Campus: San Diego State University -- May 2, 2005

SDSU Developing First Post-Wildfire Science Curriculum Materials to Be Offered Free to Elementary and Middle Schools This Fall

This fall, tens of thousands of elementary and middle school students around San Diego County will have the opportunity to learn environmental lessons from the 2003 firestorms through the nation's first comprehensive post-wildfire science curriculum, now under development at San Diego State University.

The program, called the San Diego Wildfires Education Project, is being created by educators and scientists at SDSU's College of Education and partners at the San Diego County Office of Education, San Diego County Water Authority, San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Science Alliance and other local government and environmental education groups.

The curriculum will be given to county elementary and middle schools at no cost. Project leaders say these materials help fill a gaping hole in the region's healing process from the tragic conflagrations, which charred 376,000 acres, destroyed 2,400 homes and killed 16 people in October 2003.

"We need a region-wide educational component to our recovery that focuses on understanding the wildfire process, including origins, frequency and environmental recovery," said Stephen F. Barnes, Ph.D., adjunct professor of education at SDSU and director of the San Diego Wildfires Education Project. "This program will help children get past the scary nature of fires to realize that fires are a regular part of the urban/wildland interface, how important it is to study water and air pollution and other impacts from fires and how the recovery of habitats and species occurs after fires."

A primary focus of this project is to motivate students and teachers from the most fire-affected areas to understand and participate in monitoring and analyzing the environmental recovery process. Barnes said there are about 16,000 children and 950 teachers in grades K-8 who will be specifically targeted for this part of the program. However, the curriculum is being designed for use by all elementary and middle schools throughout the county - 400 elementary schools, 85 middle schools and approximately 280,000 students and their teachers. Younger children will learn through traditional and in-school interactive methods. Older children will learn through virtual encounters with San Diego's habitats and actual science data collection methods.

"Ideally we want to prepare teachers and their students to go into the field, observe and collect data in ways that provide meaningful, memorable lessens for them and also help these young scientists analyze what's actually going on in post-burn areas," Barnes said.

Teachers and students throughout the county will have access to a wide range of classroom-oriented, post-fire learning tools and materials, including science projects, downloadable Web files and DVDs featuring virtual tours of burn areas and video interviews with environmental experts.

Project staff are adapting environmental science, fire ecology and local field studies to create the post-fire science curriculum, emphasizing source and runoff pollution, watershed and habitat restoration and species recovery in San Diego's chaparral, backcountry, and forested areas. The curriculum will be compliant with statewide science standards for elementary and middle schools. Project staff expect materials to be completed and available by mid-August.

"Fire ecology is a subject that affects us all each year, but is seldom discussed beyond the immediate crises," said Ivan Golakoff, Education Programs Supervisor for the San Diego County Water Authority and co-director of the San Diego Wildfires Education Project. "This curriculum will help make science relevant for students by allowing them to study the ecology and science of fire in their own back yards. It will also provide students the opportunity to become involved in the fire recovery process, which hopefully will make them better stewards of the environment."

The project has received preliminary funding from the San Diego Foundation and the Hans and Margaret Doe Charitable Trust.

More information about the San Diego Wildfires Education Project is available at Once completed, many of the curriculum materials will be accessible for downloading from the Web site.

Jason Foster, SDSU Marketing & Communications, (619) 594-2585, Mobile (619) 992-0772

Stephen F. Barnes, Ph.D.,, Adjunct Professor of Education SDSU Department of Administration, Rehabilitation, Postsecondary Education Office (619) 594-8806

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