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Sixth Grade Science: Real World Explorations

Place-based curriculum is the heart of the science program where students actively investigate their local environment to critically view the world around them. This builds a personal connection between students and the natural world.

Water Geology

The year begins with an in-depth look at water systems, sources, droughts, watershed functions and conservation. Learning objectives include developing an understanding of the flow and storage of water into large and small watersheds, and how all-urban runoff ends up in the Bay, as well as examining the origin of point source pollution, nonpoint source pollution and what we can do to help eliminate both. In one activity, students "dump" representative examples of substances existing in our storm drains, and in a later exercise they are challenged to clean up what has entered their water system.

An embedded component of the unit utilizes the Tennessee Hollow Watershed in the Presidio National Park (mere blocks from our school) as a living laboratory for field research and real-life stream monitoring. Students partake in an ongoing abiotic and biotic assessment of our local watershed. Through a series of experiments and observations, students analyze indicator species and biological clues, and perform chemical tests to inspire a deeper understanding, connection and curiosity about our local water systems. We end the unit looking at water conservation, wise-use practices, and a final investigation of San Francisco’s drinking water and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Ecology of the San Francisco Bay

In spring, we turn our attention to the natural history of the San Francisco Bay. Integrated components involve ongoing field research in the Presidio, laboratory experiments, simulations and model building. Concentration on the San Francisco Bay/Estuary, wetlands, tides, food-webs, natural geological formation and pollution encompass much of this final unit. We look at the impacts of the Gold Rush, lingering mercury levels, cargo ships and ballast water. Highlighting the rare and diverse abundance of flora and fauna unique to California, students gain a rich understanding of the beautiful Bay Area and its natural diversity. While emphasizing the need to protect the estuary from pollution, development and an expanding economy, students gain appreciation and form personal connections with their local environment.

The Baylis Research Boat

A culminating spring field trip is the Baylis Research Experience. Students board the Derek M. Baylis research vessel at the San Francisco Yacht Club and spend the day sailing past Alcatraz, Angel Island, Sausalito Bay, and sometimes under the Golden Gate Bridge. At various points along the way, students work with marine biologists collecting and analyzing water quality samples. They also check PH levels, temperature at various depths, salinity and turbidity, as well as conduct mammal counts. A highlight for the students are the plankton samples that are collected and viewed under microscopes on the vessel. This experience allows students to see what marine biologist actually do in the field. The data collected is used by on-board scientists to determine the health of the Bay.