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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

SAN DIEGO BAY NWR: Bringing the Refuge to the Students Through Virtual Field Trips

Region 8, June 6, 2012
Environmental Education Specialist Chantel Jimenez conducts a
Environmental Education Specialist Chantel Jimenez conducts a "virtual field trip" on Sweetwater Marsh with students located in Orange County. - Photo Credit: n/a
An osprey casually eats its breakfast of fish on Sweetwater Marsh, San Diego Bay NWR, as the
An osprey casually eats its breakfast of fish on Sweetwater Marsh, San Diego Bay NWR, as the "virtual field trip" with the students was taking place. - Photo Credit: n/a
Environmental Education Specialist Chantel Jimenez shows the students on their virtual field trip, mole crabs scooped up right from the bay's edge on the marsh.
Environmental Education Specialist Chantel Jimenez shows the students on their virtual field trip, mole crabs scooped up right from the bay's edge on the marsh. - Photo Credit: n/a

In partnership with the Capistrano School District, the National Park Service, and San Diego State University, the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is bringing the Refuge to the Students. In a pilot project working across different grade levels, the Capistrano School District students have embarked on a new way to engage in science and environmental education through technology.

During the 2011 – 2012 school year the Capistrano School District piloted a new program called Capistrano Collaborative for STEM Education Advancement (C2SEA), which centers around live, interactive virtual field trips for students with university and federal agency partners. These virtual field trips allow students to interact in real-time with scientists out in the field. The overarching focus this year was water conservation. High school students “visited” San Diego State University’s Field Station Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve to learn about water quality, water rights and effect of man-made water influences on natural ecosystems. Middle school students “visited” the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of San Diego Bay NWR to focus on salt marsh habitat and plant adaptations in this tidal ecosystem. Elementary aged students visited the tidepools of Cabrillo National Monument to learn about the wildlife found in the unique habitat of the rocky intertidal zone.

Students had the opportunity to ask questions and interact with the various speakers during the presentations, via a video conferencing platform compatible for both teacher and government use. In addition, the students learned about the career path that the presenter had and how they got there. It was a unique opportunity to highlight what potential STEM careers are available, and to inspire career choices within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Refuge System.

The San Diego Bay NWR location was showcased for the middle school students due to the similar curriculum alignment with the field-based science education programs being done on the refuge. In the classroom prior to the virtual field trip, students viewed a Powerpoint presentation about the refuge. The educational focus was on salt marsh plants and the halophytic adaptations the plants have to deal with the salt. Prior to the virtual field trip, samples of various salt marsh plants where shipped to the teachers for the students to use in a classroom pre-assignment. Students had to determine if the plant was an “accumulator” or “excretor” of salt, and if it would be found in the low, mid, or high marsh zones. During the field trip students then interacted with the scientist out in the salt marsh where they were able to identify the various zones within the marsh and identify the plants they studied. During one field trip day, an osprey landed on a log and proceeded to eat its morning breakfast of fish (see photo). The students were able to watch this live as the Environmental Education Specialist, Chantel Jimenez, discussed birds of prey, adaptations to threats, and the role of ospreys in San Diego Bay. Just as if the students were right there with her on the refuge, they were able to witness a bird of prey hunting in its native habitat.

The virtual field trip will take place again next year at the same school district, however, the future of this program is uncertain of how far it will spread. For more information on this program, please contact Chantel Jimenez at the San Diego NWR Complex at: (619) 476-9150 X 105.

Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov