Exploring California Biodiversity inspires urban children to appreciate the rich diversity of life. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UC Berkeley, the program helps students recognize that biodiversity is not confined to rainforests in exotic places, but extends to their own backyards. The program brings students into wild landscapes, acquaints them with field researchers, and brings them to UC Berkeley’s Natural History Museums to see scientists at work.
Four graduate student teaching fellows associated with the UC Berkeley Natural History Museums spend a year working with students to teach them about biodiversity and the process of science. Two fellows work with Truckee-area elementary schools, and two with an urban, minority-dominated East Bay school. Truckee classes visit Sagehen Creek Field Station to learn about the diversity of organisms that live in California and techniques for discovering this diversity. Among other activities, the students learn how to capture, identify animals, and release them back into the wild; collect and preserve plants; observe animals in the wild; navigate using a compass and GPS unit, and maintain accurate field notes. Bay Area students take field trips to local areas as well as the Berkeley Natural History Museums. Along the way, they build natural history collections in their schools, study museum specimens, and learn to apply interpretive tools.
Key to the program’s success is hiring graduate students who can capture the interest and imagination of young students. The program seeks out students who are advanced in their research, have a strong desire to work with a younger audience, and are creative about how to approach non-university audiences. The selected fellows undergo training and develop the curriculum in July and August before the school year begins; they are evaluated and mentored as the year progresses.
In addition to reaching underserved students, the program provides opportunities for UC Berkeley graduate students to teach and communicate their specialized knowledge to younger students from diverse backgrounds. The program also provides a means through which the University can connect with local public schools, particularly in minority-dominated institutions. Finally, the program highlights some of UC Berkeley’s finest assets, its museums and natural reserves.