Ruth Patrick, SRS Team up to Teach Students about Endangered Birds

Staff Report From Aiken CEO

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Instructors from Ruth Patrick Science Education Center helped lead a two-day, in-depth project-based learning program about the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker and the threatened Bachman Sparrow. The program was held at the Savannah River Site for sixth-graders from the Tall Pines STEM Academy, a charter school located near Aiken, S.C.

A third day was dedicated to the creation and presenting of a media campaign. Each group of four to five students developed its own strategy on how best to communicate the situations of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman Sparrow to their classmates and other organizations.

Savanah River Nuclear Solutions Education Outreach personnel, working with Ruth Patrick Science Center instructors, explained the plight of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman Sparrow to the inquisitive students during their visit to SRS.

"It's important to protect endangered species," said Cameron Woiczechowski, a Tall Pines sixth grader.

"Take the Red-cockaded Woodpecker for example. If they were completely gone the cockroach species would increase dramatically, and nobody likes cockroaches!"

Moving through the forests of SRS, the students investigated adaptations that allow for success of animals in diverse and changing environments. This was followed by a U.S. Forest Service presentation demonstrating how manufactured wooden nests are installed within longleaf pine tree trunks, a necessary nesting site for the Red Cockaded Woodpecker to more rapidly increase their numbers.

Tall Pines Sixth-Grade Teacher Melissa Kidd stated that area schools are fortunate to have the educational value provided by the Ruth Patrick Science Center, SRS and all other community partners.

"They make it fun, but there is real learning taking place."

Kidd also noted that the comprehension and retention of information is significantly improved using project-based learning. This was confirmed through the recent study of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman Sparrow by Tall Pines students.

"We're expecting them to think in a very different way than they would normally have an opportunity to do," said Kidd.

"SRNS sought us out to ensure we had the opportunity to experience, for free, the high-quality instruction and activities this program has to offer. This is all invaluable to me as a teacher."

The project-based learning program had already resulted in several Tall Pines students deciding to use the cause of the endangered woodpecker as a points-producing theme for their FIRST Robotics team during a special segment of the multi-part competition.

A local Girl Scout leader, visiting the same robotics competition, was impressed with the team's theme and presentation; enough so, that she asked them to give the talk to members of her troop.

"The ripple effect of something like this is always amazing," said Francine Burroughs, SRNS manager, Education Outreach and Talent Management.

"We appreciate that this program is so effective due the fact that it is not a 'learn for the sake of learning' opportunity, but instead, is a 'learn in order to teach' process. These students are now advocates for environmental stewardship."