May 29, 2020 – Canyon Creek Middle School seventh grade science students have the world in a bottle.  Well, at least a pop bottle eco-column they each created to study during this time of distance learning.


Science teachers Patrick Rice and Ryan Hooser created the hands-on science project to be built at home. Using household items, as well as those supplied by the school, the student-created eco columns will ultimately support their understanding of all ecosystems and open their eyes to the interconnections in the world around them.


“It is a challenge to teach science when you cannot go into the lab and do experiments to get data to provide evidence for the concepts we are working on,” said Rice. “We have digital models and other resources but it’s not the same as working with students in the lab.”


The lesson includes an observation document that students will use three times a week to record changes and other observations in their eco-column. “This project gives students the chance to learn about Cycles of Matter and Energy within ecosystems and modeling of earth’s processes,” said Hooser. “They can make decisions about how to facilitate those cycles in their column. It’s like a model of the whole world in three 2-liter bottles.”  The lesson culminates with a “CER” (Claim, evidence and reasoning) report that details at least one of the cycles of matter they modeled in their column.


Rice and Hooser worked to make the project fun and interesting and to involve families but not put added strain on parents’ demanding schedules.  Students were surveyed to understand who could gather their own materials and who needed to receive the supplies.  “Our paraprofessionals, transportation staff, and office staff were instrumental in helping us gather, organize, and distribute the materials for this project,” said Rice. “This would not have been possible without all of these awesome people in the WSD!”


“Our hope is that it will be fun and interesting enough that students’ families will get involved out of curiosity,” said Rice. “In fact, one of our student’s parent is an environmental scientist. He provided some valuable feedback during the development of the document that students use as a guide.  It was really nice to have a professional from our industry take a look and provide some suggestions for improvement.”


One of the experiment items supplied to the students was pond scum, harvested from a local water source by Rice and wife, Margaret. The living samples were stored overnight in a refrigerator before being distributed to students via the morning bus routes.


The two teachers credit a mini grant they received form the Washougal School Foundation for making it easier to access all the supplies necessary. “Having taken advantage of the WSF mini-grant program before, Ryan and I can both say that they are amazing. They make it easy to apply for small amounts of money and are very quick in their evaluation of the application.”


“So much of what we do with students happens organically on the spot,” added Hooser. “Students’ ideas lead to projects that we can’t see coming in advance.  The mini grants give us a lot more freedom to let students guide their own learning without the worry of long-term budgeting requirements. We appreciate the WSF!”