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Students taking notes by shoreline

Nearly 200 6th grade students at Wood Middle School visited Alameda’s shoreline last month to learn about birds, migration, climate change, and social justice and to also help clean up the beach.  

The trip was part of a STEAM science lesson organized by WMS science teacher Marci Nettles and part of a science unit called ‘Diversity of Life’ that includes lessons on structure, function, and patterns. “This field work directly enhanced the content we are learning in this module of study,” Nettles says.

While at the shore, each student was asked to identify and observe a minimum of

Three boys on dock comparing birding notes and sketches

five bird species using binoculars and a local birding guide. Once identified, students then documented a behavior they noticed this bird doing and made their best guess about the reason for the behavior. Students also used their artistic skills to sketch the birds in their science notebooks.

“Our 6th grade birders and ecologists were focused and engaged in their field work,” Nettles says. “Collectively with our local birding experts, Doug Henderson and Marjorie Powell, students identified and documented 25 different species of shore and wading birds. This data will now be added to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology e-bird database, which is a citizen science collective.

“Two years ago when we first started regularly bird watching with Wood Middle School 6th graders, our guiding question was, ‘Will the seasonal migration of bird species and populations visiting the Elsie Roemer bird sanctuary be affected by climate change?,’” Nettles adds. “ This is a long-term study that we hope to continue over the next 5 years. We are well on our way to establishing our baseline data. 

Girl watching birds with binoculars

“I didn’t know much about birds before I came out here,” student Sho Kuroiwa said. “But now I’m looking at these big bird groups and seeing brown pelicans and California gulls, snowy plovers, and semi-palmated plovers.” Looking up confidently, he added, “You can tell the difference because the semi-palmated plovers are a little bigger than the snowy plovers.”

Students also participated in a land acknowledgment, a picnic lunch, a beach trash and debris cleanup, a hunt for magnetic ferrous sand, a sand sculpture and found object collage project, and frisbee, touch football, and other beach games. 

“Sometimes you need to get out to clear your head,” says teacher Lauri Costigan, who teaches 6th and 8th grade English at Wood. “That’s part of what the trip is about - teaching kids you can go outside and see all this beautiful shoreline and nature.”

The lesson plans are based on professional development offered by Our Changing Planet, which focuses on facilitating student engagement by integrating arts,  science, and social justice and providing multiple strategies for students to make their learning and ideas visible and actionable. 

“It’s really cool to take an exercise we first experienced as teachers and offer it to the students,” Costigan says. “It’s super inspirational because it’s an intersection of environmental science and social justice. Those kinds of connections are invaluable.”

In a post-trip reflection about the trip, Nettles says, students ranked the trip as a 4.5 out of 5 for interest, fun, and learning opportunities.

 "Alameda is a sanctuary city for people and for birds,” Nettles says.” Kids understand better than any of us the need for sanctuary."

Wood Middle School is a STEAM school with arts integration. In addition to Nettles and Costigan, Wood teachers Robert Radecke, Judith Ganley, and Alec Villagomez supported the field trip, as did four paraeducators (Zaid Abraha, Debbie Garcia, Gloria Victorio, and Rezwana Rahim), 16 parent volunteers, and Shanti Croom, AUSD’s Coordinator of Educational Equity and Family Engagement.

“Our teachers making learning experiential, like they are here, is a great illustration of the way we want to regularly bring context, real-world application, and hands-on engagement into our lesson design for students,” says Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi.”

For next spring, the team is planning a 6th-grade trip to Alcatraz called "Uncovering Alcatraz, Geology, Ecology, and History.” To prepare for the trip, which is sponsored by the National Park Service, five WMS  6th grade teachers will attend an introductory workshop on Alcatraz Island this weekend. Extra bonus? “There are great birding opportunities on Alcatraz!” says Nettles.