Nation’s First Wildfire Science Curriculum Developed by SDSU, County Partners

Nation’s First Wildfire Science Curriculum Developed by SDSU, County Partners

2May 2005


This fall, tens of thousands of elementary and middle school students around San Diego County will have the opportunity to learn environmental lessons from the 2003 firestorms through the nation’s first comprehensive post-wildfire science curriculum, now under development at San Diego State University.

The program, called the San Diego Wildfires Education Project, is being created by educators and scientists in SDSU’s College of Education and partners at the San Diego County Office of Education, San Diego County Water Authority, San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Science Alliance and other local government and environmental education groups.

The project’s leaders say the curriculum, which will be given to county elementary and middle schools at no cost, fills a gaping hole in the region’s healing process from the tragic conflagrations, which charred 376,000 acres, destroyed 2,400 homes and killed 17 people in October 2003.

“We need a region-wide educational component to our recovery that focuses on understanding the wildfire process, including origins, frequency and environmental recovery,” said Stephen F. Barnes, adjunct professor of education at SDSU and director of the San Diego Wildfires Education Project. “This program will help children get past the scary nature of fires to realize that fires are a regular part of the urban/wildland interface, how important it is to study water and air pollution and other impacts from fires, and how the recovery of habitats and species occurs after fires.”

A primary focus of this project is to motivate students and teachers from the most fire-affected areas to understand and participate in monitoring and analyzing the environmental recovery process. Barnes said there are about 16,000 children and 950 teachers in grades K-8 who will be specifically targeted for this part of the program due to their proximity to the fire areas. However, the curriculum is being designed for use by all elementary and middle schools throughout the county—400 elementary schools, 85 middle schools and approximately 280,000 students and their teachers.

“Ideally we want to prepare teachers and their students to go into the field, observe and collect data in ways that provide meaningful, memorable lessens for them, and also help these young scientists analyze what’s actually going on in post-burn areas,” Barnes said.

Teachers and students throughout the county will have access to a wide range of classroom-oriented, post-fire learning tools and materials, including science projects, downloadable Web files, and DVDs featuring virtual tours of burn areas and video interviews with environmental experts.

Project staff are adapting environmental science, fire ecology, and local field studies to create the post-fire science curriculum, emphasizing source and runoff pollution, watershed and habitat restoration, and species recovery in San Diego’s chaparral and forested areas. Project staff expect materials to be completed and available by mid-August.

Many of the curriculum materials, once completed, will be accessible for downloading from the San Diego Wildfires Education Project Web site.


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