In partnership with the Mount St. Helens Institute, high school students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) programs at Battle Ground Public Schools (BGPS) participate in ongoing research studies at the volcanic monument.
Each year, 10th grade environmental science students from Battle Ground’s Center for Agriculture, Science and Environmental Education (CASEE) go up to the volcano for an overnight field trip of in-depth data collection. Data collected by the students is used by scientists in an ongoing research study to monitor how various plant species are recovering from the May 18, 1980, eruption.
“This project is as real as it gets for a science student,” Andrea Parker, science specialist and teacher on special assignment for Battle Ground Public Schools. “You can present information in a classroom or look up images online, but until they’re out in the field with their rain gear on, tools in hand, and hiking to the site of the actual eruption, it just doesn’t mean the same thing for teaching students what it’s like to be a scientist.”
On Mount St. Helens, rain gear was a necessity for the students as the skies opened up and it rained steadily on the second day of the two-day trip. However, the 26 students did not let bad weather stop them from having a good time on the mountain.
“For me, one of the highlights was watching the kids take this project so seriously,” Parker said in a news release. “Even though they were getting drenched, the students never complained and saw their projects through to the very end, making sure they accurately collected all the data they needed.”
For the first day of the trip, the high schoolers spent time exploring the mountain in sunny weather with a trip to Spirit Lake, the Ape Caves and Lava Canyon. The group mixed in geology lessons throughout their trip and performed their data collection on the second day before heading back to CASEE.
Back in the classroom, students spent time analyzing differences in the environment and how it has recovered from the eruption from across the eruption disturbance zones. Students then develop a research question and create a presentation from all their data.
High school students that participate in the CASEE program spend half of their school day on the program’s campus, where they study a science-forward curriculum in biology, wildlife, forestry and natural resources. The CASEE program started in 1993 as a cooperative effort between the horticulture and science programs at the high schools in BGPS.
“It’s very different doing hands-on work compared to being in the classroom,” Andrew Tawwater, a sophomore who attends CASEE and Battle Ground High School, said in a news release. “Working directly with the plants and soils we’re studying while filling our worksheets with data is a more effective way to grasp the concepts we’ve been learning about in the classroom.”