June 12th, 2012

Service-Learning at Horseshoe Bend Trail – Mt. Baker

This was the fourth of four Saturday Science Academy (SSA) events to be hosted by the Science Program of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) for the Spring Quarter 2012.  On this event, students joined the US Forest Service Staff at Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to help clean-up and maintain a heavily used local trail along Horseshoe Bend of the North Fork of the Nooksack River.  Students arrived early to the Glacier Public Service Center on a brisk and chilly morning to meet Kathy Vue and Stella Torres who were hosting today’s service-learning event.  After brief introductions among the students and staff, participants filed into the park office for a warm-up and exploration of wildlife displays and maps that introduced guests to the Mt. Baker Ranger District. 

Once students were satisfied with their introduction to beautiful forested landscape, they were off to start their work to maintain and restore trail access of a local trail.  Justin Paglia and his USFS trail crew initiated the students to the various tools and equipment used to clear brush and trim tree hedges from overgrowing the trail boundary.  Each student was paired up with a staff member, practiced a few times with their tools, quickly donned their hard hats and gloves, and were off down the trail to do some hard work.  The trail snaked its way along the edge of the Nooksack River, which provided beautiful scenery of wet, mossy river rock, bubbling currents of rushing water, and the music of morning birds on their way to feed their young.  

After about a half mile of hiking, students divided up their tasks and went straight to work removing low vegetation climbing its way across the edges of the trail, to trimming low hanging branches that snag hikers as they  pass, and to removing leaf and twig litter that had fallen in a recent storm.  The students were eager to be busy working as the cool air from the river and the little sunshine that came through the over cast skies drew many to shiver and bundle up in their loose spring sweatshirts. The work seemed to finish up quickly along a quarter mile after three hours of labor and the students found themselves hungry.   After hiking back down the trail, thanking our trail crew leaders and jumping in the van, the students were off again to the next stop at Douglas Fir Campground for lunch.

After lunch, students went for a short hike and lessons about local native plants and their uses by native peoples of the Pacific Northwest.  The students enjoyed finding salmonberries, Oregon grape, bracken fern and so many others.  Once the short lessons were over, the students played a few games of “Searching for Sasquatch.”  Students hurried themselves around in search of Sasquatch and then quickly finding partners when a number is called out to start a different activity.  Those students without a partner were then called out of the game and the game continued until only two students remained.  After the games, students were engaged with instruction from Sean Martin of the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association.  He brought students down to the river’s edge to examine small invertebrate insects caught in a net after kicking up rocks in the current.  These insect form the foundation of the diet of local salmon and are vital to the success of the river ecosystem to allow runs of salmon to return each year.  The day finished with discussions the salmon life cycle and a big wave goodbye to the park as we cranked up the heater for the long ride down the mountain back home.  🙂

June 4th, 2012

Live Rockets and Physics

This was the third of four Saturday Science Academy (SSA) events to be hosted by the Science Program of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) for the Spring Quarter 2012.  On this event, students were active participants in the hands-on, active learning topic of Physics and Rocketry.  Instructor, Gary Brandt and members of the NWIC Rocket Club helped students engage in understanding the characteristics of rocket flight, fundamental components of rocket building and material and introduced their on-going NASA research.

In the morning, the students partnered up with a fellow participant to examine the necessary components of a live rocket: fuselage, nose cone, fins & fuel cell.  Each part was introduced, built and discussed in terms of shape and the influence of acting forces on each part such as drag, gravity and thrust.  With new understanding of rocket development, each team worked together to construct a rocket that was viable for flight and recovery.

After building their rockets, teams examined the flight path of a standard rocket in phases from take-off to coast to apogee to parachute release to final decent and recovery.  Each phase introduced its own challenges such as the take-off, where total thrust provided by the fuel cell must exceed the total pull of gravity on the body of the rocket, etc. 

Finally, students raced off to a designated live-rocket launch site in the tidal flats of the Lummi reservation and in turn, each team launched off their rocket.  Ray and his partner were successful in both launching a recovering their rocket which ascended approximately 250+ ft into the air. What a beautiful warm and educational day…I am looking forward to the next Saturday Science Academy! J

May 24th, 2012

Coast Salish Traditional Plant Harvest

This was the second of four Saturday Science Academy (SSA) events to be hosted by the Science Program of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) for the Spring Quarter 2012.  The day began with many students arriving early and eager for the morning activities.  The weather promised to be warm and fair for a day of games, hiking and early spring plant harvesting. 

Students harvested along the Lummi Shore Rd and Kwina Rd. island right outside the main campus grounds and within a few minutes’ walk of the Cooperative Extension building.  Students were taught by Vanessa Cooper who explained the significance of each plant as we harvested in groups of four.  Several students would be cutting and several students held bags to hold the harvested goods.  Students harvested the young early shoots of stinging nettle and learned about other plants such as skunk cabbage, salmon berry, and red elderberry.

Once students finished harvesting, they had the opportunity to cook the plants into a sausage and vegetable soup to be eaten during lunch.  Students prepared each plant carefully, chopped up extra vegetables like onions, garlic, carrots and potatoes and followed a traditional recipe for cooking a stinging nettle soup.

In the late afternoon, students finished up the day by helping Vanessa and the Cooperative Extension Dept. plant the healing herb garden that was created to look like the traditional medicine wheel.  This garden was prepared to help the community both harvest healthy food and learn about healthy food choices for a diet of better living.

May 5th, 2012

Environmental Chemistry on the Rez! :)

This was the second of four Saturday Science Academy (SSA) events to be hosted by the Science Program of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) for the Spring Quarter 2012.  The day began early, but promised warm and fair weather.  We had six students turnout which is lower than our usual turnout of 12-15 students.    

The morning began with the usual games and welcoming of students and participating instructors.  Students and faculty had to work together to untie themselves from a human knot using collaborative suggestions and laughter.  After the games, Jeff Campbell introduced the students to the day’s topic and proceeded to display just how important understanding the chemistry of water could be.


Once students were familiar with the topic of water quality, they loaded up in vans to drive the first sampling site on the Nooksack River.  Charlotte Clausing helped students understand the field equipment used to test each sample of water and how to calculate for each parameter of temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, etc.  The students enjoyed getting wet in order to get their samples and discovered the fun & easy process of using data loggers to gather measurements over a longer period of time.


After the morning of sample taking and a hearty lunch, students were taking to the NWIC chemistry lab to learn how to compare their results from the morning with those measured in the lab.  Charlotte Clausing handed out white lab coats, taught students how to use lab equipment and students paired up to measure dissolved oxygen of their water sample.  Once students were familiar with the lab format, students began their experiment and watched colored water samples turn back to clear with the addition of reagents during the titration of their sample.  Jeff Campbell explained the chemistry that was occurring and helped students manage the calculations of dissolved oxygen.  The day was exciting and I am curious to see the fun that will come from our next event on May 19th.  🙂

December 19th, 2011

A Chilly Winter Night Sky (The Science of Astronomy)

This was the sixth of six Saturday Science Academy (SSA) events to be hosted by the Science Program of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) for the Fall Quarter 2011.  This was an exciting day for many of the teens participating in today’s activities.  These students have been the ones championing efforts to explore astronomy as a topic of study during Saturday Science Academy.  Well, today was just that, an exploration of our Earth’s moon, the solar system, and the greater Milky Way Galaxy.  On top of all that, students would also enjoy a night sky show at the local planetarium to finish off the day.  The day started with a brief welcome and then quickly to the first morning project of making snowflakes.  The students were given the same basic square sheet of paper and with a few brief instructions in folding, students designed and cut out their own unique snowflake.  On each snow flake, the student would right his or her name and a short phrase that described their expectations/ hoped for outcome for the day.  Once finished cutting and writing, each student shared their snowflake and written expectation to the rest of the group and finally, taped the snowflake to a cutout of a Christmas tree. 


Very quickly, the conversation was turned to the topic at hand.  December 10th, 2011 was a curious and unique day in astrological history.  That morning, between 3:30-6:30am, the moon was eclipsed by the Earth’s shadow in a brilliant display of shimmering colors of orange and red.  The Pacific Northwest had a particularly nice view of the moon that morning and NASA just happened to have a great video which described exactly just what happened and how an eclipse works (As a side note, another solar eclipse won’t occur until April 2014).  After the brief video, the students were then engaged in a virtual tour of our solar system via a “free flyer” computer program developed by NASA.  This hands-on and interactive tour of the solar system not only allowed students to soar from planet to planet, but also inform students with astonishing and intriguing facts about the many celestial bodies represented in our galaxy. The interactive tour of the galaxy lasted for about 30 minutes and led into a lecture on human space travel and rocketry.  Fascinated by the extraordinary efforts and resources it takes to get a man to space, participants dived right into a two-person group project to create their own paper rockets.  The lecture explored unmanned spacecrafts, manned missions to the moon and the phases of a rocket’s flight while gaining an understanding of the many forces acting on that rocket. 


After the rocket project was complete, students stopped for a break of lunch and then returned to complete their paper rocket projects by launching them off outside.   Using a simple tire pump, PVC canister and valve release, students watched their rockets burst into the air and fall back to the earth.  Some students, whose tail fins were large or rocket bodies light, found their rocket flights to be lower to the ground and a more gentle descent.  Conversely, students, whose tail fins were smaller and rocket bodies heavier, found that their flight was fast and high and with just as fast and hard return to the ground.


 Once, students completed their rocket launches, they were loaded up into vehicles for a trip over to the Western Washington University (WWU) Planetarium to see a constellation and planetary show.  After a 15 min walk across the WWU campus, students arrived and marveled at the planetarium dome and theatre seating.  However, the true awe and wonder was yet still to come.  Mr. Brad Snowder, the planetarium manager and astronomy lecturer at WWU introduced the students to the many constellations of the winter night sky projected above on the dome on the dome.  He also gave the students a flight-like tour of the massive Milky Way Galaxy and tour of beautiful nebulae of new stars forming millions of miles away. 


After the planetarium show, the students hiked back across the WWU campus talking lively of the many grand adventures and discoveries that await mankind as we continue to explore the possibilities of the great unknown of “outer space.” 🙂

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