By Cary Dingel
SnowSchool is part of the epic 6th grade Year of the Watershed at Plumas Unified School District (PUSD). Sixth-graders head out into the snow, measuring water content and snow depth, as well as digging snow pits and snowshoeing, all the while keeping in mind that the watershed starts with winter snows.
As part of PUSD’s innovative Outdoor Core Education Program, 6th-graders district-wide focus on the Feather River Watershed, and engage in a variety of science-based activities designed to educate them on our water cycle’s importance to Plumas County and to the rest of California. In every PUSD classroom, teachers implement and integrate Outdoor Core, taking advantage of their school site’s Learning Landscapes for science, math, art, and writing units. Teachers embrace the opportunity to take their students outdoors, often planning weekly activities to get students into nature.
SnowSchool is a project of the Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and preserving winter wildlands on public lands. Through outreach and advocacy, WWA hopes to promote outdoor, science-based, snow experiences for students.
The SnowSchool curriculum, developed by WWA, gets students out into the wild snow on snowshoes. With special microscope viewing tools, students observe the myriad shapes snow crystals can take. They scoop samples of snow from a snowbank and record the weight of each. Working out some calculations with their teachers’ guidance, the students are able to determine snowpack water content.
As a result of years of extensive partnership/network building, Outdoor Education Coordinator Rob Wade was instrumental in bringing the program to PUSD students. While the students are actively engaged in learning through hands-on activities, Wade is also careful to bring an element of fun into every school group’s session. He makes sure each class gets in a good-natured snowball fight to end the day, student-scientists laughing and running, experimenting with magnitude and direction to create velocity.