December 8th, 2011

Encountering Horticulture: Yesterday and Today

This was the fifth of six Saturday Science Academy (SSA) events to be hosted by the Science Program of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) for the Fall Quarter 2011.  While the morning was cold and frosty students braved the morning air for an outdoor welcome and game-time.  The students were quick and ready to start moving in a quick few rounds of “Steal-the-Bacon.”  The game helped warm up the limbs and the mind with quick grabs at the dodge-ball in the middle of the two teams and creative moves to maneuver back to the team with the prized “bacon”.  Once back inside, the youth were introduced to the days topic of “Food Harvesting and Horticulture.” I engaged students in a discussion of imagination where they had to compare contemporary supermarkets and stores with the traditional gathering methods of their ancestors.  I would introduce an herb, shrub or tree commonly found in this region and used by native peoples and the students had to think of the contemporary equivalent found in the supermarket.  For example, the tall Black Cottonwood has an inner sappy wood that contains elements of anti-inflammatory compounds used by native peoples to relieve headaches, back pain and arthritis.  Students had to then respond with the contemporary food or medicinal equivalent such as Alieve or Tylenol. 

Once I had finished with the sequence of plant slides, the students were split up into teams of 3-4 and given excerpts from the book: Wild Rose and Western Redcedar: the gifts of the Northwest plants. Using these excerpts about individual plants, each team would read together the literature and become “experts” on that plant.  They would take a picture of the plant and a marker and develop a poster board presentation of what they discovered.  After a half hour of reading, discussing and writing, each team took a turn to present their plant and the unique value it had with native peoples.  Individuals would describe where the plant could be found, which parts of the plant were used, how the parts were used, and finally, share any further information they thought was interesting about the plant. In this way, each individual, team and the group as a whole would become quite knowledgeable about these wonderful plants and they usefulness they had for the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

Following the final presentation, students loaded up into a van for a hike through the nearby Smuggler’s Slough.  Along the hike, students were able to tangible see, touch and feel the plants they had learned about on paper now in the wild.  The hike also included instruction on habitat ecology and the value of these plants to wildlife such as birds, salmon and forage mammals.  After the hike the students bustled back indoors for a warm lunch and catch their breath before the afternoon outing.


In the afternoon students were back in the vans and off to the BelleWood Acres Apple Orchard to tour a farm where modern practices in horticulture were present and productive.  Once at the farm, the students were given blankets and ushered 4 to a golf cart for a tour of the rows of apple trees and the large farmstead barns.  Dori, wife and co-owner of the farm quickly introduced the students to the many different varieties of apples, the process for raising them and the unique methods for keeping them warm during the frost autumn and late winter.  The students quickly moved through the farm with raised hands and questions and eventually a stop by the Ten Mile Creek which bordered the farm.  Here they learned of the importance of maintaining a good agricultural relationship with the stream habitat so that both the wildlife using the stream and the apple trees using the water are productive.  Finally, students raced ahead to the apple cider pressing room and the taste-testing site to try some of the rich and sweet treats produced on the farm.  The day ended with smiles on a short ride home and an excited fervor for everything apple- like apple pie. Yum!

November 28th, 2011

Wonders at Whatcom Creek

Video Salmon, Water Quality and Youth Education at Whatcom Creek

This was the fourth of six Saturday Science Academy (SSA) events to be hosted by the Science Program of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) for the Fall Quarter 2011.  The day began with students engaging in a round-robin game of writing and guessing.  Students were given a sheet of paper to write down their thoughts about what they are thankful for on one side and an animal that they thought best described them on the other side.  The papers were collected, scrambled and then re-distributed.  Each student read aloud what there person was thankful for and then as a group tried to figure out who described themselves as what animal.  Great fun! 🙂  Afterward the students loaded up in vans for a 15 min drive downtown to the Maritime Heritage Park.

Once at the park, students were gathered up and welcomed by Maggie Long of NSEA to talk about the community work already in progress to clean up the park.  The students grabbed gloves and boots and formed two teams that would join other students from Western Washington University, Bellingham Technical College, Whatcom Community College and individual adult community members.  The SSA students used tools such as rakes, loppers, and buckets to remove invasive ivy and blackberry bramble from the park landscape and then spread mulch as a natural weed suppressor on to the ground they just cleared.

Despite the cold temperature (38°F), the students worked very diligently and warmed up along with the sun that morning.  After a long 1 ½ hr work party, the students set up for lunch on the picnic tables along the creek for a well deserved break.

After lunch, the students walked the creek shoreline watching the large returning salmon and the fishermen trying to catch them.  Their walk eventually led them a short way to the Whatcom Creek Fish Hatchery where they greeted students of the BTC Fisheries Technology program.  These students were putting on wet-suits for the cold, wet work of counting salmon caught in the large hatchery trough to be used for rearing a new generation of salmon. 

The SSA students were able to watch the Fisheries Specialists round up the salmon in a lead-line and buoy fish net, pick them up, measure, count and determine sex of each fish and even touch the large live salmon.  This experience was phenomenal and the SSA students learned a great deal about what it takes to work in a fish hatchery and why the work is important.  Following this grand experience, the students were taken on a tour of the Whatcom Creek Hatchery facilities to see how eggs are collected, fertilized, incubated and raised until ready for release.

After the tour, the students headed indoors for instruction by Maggie Long regarding the salmon lifecycle, identification of 5 indigenous, Pacific salmon and a healthy salmon habitat.  Students were asked questions of deduction regarding healthy streams and pollution and other topics related to salmon identification.  Once the students became familiar with the basic needs of a healthy salmon habitat (water is cool, clean, clear and consistent, plenty of oxygen in the water, neutral water pH, low turbidity, and plenty of clean gravel and stream pools and shrubby debris for protection) it was time to test the water quality of Whatcom Creek. 

Finally, the day completed with student’s asking more questions than time allowed and a lively ride back to campus to finish out the day.  The success of this day came from the hands-on inquisitive nature of every young individual who discovers that there is more to know than they ever thought possible.

What a great day! 🙂

November 2nd, 2011

Safe & Sound: A Study of the Salish Sea

                This was the third of six Saturday Science Academy (SSA) events to be hosted by the Science Program of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) for the Fall Quarter 2011.  Only 14 students had signed up to attend this day’s event and yet, 3 additional students attended unexpectedly which was a wonderful surprise.   The morning started with students divide into teams for a tournament of games. The tournament was a team effort Rock, Paper, Scissors competition where teams would decide on one of the three choices, face off with the opposing team, and act out their choice of Rock, Paper or Scissors. These games lasted 15-20 minutes and the youth had a great time.


                After games, students put on boots and were shuttled into vans to meet with Jeff Campbell down at the Portage Spit Beach Access.  Once at the beach, we were fortunate to have the rain stop and the clouds break with sunshine.  Jeff quickly engaged students in a discussion about local water ways including streams, rivers and the bay.  While students worked hard to answer questions about sources of potential pollution and benefits of healthy water, Jeff engaged students with pictures and stories regarding the Salish Sea and the importance of a clean intertidal zone for wildlife remain healthy.  Students were also encouraged to close their eyes and to take time to smell the air and listen to the sounds around the bay to help engage their senses to the tangible and beautiful environment of the ocean around them.


              After awhile, students were gathered up into pairs to put on gloves and take trash bags out for gathering up debris on the beach.  Teams of students were then encouraged to spread out and find old, loose trash to remove from the beach in order to affect a less polluted intertidal habitat.  Students quickly scoured the beach and quickly found trash both on the beach and in the intertidal marsh grasses and the streets just above the beach. Students gathered trash for 1 ½ hrs.


                  Students loaded back in to the vans for lunch at the Log Building and a video about “Shallow Seas” around the world from the BBC-Discovery Planet Earth Series. Students were mesmerized by the beautiful images of coral and colorful wildlife and the ferocity of waves and sharks chasing seals.  After the video and lunch, students loaded up in the vans once again to head down to the Marine Life Center to see and touch some of the local wildlife they had heard about that morning with Jeff.

                 The youth were quickly immersed in the fascinating and beautiful creatures of the Marine Center’s aquariums.  The students were placed into teams of 4 and given a worksheet of factoid-like questions for the students to answer by reading poster of information beside each aquarium.  The team that answered completed the worksheet first won candy from the Marine Center staff.  Additionally, students were able to hold a crab and sea cumber, feed a native octopus and feel the spines of a purple sea urchin.  After 1 hr at the center, students finished up their time listening to a traditional Native story about Raven and Octopus and the gathering of food at low tide.  Reluctantly, students were gathered back up to head home and just before the last of the student hopped into the van, the rain began to fall to the ground once again. 

Sea Cucumber Video

What a great day! 🙂

October 10th, 2011

A Day at the Dairy – Electrifying!!!

 The manure that is produced by local dairy cows is used to generate electricity through a process know as Anaerobic Menthane Digestion.   Dairy cows are now able to produce more than just milk…their waste is utilized to produced clean energy (methane) and a reusable byproduct (pathogen free fertilizer).  What a great system!  Native American youth from the Saturday Science Academy visited one of these Methane Digesters in action within their own community at the VanderHaak Dairy Farm in Lynden, WA.

Participants were also engaged in hands-on electricity labs by exploring and building their own Simple Electric Motor. Each student examined the forces of magnetism on an electric current running through a series of loops in a copper wire.  Check out it for yourself !

Video – Simple Electric Motor in Action

September 29th, 2011

Saturday Science Academy – Fall 2011

Yes, folks we are back at it again and ready to get the school year started off right!!  Our first event was held on Sept 24th, 2011 to commemorate or National Public Lands through hands-on service and outdoor learning.  Please join us for our coming events by checking out the calendar and the activities students can enjoy! I hope to here from many of you very soon!                    

Nathanael Davis, Science Outreach Coordinator

Northwest Indian College – Check us out on our Facebook Page and become a fan! 🙂, Office: 360.392.4271 or Cell: 360.420.1387

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