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CAL:BLAST at Bodega Bay, June 28-29, 2011

Despite a fluke June rainstorm, grad students managed to keep spirits high during two days of field work at Bodega Bay. Just as the rain began to fall, each of the graduate students — Jenny Jacobs, Misha Leong, Joey Pakes, and Rosemary Romero — welcomed 37 elementary school teachers and took them in groups of ~10 on a preliminary tour of the Bodega Marine Reserve (BMR). This would serve as an initial orientation to the buildings and the different coastal habitats that would be their focus area for the next two days.

The name of the project is CAL:BLAST — a fun acronym for a complex title — Collaborative Approach to Learning: Bridging Language And Science Teaching — and an extraordinary project focusing on professional development for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers from Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). Our goals were to increase teachers' science content knowledge as well as their interest and confidence in science, so that in turn they would increase the amount of time spent on science in their classrooms! So when we saw the predictions for rain during our stay at Bodega, we were somewhat concerned that field science might become a "tough sell," but we soon realized that this was an amazing group of teachers, and it would take more than rain to dampen their spirits!

The teachers were presented with an overarching question: what lives in the many habitats of the Bodega reserve and how do these organisms interact with one another and their environments? — clearly a question beyond the scope of a two-day field investigation, so the focus was to have the teachers become familiar with the variety of habitats and then find smaller questions that actually could be answered within that time frame and that would help to inform the larger question.

Teachers were assigned by school and geographic region to one of four "research groups" led by a graduate student and joined by at least one additional CAL:BLAST project partner from either the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Bay Area Writing Project, OUSD, or the Berkeley Natural History Museums. Each group participated in roughly the same activities, but in different habitats of the BMR.

1. Site assessments – observing habitats at different levels
Teachers used words and/or sketches to record initial habitat observations in their field notebooks. Each team then headed in a different direction, taking note of any changes that they noticed as they moved across the landscape. Once in their new location, they discussed changes noticed and then began to observe the new habitat, often making comparisons to the first.

2. Field Research: Learning field techniques – Exploring, discovering, asking questions
Depending upon the environment, teachers learned how to use a variety of tools (bug nets, beating sticks, quadrats, etc.) with which to make collections and to learn about the biodiversity of that habitat. Returning to the lab facility, teachers were asked to reflect on all that they had explored and discovered and to list a minimum of 19 questions in their notebooks that related to their field experiences. The next challenge was to determine which of these questions were testable and which they might actually be able to investigate the next morning, given the constraints of both time and resources. By the end of the afternoon, each group had identified ~ the top 10 questions of interest to them, which they presented to the whole group.

3. Evening activities
Once checked into their rooms and with dinner consumed, there was time for whole group reflection and then meetings with grad students. Teachers identified which questions would be the focus of their explorations in the morning and with whom they would be working. For those who still had some energy left, there was a night hike or time for sketching and quiet conversation, before lights out.

A summary of Day Two
Despite the early hour for a low tide, about dozen CalBlasters enjoyed some early morning tide-pooling. Then, following breakfast, it was off to the lab and a team meeting to prepare for the investigations — strategies for gathering and recording data, equipment needed, identifying study areas, etc. With rain still falling, the teachers headed to their field sites and began their investigations. Each grad student assisted their teacher teams. All data was recorded in their notebooks, and as each team completed data collection, they headed back inside for data analysis. With a short lunch break, the final task was to prepare for the upcoming symposium in which they would be sharing their findings with their colleagues.

The 2011 CAL:BLAST Bodega Biodiversity Symposium
Each research team presented their findings to the whole group, taking ~ 5-10 minutes to share their original question/hypothesis/prediction, challenges and modifications, procedures, findings, and new questions generated. They also responded to questions from their colleagues. See a PDF summary of the poster presentations.

After a celebration of watermelon and chocolate, teachers reflected on the different parts of their scientific journeys and identified strategies for incorporating the same kinds of experiences into their classrooms. A final circle of sharing took place just as the sun came out and then teachers headed back home.

Overall summary
The CAL:BLAST project team (which included the graduate students) was more than impressed by the positive energies and the depth of science that took place. Basically within less than twelve "working" hours, the teachers (novices to biological field research) arrived, became familiar with multiple habitats, learned collecting techniques, identified a testable question of interest, prepared for the investigation, gathered and analyzed their data, and presented their findings to their peers. Not bad, not bad at all!!

All images courtesy of Caleb Cheung and Jenny Jacobs