Hi! My Name is Clinton Kennedy.
I would like to give an overview of my class and how I got started, over 20 years ago, with this type of curriculum. I want to show how my curriculum evolved and changed over the years and the rewards that went with it not only for me and my students but the school and community too. Cascade is a small rural town (1001) about 70 miles north of Boise and 26 miles south of McCall in a high mountain valley next to a large man-made reservoir. The school is small - about 240 students 7 -12. Our class sizes run from 10 - 35 students. I typically have 25 -40 students in my Advanced Biology or Advanced Research Lab classes where we work on the project oriented curriculum.
I was born and raised in Idaho and have come to really love and respect the cold, clear, clean fresh water and natural resources our state has to offer. I remember in 1967, when I was in high school, taking a trip to Philmont N.M. with the boy scouts and bragging to all the scouts we met from all over the nation that "We're from Idaho. We can still drink the water from the creeks." I don't think it would be wise to do that today. I went to college straight from high school and majored in Biology, Botany, and Zoology, and as I got to be a senior I found myself staring at the probability of working in a big city or a lab. I didn't like this scenario, and my advisor told me to take some time to gather my thoughts. Shortly after that, my family started with identical twins born six weeks prematurely, and suddenly I was $10,000 in debt. My life as a logger was born. I was a timber faller for the next 17 years trying to pay off my debts and get back to school. Finally, in the 1980's, when business was poor, I found myself trying to find a way to stay in small town, Idaho, and get back to my first love -- Science!. Hence, I decided to become a science teacher. I graduated from college in 1989, and began my career as a science teacher in Cascade, Idaho 22 years ago.
Mid-way through my first summer in Cascade, something began to happen to the lake. The lake turned pea-soup green in late August, -- thick, ugly, smelly mats of blue-green algae formed and floated up against the shore making swimming, fishing, and boating, if not impossible, very unattractive and uninviting. As my first year at Cascade High School began, the students told me horror stories of so many fish dying that they all had to go up to the lake and pick up dead fish by the pick-up trucks full to eliminate the foul smell permeating the whole town. What was happening to all the clean, cold, clear water Idaho, and the whole west, was so famous for? What was going on in the 30 years since I, as a teenager, bragged about being from Idaho where we could drink the water from our mountain streams! The next year I began a new curriculum unit designed to have my students investigate why Idaho's waters and in particular, Cascade Reservoir's water quality was deteriorating. I didn't want my students to simply learn about science, but to actually do science. Because the problems the lake was experiencing had profound and direct connections to the students lives, I found I had a highly motivated group of students work with.
The class began as a one 9 week class first thing in the fall where we studied the principals of Limnology the study of fresh water. We took field trips wither the DEQ and IDFG and VCSWCD to look at the lake and its watershed. We did this in my Adv Bio Class with 11th and 12th graders. To begin with we had around 10-15 students every other year in this class. As the year went on a local Fish and Game conservation educator told me about a teacher in Meridian who had this cool program on Water Quality So I went down and met Bob Beckwith and joined his state wide network called SITE-- students investigating today's environment and received a complete water testing kit to use. Now we could share our data with the whole state. I then added a second 9 weeks, now a full semester, where we upped the science by including an extended spectrophotometer lab.
Then we discovered a National Environmental competition called the Seiko Youth Challenge where students were challenged to investigate a local environmental issue and propose a solution to it. The class now became a whole year class with the second semester dedicated to working on the project directly. Students divided into teams of 3 or 4 usually and chose a particular issue related to the lake's water quality to work on.
Work is very independent at this point. It is very satisfying to watch these students grow in confidence as they research the viability of the ideas they come up with. Ideas may come from the experts they meet on field trips, magazines they read or from Internet searches. The key is to provide opportunities and encourage kids to take advantage of these opportunities. Never hold them back --give them the freedom to explore and be creative. They can find solutions that adults overlook. Once a group has decided to pursue something of interest to them, they must gain the support of the land managers. This can be very challenging, especially if their project involves convincing a particular group that they should change a land use practice!
The Seiko Youth Challenge turned out to be a very successful venture for us and the first year we placed 3 teams in the West Region Finals --this included 11 states from California to Alaska-- and ended up winning first place, giving the kids a $5000 scholarship and a trip to Tucson to receive their award at Seiko's annual convention. Students had to write a detailed research paper around 20 pages and produce a 30-minute video. We placed 2 teams the next year and won and the students again got a $5000 scholarship and a trip to New York City to receive their award—quite a trip for a ragtag group from Cascade Idaho-- culture shock for sure. The next year we placed 3 teams again but did not win this time even though the project the Sewage Sisters started that year, the Biocoil, turned out to be the best and most profitable project we have ever had and continues to provide opportunities and rewards even today almost 17 years later. So in 3 years we earned 8 of 15 finalist places in the Seiko Youth challenge Demonstrating to the school, the students, and the community, that it doesn't make a difference who you are and where you are from but only hard you are willing to work. The excitement in the community and support for the school and this program grew rapidly and the enrollment now was approaching 80% to 90% of juniors and seniors. It is amazing how far a little success will go in building a program.
So --the biocoil is a photosynthetic bioreactor designed to use chlorella algae contained in a circular apparatus of tubes and as you add sewage waste water the algae use the nutrients and release clean water. Four girls who affectionately called themselves the Sewage Sisters discovered this technology in England while reading a National Geographic magazine. They called the company in England and began very productive partnership. They proposed using this technology to clean the nutrients from McCall's sewage discharge that was going directly into our lake and a major cause of the lakes problems. During the early stages of this project the students learned the nature of politics in environmental work. After failing to convince those in charge that they could cheaply test the effectiveness of this innovative system, these girls set out to find the funding to test these units themselves. With help from the community, businesses, and a variety of sources including the NSTA/Toyota Tapestry grant, they raised $23,000 to build and test a pilot project. But they graduated before they could begin the project. So in response the Class was now offered for 2 years You could start as a junior and if your project was deemed good enough by the professionals and agencies in charge of improving Cascade reservoir's water quality and you raised the money through grants etc. you could take the class again as a senior and actually do your project.
One of the more unique projects was one proposed by a student to help the trout survive summer anoxicia and high temperature conditions. He proposed hypo-limnetic injection of cold oxygenated water to create a sanctuary for the trout during these times. He proposed using the creeks coming off the steep western edge of the lake and piping the water out to the lake. He attended several very scrutinizing meetings of the TAC committee, 17 experts who are in charge of approving projects for the lake. He finally convinced them and received $6,500 to test his idea. He carried out his project collecting data all summer and wrote a great paper which he entered into the Westinghouse Science Talent Search-- the most elite competition in the nation. He placed in the top 300 semifinalists in the nation and earned full ride scholarship offers from 17 different colleges. He also presented his project orally in Salt Lake City at the Intermountain Junior Science and Humanities Symposia.
The students must develop their project ideas to address the three main aspects of solving any environmental problem, the science behind the solution, the economic impact of the solution, and finally the politics of the issue. Coming up with scientifically valid ideas turned out to be the easiest. For instance, one year a group decided that if ranchers could be convinced to set aside small portions of their land where nutrient laden flood irrigation water could be collected in a small wetland, wild rice could be planted, harvested, sold, and would use the nutrients in the water. This group thought if they could turn a solution into an economic gain they would have it made in the shade. Convincing ranchers turned out to be very difficult. Well, these students had a particularly good communicator who, after many phone calls, did find a willing participant. The students then wrote an Idaho Department of Fish & Game and Phillips Environmental Partnership grant and received $1000 to test their idea. This type of process is repeated each year by students who find a solution they want to try. The class has received $5,000 from Phillips Petroleum PEP grant to build and monitor small wetlands. Students helped plant and then monitor these wetlands.
I hope you have gained a sense of uniqueness and power of this type of curriculum to influence students' lives. The impact this type of unit has on students, the school and the community is amazing. But to our shock Seiko decided they had met the obligation to the United States and dropped their sponsorship of the Seiko Youth Challenge. What now? The excitement and anticipation to join the class was so high now that a highly motivated group of sophomores convinced me to meet with them in the evening for 2 hours two to three times a week and get them up to speed so they could immediately start their projects at the start of their Junior year—they did this without credit. So now the class did not have to spend one half the year a whole semester laying the foundation knowledge before we began. Now the kids are being taught by the older students in the project and trained to take over unless they chose to start a new project a difficult venture.
Real leadership skills are being learned as older student actively recruit and train kids to take over their projects. I truly became the guide on the side at this point. I became someone to help them solve their problems, set up field trips if they wanted, mentor them, and put them in positions of opportunity by getting the chemicals, supplies, and the equipment, they need to complete a project.Never under estimate kids, empower them, let them be in charge and make decisions. They learn responsibility, dependability, perseverance,--all real world/real science lessons. Mentor them but let them make mistakes and learn from them. Never hold them back-- give them the freedom to explore and be creative. They can find solutions that adults often overlook. The confidence and respect students gain, sometimes turning into scholarship gains for future education is not typical for high school curriculums. The connections that are made and reinforced with the community and businesses are invaluable to the students, the school and to the community. The students' respect for the professionals working in our community helps to give real meaning to the reasons we are in school. The publicity the projects bring to the plight of our lake helps to consolidate the community efforts to get real action. The students have been featured in local TV news and Incredible Idaho. This has a strong motivating effect on present and future students.
Dungeon Crew – One student decided we needed a web site to communicate our projects. We had been using the phone and post office up to now to make contacts and partnerships. He designed a web site http://advbio.cascadeschools.org to show off all our projects and communicate our data to the whole world. He made a community web site too. He trained new kids to take over. He won 1st place in a national Student technology Leadership competition for his web site and got to eat dinner with Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak at a National technology conference. Kids continue updating the projects over the years, adding, adapting, and changing the site. Students proposed and won support for and built a new web site –CREWS—to communicate the work by professional agencies undertaken on the lake and it's watershed. It has led to many opportunities for us over the years and it communicates our work to the world. The web site has led to many new collaborations and partnerships and many offers from around the world including Peru, Paraguay, Canary Islands, and Australia. Last year our Web server crashed and we are trying to rebuild all our older projects – and it has turned out to be much harder than anticipated. It currently is only a shell of what it used to be but we continue to try to get it fixed and remember all work is done by students and the learning curve can be steep. But from here on out the Web and email became essential parts of all projects and the main venue for communication. Projects began to expand into lots of different areas now too.
In 1999 a group was trying to redesign the biocoil into a health food bioreactor growing chlorella for consumption. They watched a PBS show on Dr Stetter from Germany growing thermophilic bacteria in his witches brew cauldrons. Since we had local hot springs (Vulcan at 189 degrees F) they thought they may be able to do the same with the Biocoil -so they wrote him and asked him for advice. He sent them back autographed articles he had written and told them that they had a world renown thermophilic bacteria scientist right in their back yard-- Dr Frank Roberto at INEL.I contacted Julene Messickl who ran the Science Action Teams(SAT)and Teaming Teachers with Industry(TTI) programs and ended up taking 8 students to Idaho Falls for 8 weeks in the summer working in Dr Roberto's lab-- and receiving stipends and college credit for our work ----our Thermus Aquaticus project was born. We collect samples from Vulcan, culture the bacteria in them, Extract the DNA in them, Amplify certain genes(16Sr-RNA and Taq DNA Polymerase gene)via Polymerase Chain Reaction(PCR), clean up the products, send them off to Dr Roberto for sequencing, and then analyze the results using BLAST and Gen-Bank in hopes of naming a new species of bacteria Thermus Aquaticus Cascadiensis. This project has been ongoing ever since and has led to many opportunities for students to present their work at IJSHS and one student who enrolled in BSU got work as an undergrad in a protein lab and had several published papers by the time she graduated.
Somewhere around this time I joined with the Murdock Foundation in their Partners in Science program. The pair you up with a university researcher for 2 years and give you a healthy stipend to work in their lab over the next 2 summers. Then they give you an opportunity to write a supplemental grant for a classroom project. I started a new class called Advanced Research Lab and offered it alongside my Advanced Biology class. So now each class is offered to juniors and seniors for 2 years and 2 sections of 90 minutes each-Ample time to actually get good research done.
My project with Dr David Redfield was source analysis of E-Coli contamination of our lake. That project was adopted for several years by students and earned them some good rewards from presenting at the Idaho Academy of Sciences conference but the idea of messing with all the different animals poop just didn't sit well with kids and the project is no longer active. That is way just works sometimes great projects just fade away because no one is interested in pursuing them. Students have to want to do the project first and foremost or the work done just isn't high quality. There are no B's or C's in these classes only A's. Students have to do A work if they are doing real life projects --anything else just isn't acceptable.
Another great project we did for several years was WOW -War on Weeds. This was a project Mike Winston, of Shelley High School, included us in. He and his students trained us, bought computers, and professional grade GPS equipment to do the project. I assigned the whole class to help because no one wanted to do the project. We worked on the project for a few years but never really got it to fly. It had advanced technical issues and glitches that created lots of frustration.Even so the project had its rewards. One student interviewing for a job after graduating was asked to demonstrate his skills at GPS and ArcView and was hired right on the spot.
Another group of kids adapted the technology of the project to make maps, lay out a dog sled race course, and produce brochures etc for the racers. They were invited to present their project at a National Technical Education conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. But the project is no longer active. It is important that students chose their projects so they will be motivated to do the work necessary to make the project a success. Assigning projects never leads to the quality required of real life projects.
Now here are some of my projects we are currently working on. You will see that the topics have expanded over the years and don't all center on the lake anymore. As more and more kids enrolled more projects began to take shape.
Fischer Pond is a community based project with a fair amount of science too. Students worked with a local Fish and Game officer to turn a local dump site into a Handicap accessible fishing area. They dredged out a pond built a dock paved a trail and planted some trees. Then a few years ago the project caught fire and the kids obtained a large grant from Fish America Foundation/Pro line fishing to install pumps to increase the flow of water to improve water quality. From there the IDFG and the community stepped up and we built a large- 10000 gallon-outdoor fish viewing aquarium. We transformed the sandy surrounding area into a 20000 square foot sodden area-- built a sand volleyball court, horseshoe pits, and put up interpretive signs. We raised around $75000 all with community, business, and agency donations-- quite a community improvement project generating tremendous pride.
Crown Point Trail is a project we have worked on for several years. The county wanted to convert an old railroad grade along side the lake and next to town into a county road to access a subdivision. The students worked hard, ran petition campaigns, and got several hundred signatures asking that the railroad grade be turned into a quiet, secluded, wildlife-viewing trail just 5 minutes from downtown. The kids won and the trail is a heavily used, popular running, biking, and hiking trail --I saw a bear on it just last week. The students have constructed benchs, interpretive signs along the trail and done erosion control work.
We have an active Trout in the Classroom project where the older students teach the younger students about trout life cycles and habitat. After raising their trout from eggs they release them into Fischer Pond. They take the lead on the annual Water Awareness days where we teach 5th graders from the Long valley schools about water quality and fish.
A Few years ago a scientist in Australia who was designing an underwater habitat contacted us. He thought maybe the Biocoil would serve as his life support system. He asked since it was a photosynthetic bioreactor wouldn't it use the CO2 from his breath and convert into Oxygen again via photosynthesis. We said we had never measured the rates at which it would do this but yes-- we had only measured how fast it used nutrients. He said that too he was interested in that too-- wouldn't it use his waste products and give him back pure water. This is all feasible but never tested by us. He asked to redesign the Biocoil to serve this purpose and a group of about 7 kids enthusiastically took on the challenge. After 2 years of designing, building, testing, and redesigning etc. the kids decided they wanted to be the ones to actually build the Biocoil in Australia and they set out to raise the money to do so. They spent a good portion of their last year fund raising which was very hard work but the Lightfoot Foundation agreed to match all the money they raised-- they ended up with $30000 and set off to Australia for 21 days to build the Biocoil in Lloyd Godsons Biosub. Lloyd spent 12 days underwater and was named Australia's' National Geographic Explorer of the year. The kids did interviews for TV, magazines, and newspapers worldwide. They were featured in Science World, which is published in some 80 countries for school kids. They did live web broadcasts and question and answer interviews with students from all over the world. They were covered in many venues like the Shanghigh express, the largest newspaper in China, Network news throughout all of Australia, and many other countries but we could not even get the local Boise TV or newspaper to cover them in America. It seems all anyone here was interested in was bad news about education not good news. But it was quite an experience for high schools students-- making memories as Bob Beckwith always told me.I took a group of students to Peru to the Andes and the Amazon. These were not rich kids but motivated hard working kids who found a way to raise the money to go. To view more pictures from the Australia trip, click here: (Australia Pictures)
Three years ago an energy consultant from Seattle called me and said he had been reading about the Biocoil on our web site. He had an idea ---Why couldn't we use the algae we grew as a source for biodiesel. He had stumbled across a competition and thought we should enter it. So the kids decided to take the Biocoil in a new direction again-- this time combining the Sewage Sisters idea of using nutrients from waste water and the Australia groups idea of scrubbing CO2 from the atmosphere and then adding the conversion to Biodiesel as a new phase. They won the Seaworld/Busch Gardens/NSTA Environmental Excellence Award and traveled to Orlando Florida/Seaworld to accept the award. We spent a week touring NASA, Disney World, Seaworld, swimming in the Ocean--- again making memories.I was named the Seaworld/NSTA Environmental Teacher of the year and traveled to New Orleans to receive my award. I have been named Idaho's Presidential Award winner for 1999, the National Biology Teacher of the year for Idaho, the Governors GIANTS award, the Pacific Northwest Pollution Control council teacher of the year twice, the Sea World/NSTA Environmental Teacher of the Year, Award, the Thomas O Bell/University of Idaho Outstanding Teacher of the Year and many more awards.
The students earned many awards: such as the Toyota tapestry award, the Seiko Youth Challenge, the Sea World/NSTA Environmental Excellence Award, the AARP Ethyl Percy Andrus Legacy Award, Phillips Petroleum PEP award twice and many more. Kids presented at Nat. Sci. Teacher's Conf. in Las Vegas, ISTA several times, to IJSHS in Salt Lake City many times.I have presented in Wash, DC, National Project Wild, AWRA/UCOWR water conference in Colorado.
We have been Published in Journals, ENC, Science World, Project Wild, NEA Today, High Country News, manuals, Clearing magazine, Hach News, cover of Lamotte catalog, We have Partnered with INL and Dr. Roberto and Dr. Newby, Dr David Redfield, Professors from the U of I, and NNU. We have Received grants from: Murdock Foundation, Toyota Tapestry, Phillips Petroleum, Lightfoot Foundation. AARP, Fish America Foundation, Seaworld/Busch Gardens, INL, and many more. WE have raised close to $250000 over the 20 years in grants and awards to finance our projects. This has happened to us All because we chose to do Project based, Placed based, Problem solving curriculum. These opportunities would not have come our way if we had used the standard curriculum. We stepped out and took a chance and it has paid dividends every year for me, the students, the community, and all involved. It keeps me motivated and excited about teaching and the kids excited about school. There is tremendous value in this type of education.
Here are a few hints I have picked up over the years to make things easier.
Science is meaningless if you can't communicate it-- Students are challenged to make sure they have a group where everyone has something to offer. Three very smart kids without one member who is a communicator who can make contacts and convince people won't be very successful. We find a good writer and good artist are essential to a successful project. Each student group needs a communicator, artist, scientist, and writer. You have to Trust kids, Empower them, Let them make the decisions, be responsible, dependable, have patience, perseverance, give kids ownership of the project, put them in positions of opportunity although not all will take advantage of it but those who do will impress you. Motivation is the real key to pulling of a project like this. Of course, the most important factor is, again, having something that directly connects to students lives in a real and meaningful way. Then giving students real power and ownership to do something positive for themselves and the community is essential. They are doing real science -- not just learning about science.
As idealistic as we would like to be and say that this alone is enough for everyone simply isn't real life. Real life has rewards -- intrinsic and extrinsic, for all. Students also need extrinsic rewards. College is expensive and real money is required. Finding Scholarship rewards has been very difficult. If there is a value to doing real science, working extra hours, writing papers, attending public hearings, giving testimony, and all the other things this type of program accomplishes, then colleges and others need to reward these student by extending to them undergraduate credits and/or scholarships. Scientific literacy is critical to our survival as a nation. Learning how science is really done needs to be rewarded. Students use foundational skills from all classes to be successful. They see the value in the math, English, speech, art, history, and government classes they take. Gives reason and meaning to education.
Let projects fail but be there to support them so they learn from the mistakes. Find money. Put them in positions of Opportunity – but remember that not all of them will take advantage of them– be patient. Year after year, a project builds and changes. You learn with the kids – modeling how you would do it. Keeps you invigorated and motivated – teaching is fun. Rewards – locally and beyond. Do what ever it takes. Always ask – the worst that can happen is they say "No". If it happens try again and try others. Do the paper work. Do your part – they will do theirs.
Never under estimate kids, empower them, let them be in charge and make decisions, learn responsibility, dependability, perseverance, real world/real science. Help mentor, but let them make mistakes and learn from them. Never make same mistake twice. Extra time – weekends, summer, volunteer, sense of pride in community. You win, they win, the community wins