PALMDALE — Science teachers from Desert Willow, David G. Millen and SAGE magnet academies got hands-on experience Tuesday during a Project WET workshop at Desert Willow that focused on water conservation.
The teachers, in turn, will take what they learned back to the classroom to provide the same hands-on activities for their students.
During one exercise, the educators followed each step in the journey of the water cycle. Workshop facilitator Estelle Ruppert set up nine stations around Desert Willow’s library. There was one station for clouds, one for river, another for ocean, a fourth for lake and a fifth for glacier, then one each for ground water, soil, plants and animals. Each station had a paper cube the teachers rolled to see which station they visited next.
“We’re trying to look at the movement of water within the water cycle,” Ruppert said. “They already did review that, but this is a way they are talking about how they’re going to apply it and they’re very excited about how they’re going to apply it.”
Each station also had a bag of color-coded beads: White for clouds, light blue for river, dark blue for ocean, yellow for lake, pink for glacier, black for ground water, orange for soil, green for plants and red for animals. The educators collected a bead each time they visited a station to put on a string that could be worn as a bracelet.
The Water Education Foundation donated the books and curriculum.
“The focus is on the water issues in California because it’s something we really need to educate our kids on, but we need to give the teachers the resources so they know how to do it,” Assistant Principal Emily Zazanis said.
Ruppert is an environmental education consultant and adjunct professor who previously served as state coordinator for the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks. She has also worked with the United Nations.
“She’s very passionate about it,” Zazanis said, adding Ruppert is also her mother.
The workshop was unique because it was the first time the District offered a hands-on activity for teachers. The two-day event will conclude today with another group of science teachers. The workshop included representatives from the Palmdale Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
“The teachers communicate that they need resources to be able to go into the classroom and say, ‘This is our lesson,’” Zazanis said. “This is the hands-on activity that we want to do.”
The teachers will be able to set up a similar water cycle journey in their classroom.
“I like it because students understand the concepts better when they actually are doing hands-on,” Desert Willow sixth-grade science teacher Sonya Farmer said. “We want them to remember, not just for the test where they memorize the vocabulary. I think these types of activities do that for them.”
Desert Willow teacher Lisa Wilson will start a lesson on erosion and weathering in a couple of weeks.
“My kids are sixth-grade (special day class) and this is what they thrive on,” she said.
The activity included a story each educator wrote. Wilson’s students will also write a story about the water cycle.
David. G. Millen six-grade science teacher Khai Tien Pham also enjoyed the hands-on activity.
“This is cool so we’re learning new ways to see how creative some teachers are,” he said.
Desert Willow funded the workshop with money from the Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. Palmdale School District won the $15 million competitive grant two years ago.
“The grant was one of the things that we had a lot of people collaborating,” Palmdale School District Superintendent Raul Maldonado said.
Ruth Hirsch, the magnet support teacher at Desert Willow, said she is grateful they can support the school’s teachers.
Jorge Maldonado, the District’s MSAP grant coordinator, said they were able to use grant funds to do a contract with Ruppert.
“Primarily it’s Desert Willow but we invited the science teachers from all the Palmdale schools,” Maldonado said.
The grant paid for the substitute teachers to cover the science teachers’ classrooms while they attended the workshop.
Desert Willow sixth grade Science Teacher Erin Riley, a member of her teacher’s group, attended a Project WET, or Water Education for Teachers, workshop over the summer. They were then able to include activities from the summer training in their lesson plans.
“I think the best part about Project WET was it’s got scaffolds built in, so all levels of learners are able to actually learn and have access to the information … I like it and it’s something important that the kids need to learn about for the future,” Riley said.