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Vargas students design safer wind turbines to better protect wildlife


009Wide eyes, gaping mouths and audible gasps described the scene at Vargas Elementary when fourth graders were treated to a very special guest teacher in October.

Taborri, a red-tailed hawk, was introduced to the students by a team from Wildlife Associates, a wildlife education nonprofit that cares for non-releasable animals. As the bird stretched her wings, displaying her nearly four-foot wingspan, Michelle Durant, Wildlife Associates program manager, pointed out to students, the bird’s drooping wing.

Taborri had been injured in the wild but had been rescued by the nonprofit. Although Taborri is unable to survive in the wild, Durant explained that bird has taken on the role of a teacher, demonstrating that there are many challenges for wildlife living in today’s modern world and that they are threatened by many things.015

Through a unique partnership with Wildlife Associates, students explored the challenges facing scientists today as they work to maintain both wildlife and sustainable energy solutions, in particular, having to do with wind turbines.

Students received an overview of California habitats, the species that live there and how to better protect birds of prey.

A team of wildlife specialists introduced students to live birds of prey and worked with students over the course of the month in small groups. Students became experts in the anatomy of different birds and what makes each species in the area unique, how electricity works and how wind turbines harness wind energy. Students then spent two weeks designing their own solutions to help wildlife and the wind power industry better coexist. On the final day of the unit, Wildlife Associates returned to hear students’ presentations.
011Students recommended solutions that ranged from using sensors to detect birds before they got too close to the turbines, causing the turbine to stop spinning to projecting sounds of predators to scare birds away from the turbines.

Michelle Durant, Wildlife Associates Program Manager said the goal of this new science unit is to look at a real-time environmental problem and to have students think about how they could address it and to empower them by teaching them that they are capable of solving an issue that even adults don’t have the answer to.

“They started out each day with a story of one of our birds from Wildlife Associates and that does a couple of things,” Durant said. “It maintains a sense of empathy towards the birds, but it also keeps them connected to the mission, to the goal of the unit…because those are the birds that they’ve gotten to know through the unit. You want kids to care; you want them to have a sense of connection and responsibility towards something besides themselves.”

Vargas is one of four schools in the area to pilot the unit designed by Wildlife Associates, whose mission is to inspire compassion, empathy, and understanding for all living things while bringing science alive.

Fourth-grade teacher, Stephen Adona, said he thoroughly enjoyed the partnership with Wildlife Associates and that he was provided with the materials, digital lesson plans, and a pacing guide.

“My students were so excited to see a real owl and hawk just a few feet away from them! The curriculum was engaging as the students got to work in groups to build pinwheels to emulate wind turbines and use hand crank generators to study how mechanical energy can be converted to electrical energy. They also loved designing their own wind turbines to make them safer for birds and presenting these designs with their teammates. ”

Article by District Communications Coordinator Alia Wilson.

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