 04:14PM ● By Julie Slama

 By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Sandy - Aboard a boat from the Ocean Institute, sophomore Devan Nuse looked through a microscope at plankton he and 15 other Jordan High students had scooped up from the Pacific Ocean.

“It was really interesting to think of the mini-ecosystem there is when you see a big, vast ocean,” he said. 

The Jordan High advanced placement environmental science and biology students spent four days studying the environment of California’s Santa Monica National Forest and performed experiments off the coast of Dana Point in Orange County. Through their experience, students learned about animals from lizards to dolphins they saw, learned about night skies, and desert and ocean plant life and environments.

“I wanted the students to experience and learn from totally different eco-systems and to have fun doing experiments with the environment,” teacher Heather Gooch said.

Gooch offered the four-day excursion as an option for her AP environmental science students in the fall and then opened it to her AP biology students. The trip, which included most meals, airfare, bus and lodging, cost students $620.

The first few days, the group stayed at Camp Shalom in the Santa Monica National Forest, with their program conducted by the environmental educational group, Nature Bridge.

The program was designed for the students to learn about plant adaptation, water evaporation, carbon cycle, ecosystems and more, but as a bonus, the students learned about fire ecology as a wildfire came near the camp, threatening evacuation.

“They had us pack up and get ready to leave on the bus, but then the winds shifted, so we didn’t have to evacuate. We did see where the fire was and talked about the impact of wildfires on habitats,” she said.

Students learned that the native chaparral is a drought-tolerant plant that doesn’t benefit from fire adaptation, Gooch said. 

With one activity, students worked together in groups to create their own model reservoirs as a solution to California’s ongoing drought issues.

Groups used dirt, black beads, string, paper, cheesecloth and other materials and after an overnight use, they decided which saved the best water and was the most efficient for the cost.

“I like how we brainstormed solutions to the drought and how we could conserve water,” junior Eliza Bennett said. “We talked about real issues and were trying to find solutions.”

Eliza said that this area of California has diverted rivers and lakes to supply people with water, but in the process, ruined different ecosystems, drying lakes and creating new issues.

“Environmental science interfaces with politics and engineering, and learning that there are many ways to see the issues, and the kids got to weigh the pros and cons and realized there are not right and wrong answers,” Gooch said.

Another issue students learned about was the use of insecticide and how it affects the environment.

“It really opened my eyes,” Eliza said. “We learned as insects become immune to the insecticide, they create a more potent insecticide instead of creating a permanent solution. Pretty soon, it begins to affect us, and maybe we shouldn’t be using any or should stay away from purchasing those brands that use them.” 

While in the Santa Monica National Forest, students kept field notes, made observations, prepared hypotheses about what they were learning and graphed data they collected.

They also recorded food waste leftover from their meals by measuring and graphing that data.

“In some activities we did, we learned about personal responsibility and teamwork as well as learning about the environment,” Eliza said.

Sophomore Zak Brant said that he liked filtering the samples from the ocean’s bottom and discovering worms and other forms of life. 

“It was pretty cool to see the life in the bottom of the ocean,” he said.

Eliza, who may want to become a marine biologist, said they also had a shallow pan where they scooped up fish and sea stars and identified them and learned about their environment.

“We learned about how much one plastic bottle can affect the ocean’s habitat and how we can make simple differences such as using refillable bottles,” she said. “This has helped me realize I’m not just interested in marine science; I’m super passionate about it.”