The USAUS H2O Virtual Environmental Partnership is happening!

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The USAUS H2O Virtual Environmental Partnership is happening!

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Among all the goings-on in Canberra last week, the undoubted highlight was the launch on Friday of an exciting partnership between CDU and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), by the Minister for Schools Education the Hon Peter Garrett AM MP and the US Ambassador His Excellency Jeffrey Bleich.

The USAUS H20 Virtual Environmental Partnership is linking up eight Australian schools with eight schools in the US, paired according to climatic zones.  Students at around Year 9 level will explore their local water cycles, using a common conceptual framework and learning modules (see http://www.usaus-h2o.org/), and populating the framework with their own data.  They will hook-up with their partner school and share data and findings using online tools, learning about how to analyse, interpret and present scientific information for a general audience.

The photo below shows Minister Garrett launching the program against the backdrop of a newly-constructed urban wetland on Sullivans Creek in Canberra, across the road from Lyneham High School, one of the participating schools.  It was great that Dr Judy O'Neil from UMCES, the leader of the project who has done so much to get it to this point, was able to join us for the launch.  The local member, the Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP (formerly an ANU economist) also attended the launch, hosted by the Principal Colleen Matheson and science teachers Thiona Moss and Janet Richardson with Janet's Year 8 science students.

Minister Garrett launching the program

The first phase of this project is a pilot funded by the US State Department through its Global Connections and Exchange Program.  If the pilot is successful, the education departments in both countries will look to scaling the program up. The Minister and the Ambassador with the two project partners, Dr Judy O'Neil from the University of Maryland and me from CDU.

 The Minister and the Ambassador with the two project partners, Dr Judy O'Neil from the University of Maryland and me from CDU

The University of Maryland is one of the top universities in the US.  It has a hallowed place in the history of the environment movement as the base for Rachel Carson as she wrote her indelibly influential 1962 book Silent Spring.  The Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) has an outstanding program of environmental education for schools as well as magnificent Horn Point research labs described in an earlier blog (and a state of the art research ship named after Rachel Carson).  Dr Judy O'Neil wrote the grant application to the US State Department, and it mandated an Australian partner.  As we were already discussing a long-term partnership between RIEL and the Integration and Application Network (IAN) of UMCES, and with Professor Michael Douglas and Associate Professor Sam Setterfield on sabbatical at UMCES at the time, Judy asked if RIEL could help with the Australian end of this exciting project.  We agreed, Judy's proposal got up, and we have spent the last few months finalising the eight participating schools in each country.

Our criteria for choosing schools included having a broad spread of climatic zones, schools with a strong track record in science and environment teaching, a passionate teacher willing to take on an innovative, untested project like this, and the support of the school principal.  After discussions with many schools and consultation with water authorities and catchment management bodies, we arrived at the following school pairings:

AUSTRALIA UNITED STATES
Centralian Senior Secondary College, Alice Springs NT A&M Consolidated High School, College Station TX
The Essington School, Darwin NT South Terrebonne High School, Bourg LA
Rossmoyne High School, Perth WA Mares Island Technical High School, Vallejo, CA
Tannum Sands High School, Tannum Sands Qld East Lake High School, Tarpon Springs FL
Armidale High School, Armidale NSW Queen Ann County High School, Centerville MD
Notre Dame (Emmaus Campus), Shepparton Vic Louise S. McGehee School, New Orleans LA
Lyneham High School, Canberra ACT Brunswick County Early College High School, Bolivia NC
Don College, Devonport, Tas Boothbay Harbor High School, Boothbay Harbor Maine

 

The Minister and the Ambassador watching the Lyneham High School students sampling water

At left, the Minister and the Ambassador are watching the Lyneham High School students sampling water from a wetland constructed as part of a new urban stormwater management system in Canberra, which seeks to slow down the movement of water through the urban landscape, increase infiltration, create habitat for wildlife, reduce the risk of eutrophication and blue-green algal blooms in Lake Burley Griffin, and generally improve urban amenity.  Students are already monitoring water quality and biodiversity here, and they told me that the birds moved in almost immediately the wetland filled and local species of rushes and sedges were planted around the margins and on constructed islands. It was great catching up with Peter Garrett, whom I've known since he was President of the Australian Conservation Foundation when I was working in Landcare.

Andrew Campbell and Peter Garrett

On Monday and Tuesday this week we held a workshop with all the Australian teachers in Brisbane, which was run by Judy, assisted by her team including Dr Simon Costanzo, Dr Cynthia Heil, Dr Adrian Jones and Judy’s partner Prof Bill Dennison (the head of IAN, self-described ‘seagrass nerd’ and a leading expert on integrated harbour studies) and me.  We were tremendously impressed by the enthusiasm and expertise of the Australian teachers.  Judy says that the US teachers are similarly impressive after interacting with them at a similar workshop held in Maryland during February.  This is very heartening for the future of our project, but more broadly for the quality of science education.

From Left: Eddie Fabijan, Centralian; Judy O’Neil, UMCES; Simon Costanzo, UMCES;  David Henderson, Rossmoyne;   Bill Dennison, UMCES;  Susan Nabbs, Notre Dame; Bec Smith, Armidale;  Janet Richardson, Lyneham;  Marcel Brown, Don; Emma Reynoldson, Notre Dame;  Cynthia Heil, Bigelow Labs;  Chris Main, Tannum Sands;  Andrew Campbell, RIEL;  Richie Furber, Essington

Now the classroom phase of the project begins in earnest, as schools begin to populate the conceptual framework with their own data, and compare this data with their paired school in the first instance.  We hope that as the project matures, schools will develop web pages and potentially webinars at which they will present their findings for national and international water forums.

Eddie Fabijan, Susan Nabbs and Emma Reynoldson

Above from left: Eddie Fabijan, Susan Nabbs and Emma Reynoldson; Below from left: Chris Main, Richie Furber and Marcel Brown enjoying science communication exercises at the Brisbane workshop.

Chris Main, Richie Furber and Marcel Brown

Below from left: Andrew Campbell and Judy O’Neil check out the USAUS H2O website (http://www.usaus-h2o.org/);  Janet Richardson, Bec Smith, David Henderson and Cynthia Heil collaborating in science communication exercises at the Brisbane workshop.  

Andrew Campbell and Judy O’Neil   Janet Richardson, Bec Smith, David Henderson and Cynthia Heil

Read Dr Bill Dennison's blog.

Dr Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Applications at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES).