ABSTRACTThe Apalachicola River winds through Calhoun County on its final leg into the Gulf of Mexico. The Apalachicola River watershed has among some of the highest biological diversity. The river is important for the Florida oyster production industry. The Florida oyster production has recently taken a nose dive from a once vibrant industry, to uneconomical production levels. The loss in production has mostly been a result of human mismanagement along the Apalachicola River and in the Gulf of Mexico, as was the case with the Deep Horizon Oil Spill. The drastic changes to the Apalachicola River ecosystem and regional economies as a result of human activities, presents a unique case to teach students real life example and at the same time present opportunities for students and the community to practice environmental stewardship. Blountstown High School, located mere miles from the Apalachicola River will initiate an environmental conservation project for the river and investigate pollutants in the water and how human activities affect the river. The project will also monitor fauna. Our initiative will make recommendations on appropriate practices for the river as developed by the students and community. This project will be done in conjunction with the Better Universe and Citizens Technologies (BUC Technologies) internet based software, which is a comprehensive soft and modules designed for STEM education on environmental stewardship and sustainability at the K-12 level. The interactive software is successfully used in several school districts to improve the learning of STEM and environmental conservation. This project presents an opportunity to integrate interactive technologies into our classrooms and in addressing conservation issues for a resource of major importance to our region, the Apalachicola River. Our results will be disseminated into the community through several means including newsletters, websites, workshops and media.
How is your project innovative? The Apalachicola River flows through Calhoun County into the Gulf of Mexico. The river supports the Apalachicola oyster production industry. During its peak years, the Apalachicola region produced millions of oysters per year and constituted 90% of all oysters produced in Florida. A steady flow of rich, sediment-filled water into a warm bay creates an environment good for oyster growth. The nutrients in the sediments fuels phytoplankton growth, as primary producers in food webs. Oyster production has greatly decreased in the region as a result of over harvesting, disruption of habitats through human activities, diseases and reduced water flows along the river affecting the balance of fresh water to seawater which ultimately affects oyster production. The wild harvest industry is at risk of no longer being economically viable. Our project will seek to educate students on the importance of Apalachicola River to the Florida Economy, and lead in environmental conservation initiatives along the river. The topic of oyster production is real life and widely discussed in the region making it a very relevant topic to teach sustainability and get communities together. The Apalachicola River BUC Technologies (BUC) is a STEM education company dedicated towards teaching sustainability at K-12. Among their many modules on environmental sustainability, BUC has an excellent module which teaches experimentation and sustainability by addressing a scenario on a real case which resulted in the death of fish in the Gulf of Mexico several decades ago. The root cause of the fish death was eutrophication i.e. fish dieing from inadequate oxygen in the water. The module identifies the cause of the fish death as pollutants flowing down the Mississippi from the various activities including agriculture and discharge from cities. This module allows students to conduct virtual investigative experiments taking water samples, monitoring nitrates, phosphates and oxygen levels along the Mississippi from as far as the Iowa all the to the Gulf of Mexico. The BUC website also has another module which discusses the effect of climate change in the Southeast and discusses how alterations in the amount of sediments as a result of human activities flowing down the Mississippi River has made cities such as New Orleans more vulnerable to adverse effects of hurricanes such as was the case with Katrina. Our innovative project will take the entire modules and experimental procedure developed and worked over by several scientists and educators for the Mississippi River and Gulf, then translate it directly to our Apalachicola River to enable the students to repeat not only the virtual experiments they will have learned in the interactive modules, but in addition conduct hands-on activities as they conduct environmental conservation practices for our region. Blountstown High School, the applicant is mere miles away from the Apalachicola River, making us one of the few schools closest to the river as the gigantic river nears the Gulf. Our students will take water samples and identify fauna along the river. The students will also conduct environmental tests for heavy metals lead (Pb), Cadmium (Cd), Cobalt (Co), Arsenic (As), Chromium (Cr), and Selenium (Se) or as determined necessary. The water samples will be taken to a state or university laboratories for analysis. We will investigate how human activities along the river are affecting Apalachicola River and surrounding ecology. The steady flow of sediments and nutrients into the along the Apalachicola River provides the much needed sediments and nutrients for the oyster industry. In much the same was as human activities through constructions and dykes along the Mississippi River as described in the BUC modules, students will also do case studies on how human modifications of the Apalachicola River is affecting the Apalachicola River. This study fits well with our students who are outdoor and nature loving. Our students fish along the river and others hunt around the river, while others canoe or hike along the river. Students will then make cultural recommendations and practices for the river and watershed based on this comprehensive study.
How will it fit into your curriculum (include standards)? The BUC module to be used as the basis of our environmental stewardship initiative, teaches the scientific theory which are the series of steps scientists follow when conducting investigation. These steps are fundamental and core to sciences. The module takes the students through the steps using the Mississippi River example. For our initiative, this parallel lesson will be taken and used along the Apalachicola River. Teaching the scientific steps with a real life example will solidify the knowledge on students understanding on how scientists conduct research. On regular basis, Blountstown High School conducts science fairs in which students design their own experiments. Being a rural school, most students design outdoor experiments and this project allows our students to learn to design outdoor experiments. Combining middle and high school standards, the our initiative will cover over 56 Florida Next Generation Sunshine Standards and Common Core standards in subjects such as social studies, sciences, and reading. The map of the US from the BUC modules, our basis for the initiative, shows that the Mississippi River basin drains half of the US. A map, taken from the BUC Software showing the Mississippi River drainage area. This parallel study will be used for our Apalachicola River project.
How will it encourage long-lasting change in your classroom, school or community? Use of interactive modules is cited as more effective in teaching STEM compared to traditional ways. This case is even truer in the digital world, where most students now have devices which allow them access to the internet. The ability to use technology to introduce this comprehensive study shows the power of technology. Hands on activities are also an effective teaching tool. In our case we use both technologies and hands on to teach scientific investigation theory and letting students practice sustainability measures. Our project enables students to better understand sciences and conduct their own environmental experiments to see results and improve overall STEM understanding. Research shows that US students lag behind other nations in sciences and math. Educating our students and community on importance of conservation along the Apalachicola River will have long lasting effects in the community and our region.
How will technology be utilized? BUC software is designed to teach subjects and topics in the depth of knowledge which may not necessarily be available in schools. The modules bring "scientists to rural schools" where we would not normally bring scientists without incurring expenses to get the scientists to the schools. The ability to use web-based software and availability of internet enable us to bring the parallel research and trials designed for the Mississippi River to our students on a local tailored conservation and sustainability program. The depth provided in the BUC modules on the Mississippi River can only be taught through interactive software which is online and updated constantly as new information becomes available. Likewise, BUC will tailor aspects of the Mississippi River modules for the Apalachicola River and oyster production specifically for our project purposes. The BUC websites will be used to type in the reports and prompts and store the information. Likewise, pre and post tests will be done using the BUC interactive quiz questions, which will make use of the large data base of tailored questions to be developed for this particular project. The BUC quiz questions are pulled at random from large numbers of questions stored in databases to reduce students copying as a result of each student having different questions. This subsequently provides truer assessments on student comprehension of environmental concepts.
What evidence will you collect to show student gain? Pre and post tests will be used to show gains. Questions will be created and presented as pre-tests to determine students knowledge on environmental resources in Calhoun County and related STEM concepts. Students will then be presented the same tests after the activities. The pre and post tests will be assessed by University faculty. Visual assessments will be made and scored to determine improvements in computing skills. Surveys will be used to determine behavioral changes and attitude towards environmental conservation. The BUC modules log how much time students spend on the modules. This information will be collected and used in conjunction with student gains.
How will participants share your project results with the community? Several methods will be used to share our results. The initiative will be announced to all teachers and students who will be invited to participate. Blountstown High School has news section site http://www.blountstownhigh.org/school-news.cfm avenues. The news on this site is read not only by students, but by local community members. Our results will also be distributed through school newsletters as well as district newsletters. Because of the pivotal role of the Apalachicola River to the oyster industry and hence the economy of Florida, we hope to attract local media to our activities to show examples of students participating in environmental stewardship on undoubtedly one of the most important ecosystems in Florida. Furthermore, we will showcase to other regions technology being used to bring parallel studies to the region for enhanced STEM education and environmental stewardship. BUC, our collaborator will also disseminate our project as a success story to the many schools and teachers they serve in and conferences they attend. Their website is available at http://buctechnologies.com/news.html. FSU faculty Dr. Penny Gilmer will disseminate the project to FSU. The project will be shared with the Florida Aquaculture Review Council. It is hoped our project will be exemplary and to be emulated by other schools.