In the Hillview Creek project, organized by the East Bay Academy
for Young Scientists (EBAYS),
students meet daily during the summer to conduct water quality
monitoring at a local urban creek. Monitoring
includes collecting water samples, analyzing
levels of ammonia, nitrate, and phosphate, and entering
the data into Excel spreadsheets for analysis. In the fall,
a subset of students continues work, meeting weekly to collect,
graph and analyze the data, and prepare findings for presentation
to scientific, community and government audiences. In addition to
monitoring work, the group conducts creek clean-up, invasive
species removal, and plantings of native species. Over the last 4
years, these activities have transformed the site from an
overgrown area that encouraged illegal dumping to a park-like
space, used and appreciated by the community.
Species or system studied: Water quality.
Once or twice weekly, the group assesses levels of ammonia,
phosphate, and nitrate in an urban creek. At least once a season,
they also conduct a macroinvertebrate survey and collect data on
dissolved oxygen levels.
Research site: Urban creek.
Hillview Creek runs for approximately 1.5 miles before joining
another creek and emptying into San Francisco Bay. Most youth
participants live less than one mile from the creek. Although the
creek runs through a number of small parks, many sections
are inaccessible – down steep embankments, surrounded by heavy
brush, surrounded by private property, or underground. The creek
is heavily impacted by dumping, human and animal waste, and
growth of invasive species.
Participants: Middle & high school students.
During the summer, a group of 3-10 demographically diverse
participants, ranging in age from 13-17, participate in the
program. In fall and winter, a subset of these continue work on
weekends. Monitoring work is also conducted during the school
year by students from a nearby high school.
Most students join the project during the summer as part of
summer employment, internships, community center programs, or as
a result of recruitment at local schools. The group meets at the
creek for sample collection and restoration work, storing tools
in a neighbor’s basement, and meets at a community center and
local high school for data entry and analysis.
Youth participate for 2-3 months over the summer. Between 3 and 6
youth continue work through December to prepare for presentation
at a large scientific conference. Youth can also drop-in for a
session, join for only the summer, or only the fall. Some youth
continue for more than one year, with opportunities to become
project leaders and mentors. The project has been working at the
site for 5 years (as of 2017).
The project is run by EBAYS, a program of the Lawrence Hall of
Science, an informal science education (ISE) institution based
out of UC Berkeley. EBAYS is focused on giving young people from
marginalized communities opportunities to experience
authentic science and develop community leadership skills.
Partnerships with community advocacy organizations, city agencies
and local schools are also critical to the project. Funding
sources vary from year to year, from city employment programs for
youth, to small grants from local foundations, to larger grants
that cover multiple aspects of the organization’s work.
In addition to collecting and analyzing data, the youth create
posters to present at AGU, and craft presentations to
city agencies and to local advocacy organizations. They also
engage in restoration work during weekly sessions and community
volunteer events. These events are often planned in collaboration
with youth, and involve removing invasive species, planting
native species, and making other improvements to the area
surrounding the creek. The group goes on field trips to regional
parks with plant collections and recruits scientists and
community members with relevant expertise to visit the group.
Youth participants often join EBAYS’ other YCCS projects,
researching a range of environmental and community health issues.
For example, in one
recent project, students conducting an air quality study
discovered that exposure rates at a popular transit station were
far above EPA limits.
No project resources are currently available for download.
Through in-depth case studies of diverse YCCS projects,
we have documented youth-centered key practices that
are effective in promoting learning and environmental
science agency. Click the headers below to learn more about what
those key practices look like in this particular case.
Sharing Findings with Outside Audiences
Sharing findings with both scientists and neighbors helps
youth see a role for science – and themselves – in their
Working with EBAYS educators and scientists to summarize their
findings about water quality at the creeks, the Hillview group
produced a poster to present at AGU, an international scientific
conference. The findings and graphs they developed were are also
presented to local foundations. Program staff facilitated this
work by guiding development of the team’s research submission,
providing feedback on content and design, identifying an
undergraduate mentor to provide advice, and securing funding for
transportation to the conference.
The project also gave students opportunity to share the work not
just in formal environments, but to volunteers at community work
days, to community groups, and informally to community members
who ask about the group’s activities. When these audiences
visited the creek, project staff worked to position youth
scientists as knowledgeable spokespeople.
During his first year with the project, presentation at the
scientific conference became a chance for one student, James, to
learn the norms of the scientific community. He was convinced by
his older brother to wear a tie, but came to realize that
“science” included wide range of people and topics. In his second
year, work on the team’s poster gave James a chance to take the
lead, teaching other other students how to compile and analyze
data, drafting the research abstract, and leading editing of the
Presenting to community members was also crucial to James’s
development of “environmental science agency” (ESA) – a feeling
that he had access to tools and inclination to make positive
change around him. As a returning group member, James often took
responsibility for describing to the team’s work and findings to
volunteers and community members who visited the creek. These
conversations changed James’s perception of the community: he
came to see that despite a few that dumped in the creek, many
neighbors valued the creek. With positive feedback on the group’s
efforts, James saw that his own work and participation in this
community space were valued.
Ensuring High Data Quality
Educators encourage youth to build from confidence with
protocols to leadership in the group and investment in the
In the Hillview Creek project, EBAYS mentors and trains students
to collect high quality data, specifically, on nitrate, phosphate
and ammonia levels. To facilitate peer teaching, encourage
discussion of water quality readings, and ensure consistency,
they pair experienced students with new students. Early in the
program, educators describe why particular parameters are in use
and help students understand how chemical and physical
characteristics can reflect creek health and human impact on it.
Over the course of the program, students become confident with
data collection protocols and knowledgeable about routines;
students know what they have to do and often begin work before
receiving instruction. Once this is established, the program
gives students responsibility for teaching collection and
analysis techniques to volunteers and new students during weekly
sessions and special events.
Some students take on specialized, if informal, roles in the
quality of data. For example, one participant, Janey, became her
team’s leader in data collection in multiple ways. First, Janey
saw herself as someone who would just “get things done.” Data
collection involved obtaining water samples from tricky parts of
the creek and as some students backed off from getting down the
bank, Janey’s willingness to jump in without delay helped her
establish a role and take ownership of it. She developed her own
methods for handling multiple chemical tests simultaneously,
which were taken up by other youth in the group. Second, Janey
became proficient in water testing techniques and was given
responsibility for organizing group members during data
collection, and during public presentations, the lead educator
and other youth often turned to her to explain data collection
Interacting with Complex Social Ecological Systems
Engaging with issues that have no easy answers can
provide opportunity for sophisticated reasoning about nature,
community, and the roles – good and bad – that we play.
While investigating water quality in Hillview Creek, the team
encounters issues common to urban creeks with vegetation that
obscures visibility and community use, including sewage leaks,
animal waste, trash dumping, and human defecation. The research
sites on Hillview Creek were also known to neighbors as places
where people went to smoke or otherwise hide. For this reason,
the youth participants’ initial perceptions of the creek were
complicated. Though they saw the robust plant life as natural and
seemingly healthy, they knew that the some community members
didn’t value the creek and didn’t necessarily value the presence
of young people there.
As they studied water quality at the creek, worked to improve it,
and talked with city representatives, community members and EBAYS
educators, the youth participants grappled with complex
trade-offs. First, participants came to understand that “not all
green is good”: ecosystems dominated by non-native species may
look healthy but don’t necessarily provide the same ecosystem
function as native ecosystems. In addition, by comparing two
different creek sites – one that passed through a manicured park
and one that had dense vegetation – participants saw trade-offs
in the design of green spaces. They saw that although a site with
dense vegetation and other features that protected it from high
human traffic might seem more natural, a more park-like
environment can lead to a healthier creek, since visibility and
neighborhood investment might reduce dumping. Third, youth
participants saw how public perception of green spaces shapes
human-ecosystem interactions. They recognized that their
restoration work improved community perception of the creek and
pushed the city to direct more funding towards their efforts.
Lastly, the issue of homeless encampments impact on creek water
quality pushed students to think about the complicated choices
involved in addressing multiple problems, both ecological and
social, at once. Though they saw the negative impact that
homeless encampments could have on the creek, they also knew -
some of them from having experienced poverty in their lives and
communities – that the people in the encampments were struggling
and could not simply be thrown out.
These are issues without textbook solutions. They provided
occasions for discussion and reasoning, as well as a chance for
youth participants to understand that even small actions could
impact the environment and community – for better and for worse.
EBAYS educators and scientists facilitated youth engagement by
placing the participants in position to interact with a wide
variety of creek stakeholders – from neighbors, to city
officials, to volunteers from other parts of the city – and
allowing them to step up when and where they felt ready. Working
at the creek also required that EBAYS staff spend some energy
dealing with delicate or long-term demands when they arose. This
work not only facilitated the relationships with city officials
and neighbors, but allowed for site continuity such that youth
could see how long-term involvement in a site could make a
difference. Educators provided opportunity during project
sessions to talk together about potential solutions to problems
and what actions the youth participants would recommend and be
interested in pursuing.
Data: Weekly Ammonia, Phosphate, Nitrate
values in the creek
Why: Ammonia, Phosphate and Nitrate values
produce a baseline understanding of fluctuations in creek
health, and can help alert researchers to events such as sewage
breaks and fertilizer run-off.
Audience: Large conference of
geoscientists. Students present a scientific poster with
methods, findings, background write-up, and graphs of data.
Audience: City government, Department of
Environment. Students give a presentation with slides
highlighting data trends and tentative conclusions. Database of
long-term data is also made accessible to agency
representatives and used by EBAYS staff in discussions with
Audience: Local foundation, environmental
advocacy and citizen groups. Students give presentations
at creek and informal Q&A with passing community members.
Impact: Prompted city government to test creek
for sewage leaks, document pollutant levels that were higher
than acceptable values, and eventually add creek to ongoing E.
coli monitoring; Raise local awareness of potential impacts of
illegal dumping and animal waste; Raise scientific community’s
awareness of environmental issues facing urban creeks in
Restoration: Invasive species removal and
planting of native species
Why: Re-establish habitat and ecosystem
function provided by native species; keep site clean, open and
inviting to discourage illegal dumping; create opportunity for
youth and community participants to act directly to create
change and learn about native species.
Government. Interaction through city maintenance
departments and at community events, such as Earth Day, keep
the city aware of recent changes.
Audience: Neighbors and community
members. Through informal conversation at the site,
volunteer days, and occasional community tours, community
members see the EBAYS participants’ improvements to the
Impact: Created a more park-like environment
that activates the creek as a community space and encourages
stewardship; Gain attention of city who directed more resources
of the park, including native plants and supplies for volunteer
days; reduced dumping near the creek and reduced use of creek
bed for illegal activities; research and restoration model got
taken up across city as part of summer employment program
Outcomes & Evaluations
EBAYS program goals include supporting students to develop
“critical thinking skills through scientific research and
exploration,” become leaders in their communities, and gain STEM
skills through hands-on work in science. They also believe
the program can “foster both increased understanding of important
scientific concepts, as well as greater appreciation of how
scientific research contributes to addressing issues relevant to
EBAYS educators informally assess these outcomes, tracking
markers such as continued participation in the program, increased
connection to other science learning or leadership activities,
shifts in performance at school, and increases in conservation
activities. EBAYS has also worked with evaluators at their host
institution, the UC Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science. Over the
last few years, they have used the following instruments to
assess the program’s effect on student attitudes and conceptions
about the relevance and nature of science:
Changes in Attitude about the Relevance of Science (CARS)
survey (M.S. Siegel, M.A. Raney, 2003)
Q-sort for Scientific Behaviors (K.D. Peterson, R. Ponzio,