Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
DON EDWARDS-SF BAY NWR: Staying Relevant to Our Community: Education Pilot of Curriculum - Building Opportunities for Education Staff and Volunteers
California-Nevada Offices , June 24, 2016
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Students learn about adaptations of birds by getting a close up look at bird beaks and feet.
Students learn about adaptations of birds by getting a close up look at bird beaks and feet. - Photo Credit: FWS Staff
Students closely study the beaks and feet to figure out the most suitable habitat for each bird species.
Students closely study the beaks and feet to figure out the most suitable habitat for each bird species. - Photo Credit: FWS Staff

By Andrew Cole

Genie Moore, environmental education specialist, and Tia Glagolev, instructional systems specialist at the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, have embraced the mindset of educational change.

Their Wetland Round-Up Field Trip Program at the Environmental Education Center, in Alviso, Calif., and the Newark Slough Learning Center, in Fremont, Calif., encompass 16 unique field trip activities annually and is run with assistance from several U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff members, and volunteers, and Student Conservation Association (SCA) Interns.

Moore and Glagolev make a point of updating the activities on a regular basis, analyzing the effectiveness of each activity via pilot lessons. Consequently, volunteers at the Refuge are fortunate enough to play an active role in piloting the education curriculum for the upcoming year.

The Wetland Round-Up Field Trip Program has been a collaborative effort since it began in the 1980’s. Teachers, parents, volunteers and staff members have been encouraged to provide input for the lessons. According to Moore, a lesson that receives input from a large diversity of people is more effective than a lesson that is designed from a single perspective. This “it takes a village” mentality has greatly contributed to the program’s longevity and success.

Each lesson contains a script tailored to Next Generation Science Standards, which encourage children to ask their own questions and play an active role in finding answers. The volunteer and intern’s job is to run a pilot lesson using the past year’s script and analyze how the script could be improved for future groups, all while adhering to Next Generation Science standards.

A recent example of this piloting process is “Feet, Beaks and Eats”, a fun activity designed to teach children about how bird adaptions affect eating their habits. A volunteer and a SCA intern were assigned to lead six 30-minute rounds of the activity during a March 2016 field trip.

The activity is divided into two sections. For the “feeding” portion of the activity, students use tools (‘beaks”) to pick up fake food at “habitat” stations. Each tool is designed to mimic the function of a bird beak, and some “beaks” are only effective at certain habitat stations.

After students figure out which “beaks” correspond to each habitat, they are given authentic preserved beak specimens and are asked to match their bird to the right habitat based on the previous activity.

At first, the volunteer and intern stuck to the script in its entirety, rarely deviating from the original lesson plan. However, experiencing the lesson first-hand revealed a major issue: the children weren’t coming up with objective answers to the questions raised by the activity.

To solve this issue volunteers began asking the students to rank the beaks according to their effectiveness, rather than using subjective descriptions to describe beak performance. By changing the script, the volunteers challenged the students to independently come up with objective answers to the question posed by the activity – a key feature of Next Generation standards.

Other edits to the previous year’s script included more explicit instructions for both activity leaders and students and a greater emphasis on connecting the “feeding” portion of the activity to the beak matching section. Through it all, volunteers were encouraged to be creative, flexible, a quick-witted when addressing the challenges of developing lesson plans in real time.

Innovation continues to drive curriculum development at the Refuge. The environmental education staff hopes the pilot programs will foster creativity and field experience for a new generation of educators.

-- FWS –

Andrew Cole was the environmental education Student Conservation Intern at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Spring 2016. He helped lead and coordinate the Wetland Round-Up Field Trip Programs in Fremont and Alviso.

Contact Info: Genie Moore, 408-262-5513, Ext. 100, genie_moore@fws.gov
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