Blog entry Heidi Ballard Shulong Yan

Project Update: Elementary Students Connected to Forest Managers through Data

After 4+ years of collaboration and intensive project work, the Our Forests Project is entering a phase of analysis, product development, and sharing with a wide range of audiences. Our Forests is an NSF DRK-12-funded Youth-focused Community and Citizen Science (YCCS) collaborative project between our center and our community partner – Sierra Streams Institute. Since 2019, we have designed, developed, implemented, and researched a monitoring program for elementary school students (3rd to 5th grade) and their teachers in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. In the program, elementary school students collected and analyzed forest data related to resource management issues and shared their findings with their community partners – forest managers. However, due to the COVID pandemic, the fully in-person program was not implemented till 2021. 

From 2021 to 2023, the 1-year long in-person monitoring program has recruited over 600 student participants. The program recruited 14 to 15 classes yearly to participate in the monitoring program. After implementing the first in-person program (from 2021 to 2022), the curriculum design and implementation team iterated the protocol and the curriculum during the summer and implemented it again from 2022 to 2023. Using a case-study method, the researchers from the Center observed and interviewed 48 focal students from 8 focal classes from 3rd to 5th grade from 2022 to 2023 year to understand how a youth-focused community and citizen science program focusing on addressing locally relevant socio-ecological issue – wildfire and forest management – can support elementary school students’ Environmental Science Agency development. In each grade, students collected various sets of forestry monitoring data such as tree density and diversity, forest fuel, understory diversity data, and others using authentic scientific tools.

Currently, the whole team is working on the project dissemination. The curriculum development and implementation team – SSI – is revising the curriculum and writing a handbook that will describe forestry monitoring protocol, curriculum, process, and tools for setting up a YCCS program like Our Forests. The team plans to provide free access to the curriculum and tools by next summer. The educational researchers from the Center are leading the research data analysis and manuscript publication, collaborating with SSI. Recently, the researchers from our center published a journal article in a Special Issue of the Sustainability Journal using data collected from 2021-2022 year.

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