Making a guide to their bay

High Tech High students talk about...

How the Field Guide project stretched them academically:

With another student I made a database with coordinates and the levels of the tide heights, mapping out the amount of organisms found in a meter-by-meter square. It took a lot of teamwork trying to figure out what people want out of the graphs. We had many rows of data out of the transects-so how do we get that on a piece of paper in the field guide, so the average person can immediately pick up what is being presented?

I was involved in the database parsing, putting all the information together in a graphed format. I'm a programmer, and in regular programming you don't use a lot of different algorithms, you use a lot of graphical user interface instead. But for this, I had to pre-plan everything on a piece of paper, I had to do a lot of math that I couldn't just do in my head, and then I would go ahead and program it and have the graphs generated. I had to stay up till like one o'clock in the morning to finish all my work. (Peter)

I was down at the San Diego Historical Society for a half a week researching how the San Diego Bay mapping has evolved over time, from the Spanish settlement to the present. I needed to condense all this information into an article. (Josefina)

Certain aspects of the research were challenging—finding the Latin meaning of the word and translating it to English terms. We took anthopleura, its genus, and broke it down into different types. It was hard to find bay mussel. The Latin name has changed over the years, so which one is it? (Danielle)

We actually had to walk out there on the shore and angle it ourselves. We had to pace ourselves, and count our steps, and every time the angle changed we would start all over with our paces. Then we would come back and hand-draw a map. (Danielle)

If you wanted to do a similar biodiversity study in the real scientific community, this is how you would do it. Possibly a little more extensive, but we actually found a similar study in a scientific journal that used the exact same procedures. (Evan)

Real-world skills the project required:

First semester, I wrote most of the grant with another student. It was interesting seeing the project through from start to finish. We needed money, transportation, and resources. We needed to network with the community so we could go to the Boat Channel, the San Diego Bay, schedule field trips and meetings with the San Diego Bay Advisory Committee for Ecological Assessment. I've been to a couple of meetings at the San Diego Port. (Josefina)

We only found the sea anemone at one location, the Coronado Islands, not at the other seven sites. We came up with a few ideas as to why it was only at Coronado Island-because of the water flow, Coronado is at the narrowest part of the bay, so it pushed the water through faster which provides more food for the sea anemone. Then there was the sand being coarse at Coronado, as opposed to other sites where it was more silt. We discussed it with Dr. Paul Dayton, who's an oceanographer at Scripps, and he replied to our email. He agreed to most of our ideas, and others, based on his experience, he didn't find to be so true. Another professor at SDSU also gave feedback, so it was really interesting. I wrote it up in the introduction. (Danielle)

With a project like this, you have to plan everything two months ahead, and make sure you have back-up plans so nothing falls through. We had one instance where we were going to go down to Coronado Island and do some research there, but the buses decided not to come that day. That put us back about two weeks, and because of that we were cramming to finish the book. (Chandler)

The public and personal meanings of the project:

It broadened my horizon on how much biology affects us on a daily basis, and how many different things are involved in biology. I hadn't been down to the bay since I was a little girl. I didn't know there was so many different bays. The Boat Channel and the Spanish Landing are right in the back yard of our school, and there's also Harbor Island, Scripps Beach, and Coronado. (Danielle)

Coronado Island used to be two separate islands before it got filled in. It looked very different than it does today, and that was very interesting to see. In this book we have a section that shows old maps, showing how the bay has changed over the hundreds of years it has been filled up. The Navy air station was one of the reasons it got filled in. It got transformed into the Naval Training Center. The San Diego River, the one that goes underneath Mission Bay, right now dumps into the Pacific Ocean near Mission Bay, but about a hundred years ago it used to dump into the bay right behind the school over here, through what's now this old Boat Channel. (Evan)

Even though I live here, I wasn't really interested before in how our whole San Diego coast got made, the history. It's all man-made. Where we're at right now is a landfill. In different seasons, the river changes direction. Before they built this place, they decided which side would be a better place to build and blocked it off. (Alex)

I was amazed to find out about the industrialization of San Diego. Our teacher sat us down on the bay right in front of downtown, to do poems. I was staring at these big buildings and thinking, Wow, San Diego must be using a lot of the bay to supply its resources. I spent most of the time drawing and illustrating the bay and drawing the boats and the birds with the background overlay of San Diego downtown. (Peter)

It's really interesting how people respond to the industrialization, to the diversity, and to the general state of the San Diego boat channel—the impact that all the boats and harbors have on the biodiversity of the bay. I think it's hard to enjoy the natural beauty, to be at one with nature, to see the water as a place to go and reflect, when you have all the hustle and bustle of the city. It's hard to slow down and enjoy the moment. (Josefina)

The publication process

The project required a lot of teamwork, finding students with the right strengths to do whatever particular section they're good at. The editors are pretty good at Photoshop and illustrating the book, putting things together; and we have the writers, and the database people. If you put students in their best fields, you get the best results, because the flow is not interrupted with someone who doesn't really know what they're doing. (Josefina)

The book is integrated between humanities, biology, and math, so it has tons of sections. The more people you work with, the more planning and logistics you have to put into it. We were trying to divide the work between 50 or 60 people, and quality control is a big issue. Somebody submits a paper and even though it goes through proofreading, by the time we get it it's still not quite right. The teachers gave all the planning and direction, focusing the book, but they were more mentors and guides. All the editing work was done by students. (Evan)

Each class edited each other's work four times. Then it goes to the main editors of the class, and then they have the kids revise it and then it goes to the teachers. When I tell my friend at another school what we're doing, he's like "Oh no, that sounds too hard!" But the teachers take it step by step, all along the way. Even if it's hard, they will work with you to get the job done. (Alex)

Their sense of motivation and engagement

It gave me a sense of satisfaction that I was working on something that people were actually going to use and reference. One day I was up till one o'clock working on this because I really wanted to give good quality towards the project. (Peter)

I took out the red pen and edited away, and I felt proud that this would be out in the world for others to use. (Josefina)

Biology's never really interested me, but I did enjoy doing the 200-word write-ups. I'm more of an engineer so I liked working with the GPS devices and compasses and using trigonometry to map the boat channel. And sometimes I write poetry, I'd just never really developed it. Now that I can see it coming together and see what it's all about, I would probably put a little more enthusiasm into the work at the beginning. (Merlin)

I love poetry, I love the whole English aspect of this. We were given an hour to sit there and relax and reminisce and express how we felt at the time and just be completely honest. Sometimes we were tired, sometimes we didn't want to be there, sometimes we were just hot. I have some poems in the book and I'm really excited about it. I want to pursue a career in writing and to have my work published is a good step for me. (Danielle)

My previous experiences with sciences were doing very rudimentary labs at my old high school. To be able to go out in the field to do research was a great experience. (Chandler)

Click here to read an interview with teacher Jay Vavra.

Click here to return to "Making a Guide to Their Bay."


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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator