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 Citizen Science Projects Grow at Outdoor School

Students at Cuyamaca Outdoor School are learning to think and act like scientists through a series of citizen science projects.

The projects started last year with a study about the goldspotted oak borer, a destructive beetle that has been killing trees at the Camp Cuyamaca site. Through that effort, students from throughout the county have participated in hands-on science lessons while providing information to researchers at UC Riverside about trees that have been damaged by the beetle.

"I was looking for opportunities for our students to be involved in real-world science projects," Principal Greg Schuett said.

Now, each outdoor education specialist at the school is coming up with at least one other citizen science project to encourage students to think like scientists. Each of these will be connected in some way with an ongoing science project where outside organizations will be using the data the children are collecting.

One of the new projects that many of the students are participating in is a look at how the life cycle of trees is changing in response to climate change. Students are collecting information about the plants in the camp and sending the data to scientists. This includes information about which plants are thriving, which are dying, and which are housing different insects.

Another is working with plant experts to repopulate the area with native vegetation. Many of the trees and plants in the area were damaged or destroyed by wildfires over the years, and nonnative plants have taken over in some spots.

Still another of the efforts has students collecting information on the relationship between aphids and lady bugs.

Teachers at the outdoor school located in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park are putting together lesson plans for the work that are tied in with Next Generation Science Standards.

Additional citizen science projects will be developed next year, Schuett said. Whatever students collect data about, the lessons cover the same concepts, he said.

Cuyamaca Outdoor School, also known as 6th Grade Camp, is run by San Diego County Office of Education's Outdoor Education unit.

The outdoor school at Camp Cuyamaca serves about 12,000 students each year during four- or five-day excursions. The camp in the mountains east of San Diego features hands-on lessons that incorporate life science, earth science, outdoor skills, Native American lore and art and many social growth opportunities.