Colorado State University Designs New High School Curriculum Taking Science Outside of the Classroom

High school students now have the opportunity to take science out of the classroom and into the real world at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins. Colorado State University graduate fellows from the GK-12 program in ecology teamed up with teachers from Rocky Mountain High School to design a new and innovative curriculum piece for advanced placement Environmental Science and Biology classes. The GK-12 program is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and is designed to improve science education in kindergarten through senior high schools by allowing graduate students from universities to assist with instruction.

The project at Rocky was designed to include both a classroom and field component to give students personal experience in how scientific research is conducted. Colorado State graduate GK-12 fellows Jill Oropeza and Angie Moline collaborated with Dave Swartz and Carol Seemueller from Rocky Mountain High School to create the project that uses the Loch Vale Watershed, or LVWS, research site in Rocky Mountain National Park as a local example of how environmental issues such as water and air quality affect the ecosystem and downstream communities.

The classroom component focused on the reasons for long-term observations and research in LVWS and giving students experience with the computer program Excel as a tool of science. Students used real data downloaded from the LVWS Web site to look at questions related to stream chemistry and flow, and learned to manipulate data, build graphs and interpret results.

The field component included a field trip to LVWS to see the methods used for water quality sampling. Students hiked two miles up a frozen and snow-covered drainage using snowshoes. A Rocky Mountain National Park employee demonstrated sampling techniques and described for the students the methods for weather and precipitation collection from a weather station in the watershed.

The following day, the students visited the chemistry lab at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State to learn about the methods for sample analysis. The students saw how the samples collected the previous day from LVWS were analyzed for nitrogen, pH, conductivity and anions.

This new curriculum project was presented at the national GK-12 conference in Washington, D.C., this March as an example of new ways to bring students and real-world science together.

LVWS has been a research site for investigating the effects of atmospheric nitrogen deposition since 1983.