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Education Coordinator Sarah Angulo uses the Nature’s Notebook app with students to collect phenology data at Adam Ryan Reserve.

NEVADA CITY, Calif. July 31, 2016 – Sierra Streams Institute (SSI) has completed teaching its phenology project with 9th graders at the Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning and 11th and 12th graders at Forest Charter School.

A total of 80 students had the opportunity to engage in a comprehensive science project, which took students through the scientific process. Using the study of plant phenology – observing when different parts of a plant appear over time – the high schoolers began this spring with a question: how phenology can be used to understand the impacts of climate change?

With the education department at SSI, students used technology to collect data at four different sites. The 11th and 12th graders at Forest Charter School used the National Phenology Network (NPN)’s easy-to-use data inputting site and accompanying app called Nature’s Notebook for selected plants at Forest Charter School and Pioneer Park. The 9th graders at Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning (SAEL) walked to collect data for selected plants at Empire Mine State Historic Park, as well as Adam Ryan Reserve in Alta Sierra.

This data was collected by students from February through May 2016. It was then analyzed and interpreted by the students, allowing them to both learn and experience the work that scientists do to answer real-life questions. The students’ data collections contribute to ongoing citizen science projects with both SSI and the NPN. The NPN can use this data in studies that examine phenological shifts over time, and what could be driving those changes. Students can see how their submitted observations contribute to a larger national understanding of potential impacts of climate change.

Education Program Director Kelly Santos explains how to use the data sheets with students from SAEL.

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The high schoolers also delved deeper into the study of phenology and described their experiences through completing two major assignments. The first project was for each student to write and submit a 300-word blog post. CC Hanson-Kickinger wrote in her blog: “[Phenology] has changed the way I look at plants and the environment in which they thrive in. I believe that in the future, I will notice more not only about specific plants than I ever had before but also about the interrelationship between the seasons and the appearance of the natural world around us. I really liked working alongside with Sierra Streams Institute and would do so again if I would be offered another opportunity like this one.”

The second project was working in groups to create individual plant profiles that are now assembled into phenology field guides. Forest Charter School students made a phenology field guide for their school, and SAEL students made one each for Adam Ryan Reserve and Empire Mine. Both field guides and submitted blog posts can be viewed on SSI’s news site. Additional links to student material can be found on the SSI Facebook page.

This project was made possible by SSI with funding from the American Society of Plant Biologists. SSI hopes to be able to distribute materials to help teachers start their own phenology projects in the upcoming months.

Sierra Streams Institute (SSI) is a watershed monitoring, research, and restoration group based in Nevada City, California, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Our mission is to link water, science and people for the benefit of human and environmental health. Founded in 1995 as Friends of Deer Creek, SSI has grown to become an important voice in the regional scientific community—but we are still proud to call Deer Creek our home watershed.