We recently visited Thousand Oaks Elementary School to observe the Creek Science program in action. The lesson took place at the nearby Blackberry Creek located just west of the campus. The hands-on and highly interactive Blackberry Creek Science Program is supported by a Strategic Impact Grant, involving all Thousand Oaks Elementary K-3rd graders in a grade-appropriate study of Blackberry Creek.
The Creek Science program started earlier in the school year with the question, “What do you imagine Blackberry Creek to have looked like 300 years ago?” The students’ answers varied wildly from “dinosaurs roaming around” to “it being completely dark”. Through illustrations and descriptions of the past, students learned that the Bay Area was one of the most biodiverse places on earth, containing a multitude of plants, animals and terrains.
Next, the students spent time at the creek (some for the very first time!) with fun activities like scavenger hunts, illustrating the creek and exploring. “The purpose is to get students to fall in love with the creek,” explained Maya Carson, the coordinator and lead teacher of the Blackberry Creek Science Program, “because caring about nature is the first step to environmentalism.”
Ms. Carson continued, “The students then learn about the characteristics of a healthy creek through photographs, seeing a lot of plants, animals, insects and shade. All of these signs point to an abundance of oxygen leading students to wonder, ‘How does oxygen get into the water?’”
Curiosity and interest about the creek only deepened when students engaged in the next lesson––capturing and observing aquatic insects! Students tried to collect a water sample with aquatic insects and when they did, they excitedly shared their specimens with classmates. In addition to being highly entertaining, examining aquatic insects in the creek revealed the quantity of water pollutants as students learned to identify their specimens as pollution sensitive or tolerant. “Realizing that there are living beings residing in the creek created a connection to the creek and inspired students to protect it,” Ms. Carson stated.
On the day that we visited, students were again collecting a water sample from the creek but this time they were conducting scientific tests and measured the water’s oxygen, pH and phosphate levels. The students were mesmerized as they dissolved tablets into their test tubes and watched the color of the water change, indicating how much pollutants were in the water. The students eagerly showed us their test tubes, teaching us that pollutants come in the form of soap, sewage, fertilizers or even grass clippings in the water.
Having learned about the conditions of the creek, the students will next embark on an Action Project. “The Action Project unfolds organically as students learn more about the creek and strive to protect it,” explained Ms. Carson. “Students in the past have persuaded local businesses to sign a Water Pollution Prevention pledge, made a presentation to the PTA about water pollutants and have even made non-toxic cleaning products for their families.”
Ms. Carson reflected, “The Creek Science program is about showing students the interconnectedness of all things—how everything in nature is connected including humans, and how we can harm but also protect nature. The program is about students feeling empowered and hopeful about making a difference in their communities and the world.”