High School Students as Community Scientists

High school students get hands-on experience studying climate change in the redwood forest at Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve.
High school students get hands-on experience studying climate change in the redwood forest at Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve.

“It’s so cool that our generation is learning about impacts on nature and what is going on in forests so we can use what we learn and apply it to real-world problems.”
-High School Student, Woodside High School

If you ask high school students what the impacts of climate change have been, they can tell you that the polar ice caps are melting, that we have extreme weather, and that California has been in a drought for the past few years. But if you ask them how climate change will affect our forests and the plants and animals that live in them, they find it harder to come up with an answer.

These same students can explain in detail about the carbon cycle, photosynthesis, and carbon fluxes, but “Google it” tends to be their response when they’re asked how a scientist actually measures the amount of carbon in a tree. This is why bringing students out into the forest to get real, hands-on experience studying the impacts of climate change on our forests is a key education program at the League and one we offer to high school students throughout California.

“This program helped make studying climate change more concrete. It also helped them think about the consequences on ecosystems and not just humans/human infrastructure. Some of my students don’t get out to natural areas often, and this was an eye-opener.”
— Ms. Akey, High School Science Teacher

High school students in our education program.Recently, 135 high school students from the San Francisco peninsula traveled to Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve to observe and learn about the impacts of climate change on redwoods. The students became community scientists, documenting the biodiversity of the preserve while taking measurements of trees and ferns. Using their phones and the iNaturalist app (external link), the students made over 1,500 observations adding data to a national online database accessed by scientists from around the world. Highlights for the students included seeing banana slugs and newts during their field surveys.

“I really liked identifying different plants and animal species with the iNaturalist app. I now know more about different types of leaves than anyone else in my family.”
-High School Student, Woodside High School

The goals of the program are to make climate change more relevant to students, to get them to experience a redwood forest as a scientist, and to teach real, hands-on scientific field techniques. And most importantly, we want them to have fun!

This program is run in partnership with the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (external link) and is sponsored by Oracle (external link).

To learn more, please visit our education program web page.

Avatar for Deborah Zierten

About the author

Deborah joined the League's staff in 2013 as the Education & Interpretation Manager. She brings with her extensive experience teaching science, developing curriculum and connecting kids to the natural world.

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