Posts Tagged ‘education’

by Elise Hinman

How did the natural world captivate you as a child? Maybe it was when you learned that wild blackberries are edible (and delicious), built a fort out of downed tree branches, or observed a family of bluebirds making a nest in your backyard. I remember raising Sierran tree frogs from eggs at my house, watching the tiny tadpoles sprout legs as their tails disappeared. Releasing the young frogs back into the stream left a lasting impact on my respect for Mother Nature.

studying macroinvertebrates

Young citizen scientists get an up-close look at some of Lake Lagunitas’s macroinvertebrates at Family Science Day.

We all have our memorable moments in the great outdoors; we can only hope that an excitement for nature will live on in our youngest generations. On May 25, MMWD partnered with the California Academy of Sciences on an event aimed at making this hope a reality. Family Citizen Science Day at Lake Lagunitas brought a slew of activities to the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed to stoke the fire of a new generation of scientists. Over 150 people attended the four-hour event, and judging by the excited kids and beaming parents, it was an amazing success.

Each family was furnished with a Field Scientist Activity Book and a bandana with a map of MMWD’s trails. They could play Lake Lagunitas bingo during their walk around the lake, hang out at the Lagunitas deck for hands-on activities, or participate in some of our scheduled events. Kids who completed three or more activities received one thing no citizen scientist should be without: a field notebook!

The scheduled events included two outings to an actual Mt. Tamalpais bioblitz site. There I helped kids identify a plant, carefully dig it up and place it in a plant press. Once at Cal Academy, the pressed plant will be dried and then transferred to a permanent mount, which will preserve the specimen in perpetuity—with the collector’s name on it! Checkerbloom, cat’s ear and narrow-leaf mule’s ear were a few of the flowering species collected for this fascinating project.

Kite making

A future environmental steward puts her artistic talents to work coloring an osprey kite.

At the wooden deck on Lagunitas Dam, the kite-making table was a popular stop. Here, kids had the opportunity to color their own osprey before folding it into a kite complete with a tassel tail. One mother (a science teacher no less) even improved upon our design by adding weight to the tail, giving the kite more stability—way to go! Running back and forth on the dam, participants chased the breezes that would lift their kites sky-high.

Luckily, the commotion on the dam didn’t faze the turtles sunning themselves on logs floating in the lake. Family Science Day participants studied these reptiles through binoculars and determined whether they were native western pond turtles or invasive red-eared sliders. Such data is important for MMWD to keep track of each species’ population size. Toward the end of the event, one bold turtle swam near the wooden deck area to take a closer look at the festivities, to the delight of lake-gazers.

Other kids made a bee-line for the macroinvertebrate table, where Cal Academy’s Alison Young pointed out fascinating water bugs hiding among the lake’s aquatic vegetation. Equipped with a waterproof magnifier, kids could get up close to these critters and see how they move through the water.

Once an hour, my fellow watershed aides, Jaimie Baxter and Jen Stern, and I led families to the redwood grove at the bottom of the dam to meet a tree. What does it mean to “meet a tree?” Well, one bold participant would be blindfolded and then led on a winding path to a mystery tree in the grove. Without eyesight, she had to touch the tree, smell the tree, listen to the sounds around the tree, and remember as much as she could about the tree, Trusting her guides, she was led on a different winding path back to where she started. She could then remove the blindfold and accept the challenge of finding “her” tree! The kids loved this activity and played multiple rounds, I was surprised by the trust blindfolded kids placed in their leaders; they walked without hesitation into anything their guides led them through, even if their guide was four years old and more excited about the activity itself than making sure her sightless partner made it to the tree unhurt. It was a hoot!

Family Citizen Science Day filled me with hope. In the time I spent observing the activities from afar, I saw smiles, heard laughter from both kids and parents, and felt curiosity and joy emanating from the families at the event. I listened as kids asked questions about the natural world, unable to contain their excitement at the knowledge they gained. This day wasn’t successful because it brought a crowd of people; it was successful because we helped nurture a new generation of environmental scientists and nature-lovers. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Family Science Day is an annual event on the watershed. Next time you visit Lake Lagunitas please stop by Sky Oak Watershed Headquarters and pick up a free Sprouting Scientist Field Activity Book. Elise has completed her season with MMWD and headed off to Syracuse University to earn her Ph.D. in Biology, studying the evolutionary ecology of invasive plants.

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by Charlene Burgi

This week a friend sent an email containing a test that challenged the reader’s knowledge of science. I dropped all that I was doing and quizzed myself before sending it on to my daughter, son and Jack with my results. The gauntlet was officially thrown down and the game was on!

It seems the family loves these challenges, as we all get caught up in self-testing. It made me wonder if you, too, enjoy seeing just how much you know? Are you in? Okay, I am throwing down the gauntlet! Answers will be found at the end of the blog. No fair checking our website or internet for answers first!

1. How many water supply reservoirs does MMWD maintain on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed and in West Marin? Extra points if you can name them all.
a. 3
b. 7
c. 12
d. None of the above

2. Which sprinkler heads are most efficient on a slope?
a. Impact heads
b. MP Rotators
c. Spray heads
d. Rotors

3. It is acceptable to mix various types of sprinkler heads on the same valve.
a. True
b. False

4. It is best to use pressure-compensating emitters on a slope.
a. True
b. False

5. As a whole, we use more water:
a. Washing clothes
b. Flushing toilets
c. Watering lawns
d. Taking showers

6. Clay soil doesn’t have any nutritional value.
a. True
b. False

7. All native plants are low-water users.
a. True
b. False

8. Evapotranspiration refers to:
a. Loss of water from the soil
b. Loss of water from plants
c. Both a and b
d. None of the above

9. The evapotranspiration rate is highest in:
a. Mid August
b. Beginning of September
c. End of April
d. End of June

10.  Toilet leaks can waste as much as
a. 1 gallon a day
b. 15 gallons a month
c. Too small to measure
d. 500 gallons a day

The next step we take in the family is to share our answers and where we got hung up. It opens up the discussion! Did you learn anything or was this just too easy? Did you share this test with your family, too?

Join Us for the Marin-Friendly Garden Tour on Saturday, May 18

Marin-Friendly Garden Tour logoIf you haven’t registered for tomorrow’s Marin-Friendly Garden Tour, it’s not too late! This FREE, self-guided tour showcases nine Marin gardens designed to protect our local environment and conserve water. Discover native plant selections, edibles, rainwater catchment, wildlife habitat gardens, recycled materials, composting systems and more. Visit our website for last-minute registration details.


1. – b. MMWD’s reservoirs include Phoenix, Lagunitas, Bon Tempe, Alpine, Kent, Nicasio and Soulajule.
2. – b. Slow precipitation rates of the MP Rotators will allow the water to penetrate instead of run off.
3. – b. Each type of head throws out different gallons per minute, causing some areas to get too much water and other areas not enough–what we call a lack of distribution uniformity.
4. – a. Non-compensating emitters will lead to water running out faster at the bottom of the slope, leaving little emitting at the top.
5. – c. Lawns use the highest amount of water.
6. – b. Clay has nutrients trapped in its particles. Adding amendments can break down the particles and release the nutrients for plant needs.
7. – b. There are many aquatic native plants.
8. – c. Soil loses moisture through evaporation; plants lose water through transpiration.
9. – d. On average, plants require more water at the end of June than any other time of year.
10. – d. Can you believe that! You can lose up to 500 gallons a day!!

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by Jaimie Baxter

Sprouting scientistsDo you love learning about Mt. Tamalpais and its plants and animals? Explore the northern side of the mountain, participate in fun activities and become a Citizen Scientist.

The Marin Municipal Water District believes that exposing youth to real scientific projects and the outdoors is the best way to instill environmental stewardship. And, lucky for us, the California Academy of Sciences does too! Citizen science is a big part of what we do on Mt. Tamalpais, so we welcome you to join us for a very special event on the first Saturday of May. What is Citizen science? In essence, it is “the study of nature by the people who live in it, which means YOU!” We encourage you and your families to join us in being environmental stewards to Mt. Tamalpais.

In 2012, the Marin Municipal Water District and the California Academy of Sciences teamed up to conduct a Botanical Bioblitz—a large scale  survey of every single plant species on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. This multi-year effort involves citizens, botanists, nature photographers and students alike. Click here for more information about this project.

On Saturday, May 4, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., MMWD and the California Academy of Sciences are hosting a “Sprouting Scientist” event at Lake Lagunitas in Fairfax. Both organizations will be on top of the dam at Lake Lagunitas to facilitate family-friendly, hands-on, science-based activities. Our Botanical Bioblitz, a real scientific project, is occurring on the same day, so families can come join the fun of collecting and recording all the plant species in the surrounding area. Come find out what it means to be a Citizen Scientist! Prizes will be handed out to all families who participate. The event is free, although the usual parking fee of $8.00 per vehicle still applies.

For more information, visit our website or contact volunteerprogram@marinwater.org or (415) 945-1128.

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by Robin McKillop

NEEW logoDid you know that this week—April 14-20, 2013—is National Environmental Education Week? Hosted by the National Environmental Education Foundation, this week is the nation’s largest celebration of environmental education. It is held each year the week before Earth Day to inspire environmental learning and stewardship among K-12 students. In 2013, the focus is on “Taking Technology Outdoors” with emphasis placed on the growing opportunity to engage today’s students in learning about the environment by “plugging into nature” through new technologies. Visit the National Environmental Education Week website for additional information about this event, including supporting activities and instructions for registering.

The Marin Municipal Water District is pleased to support environmental education through our Water Wonders Education Program for grades K-12. Our fun-filled, informative programs are offered free of charge to schools in our service area and are designed to support California education standards. Each year we provide school assemblies, field trips, classroom presentations, water quality lab tours and service learning opportunities to thousands of students throughout our service area. By teaching students about the source and use of their water, we hope to inspire them to take action to conserve this precious resource and to protect our watershed lands.

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by Ariana Chiapella

Frog training at Little Carson Falls

Volunteers gather at Little Carson Falls.

We are approaching the exciting time of year when MMWD’s Frog Docent program returns. The foothill yellow-legged frog (FYLF) is a federally listed species of “special concern,” and here in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed we have only two remaining breeding sites for a species that is in decline throughout its range. The habitat at Little Carson Falls also happens to be a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers and dog-walkers.

Because of this, it is vital to have enthusiastic people at the falls to educate visitors about the importance of protecting this special spot and its inhabitants. This is where our volunteers come in. They have helped MMWD educate hundreds of visitors about the FYLF, why it is important to respect and protect their habitat, and gather data that has helped professional herpetologists monitor the population of the frogs.

Foothill yellow-legged frogs in amplexus

Foothill yellow-legged frogs in amplexus. Photo by Frog Docent Matthew Sykes.

The coming season looks promising for this unique program; we have had a few good rains so far, and for those who have been out on Azalea Hill, you may already know that this means that the falls have lots of water! In my opinion, there’s no better place in the watershed to volunteer.

We will have our initial training day for Frog Docents on Saturday, March 2, from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the Sky Oaks Ranger Station in Fairfax. We’ll start off with some refreshments and a presentation from one of the biologists who is working with the district on compiling and analyzing the data gathered by our volunteers. We’ll then hike up to see the falls. Volunteers will sign up for their weekend time slots (March-June) at Little Carson Falls through Google Calendar. This will be a great opportunity to meet like-minded nature enthusiasts, help out a species in need, be active and spend time outside—so many New Year’s resolutions packed into one!

For anyone out there who wants to band together to protect this important native frog species and form a community of wildlife stewards, this program is for you. Please tell your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors so that they can join in the fun too! We love and are always looking for new volunteers. No special skills or experience are needed, but volunteers must be 18 years or older.

If you have any questions, comments or want to sign up for our training, email us at volunteerprogram@marinwater.org or call (415) 945-1128!

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by Shasta Phillips

I spent many boyhood hours complaining about having to go to school. My grievances mostly revolved around feeling what we were taught had no practical application in the real world. I’d argue that knowing the major export of Montana would not help me land a job, that making a battery out of a potato was useless if it couldn’t power my Walkman, and that learning arithmetic had become obsolete with the invention of the calculator wristwatch (because, of course, they would never go out of style).

Even though I often resisted school as a child, returning to the classroom now as a representative of MMWD and teaching water conservation principles is one of the highlights of my job. The turnaround is quite dramatic. Also, when I go to schools now, I am far less likely to be shoved into my own locker.

While my understanding of education has expanded, I still keep in mind the grievances of my school days. I try to make a connection between the subject and the students, explaining why it’s important and how it personally relates to them. I find this is easily done with our “Do-It-Yourself Water Conservation Kit,” where students are taught how to check and improve their water efficiency at home. We then follow up to provide free showerheads and faucet aerators to replace wasteful ones.

This connection really hit home for me during one of these follow-up visits to a Corte Madera school. I asked the class to share some stories and results from their home surveys. After many of the typical stories, one beaming fourth-grade student explained how she had found a severe toilet leak. Not only that, but when her family’s plumber had trouble finding the water meter, she was able to assist by showing him its location. Her fellow students were riveted, and they gasped at the realization that an adult professional required the aid of one of their own to fix a serious problem.

These hands-on activities are designed to empower our students and to show they can make a positive impact on the world. Seeing these effects in action renews my commitment to education and helps make up for what I missed in my boyhood schooldays. To learn more about MMWD’s FREE water education programs for schools, just visit our website.

And since I know you’re wondering, the major export of Montana is bulk wheat.

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BAEER FairThe 36th annual Bay Area Environmental Education Resource (BAEER) Fair is just around the corner on Saturday, January 19, 2013. This resource-rich event is designed for teachers, community educators, students, families and all concerned about the environment we share.

Drop by MMWD’s booth for information on our free school education programs in water conservation and watershed ecology and restoration.

For those 18 or older, sign up for our Frog Docent training on March 2. The foothill yellow-legged frog is native to parts of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed and is listed as both a federal and state species of “special concern.” MMWD needs help from the community to stop the decline and help restore a healthy population within the watershed.

For those eight years or older, sign up for our Turtle Observer training on March 23 to help us monitor and record activity of California’s only native fresh water turtle, the Western pond turtle, a federally listed “vulnerable species.” This program is great for students, families or individuals.

The BAEER Fair is from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Marin Civic Center located in San Rafael. General admission is $12.00, high school students and seniors $10.00, youth $8.00 and children 6 and under are free. Admission to the event is paid at the entrance door. Check out the BAEER website to learn more about the 2013 workshops and exhibitors, and visit MMWD’s website to discover our free water education programs for schools in our service area.

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