Students answered questions without missing a beat when Harbor WildWatch instructor Stena Troyer reviewed an erosion lesson she taught to Ryan Heistand’s third-grade class at Harbor Heights Elementary School last month.
The lesson on tectonic plates built onto the concept and used interactive activities that Harbor WildWatch designed. The Gig Harbor-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to marine and environmental education in the South Sound.
To meet its mission, the organization started the Harbor Outreach Program in 2008, and it teaches integrated science lessons in classrooms on a variety of topics.
Harbor WildWatch developed original curriculum to offer a series of hands-on workshops that meet state science standards for teachers to use as an additional classroom tool to help meet required grade-level goals. The free workshops are available to any teacher or school in the South Sound.
The Harbor Outreach Program is funded by grants, in part from the Russell Foundation and also with individual donations.
“In 2012, HOP taught 500 workshops, reaching over 12,000 students,” said Rachel Easton, program manager for HarborWildWatch.
Trained naturalists teach the classes. There are more than 20 workshops to choose from, all with original curriculum that meet state science standards, Easton said.
Easton and Troyer were at Harbor Heights to continue a third-grade series of workshops. The hands-on session had Troyer utilizing SMART Board to highlight a video on volcanoes before she demonstrated tectonic plates’ movement with graham crackers and molasses.
Heistand likes that the workshops are formatted and taught as a teacher would.
“HOP has a great message about the environment and tying it to our local community,” he said.
The lessons end with simple ideas for students to do and take away to feel they can make a difference. HOP will take requests, develop and bring in tailored material to classrooms, Heistand said.
This is the second year the Harbor Heights teacher has had HOP in his class, and he uses the program as a springboard to follow up for a marine-science unit to connect concepts when they go to Penrose Point State Park.
“HOP supports our curriculum,” Heistand said. “They bring in some prepared and pre-designed hands-on activities to enhance what our goals are for our grade level.”
Mid-lesson, Troyer gathered students around a desk to watch a simulation of a volcano, and she finished with videos that showed of the types of lava floes.
“I learned that a tectonic plate moves as fast as a fingernail grows,” third-grader Mara Shere said at the end of the lesson. “It’s fun when HOP comes in. I learn a lot.”
“I like that they (HOP) bring in videos and lots of stuff for us to do with science,” classmate Levi Engelbright said. “I liked learning and seeing the different kinds of lava.”
Stena and Easton are both biology majors. Troyer is one of two hourly employees who has been with HOP for nine months.
“I enjoy feeling like I make a difference,” Troyer said. “Kids will come up to me at school and share what they learned from a lesson months later. It’s great students know how they can make a difference for our environment, like using recyclable lunch box materials.”
Easton is one of the four salaried employees who helped to implement and design the workshops and train the naturalists.
HWW started in 2004 from one citizen who was concerned about sustainability to make an impact for environmental awareness. At first, touch tanks were offered at Jerisich park. It has evolved and grown during the past few years and offers 90 programs, including educational beach walks, night pier outings and junior naturalist programs.
HOP started as a result of seeing the opportunity to reach the students, teach them about the environment and how to be good stewards, especially in our own backyard. It allows for education, problem-solving and respect for our environment, Easton said.
The first program was the erosion series that the Harbor Heights students were learning to fill in holes and incorporate materials Easton started in 2008.
The program is constantly changing, modifying and adding workshops to meet the needs of the school and state standards with the in-house curriculum. The workshops are designed to enhance the curriculum already in place, because they can tie it all to the local environment, Easton said.
Each workshop offers solutions to some of the issues brought up with science and the environment.
As they talked about earthquakes, the students demonstrated what to do if they felt one. When they discussed the garbage brought to our shores from the Japanese tsunami, they talked about the idea of using fewer plastics bags.
“We incorporate simple, concrete things that impact our local environment,” Easton said.
HOP has 400 scheduled workshops and the capacity for at least 100 or more. Harbor WildWatch encourages teachers to contact them to schedule workshops or to book a series. The program serves all areas in the South Sound, including Tacoma and Federal Way.
For more information, visit the www.facebook.com/HarborWildWatch.