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April 15, 2009 > Science teacher to present at international conference

Science teacher to present at international conference

By Miriam G. Mazliach

Kimberly Pratt first became interested in science when she saw dolphins as a little girl. That interest grew after taking Biology in seventh grade and manifested into a teaching career. Little did the Union City educator know that one day she would be one of three U.S. science teachers selected to present at a prestigious international gathering.

Pratt developed B-WET, Bay Watershed Education and Training, which teaches students about environmental issues, pollution and oceans. After presenting the program at the U.S. Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco, she was encouraged to apply for the European meeting.

To her great thrill, she will present to educators and scientists from 83 countries at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Austria next week.

Now in her tenth year as an instructor, the enthusiasm in Pratt's voice comes across as she talks about how much she loves science and teaching. "It's an amazing career so far. I really like to see the kids learn and sparkle. Seeing them getting excited about science gets me excited."

Pratt first taught fifth grade and was the Math/Science Core teacher at Cabello Elementary for about eight years until the school closed. Two years ago, she came to Alvarado Elementary, where she is the Science Specialist. She teaches the subject to 900 students who rotate in once a week.

In 2005, Pratt spent three weeks tracking marine mammals on a research sailboat. The experience whet her appetite for geoscience, the field of exploration, discovery and Earth stewardship. She felt so inspired it led her to create B-WET and write a grant proposal to obtain funding.

"Chief Scientist Dr. Karin Forney of the Southwest Fisheries Service Center of NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], who was on the marine mammal research boat, was very encouraging when I decided to write the proposal and has written letters of recommendation for all the years of the grant." Forney also became a mentor to Pratt when she chose to work toward a degree in Marine Science.

B-WET took off with an original grant for $26,000. Pratt chartered a boat to take students out on the water to learn about tide pools and the environment. After involvement in the program, science test scores shot up an incredible 120 percent, math scores rose 44 percent, and even language arts scores increased by 92 percent.

"When kids are engaged in school, they do better in every subject," Pratt asserts.
After such astounding results, she wrote another grant proposal and brought the program from Cabello to Alvarado Elementary. Next year it will include Pioneer Elementary as well.

At least 10 other third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers are involved and supportive of this all-educational standards based program. "I would like the other teachers to get even more involved and to eventually take over some B-WET responsibilities, as it is important to give people an opportunity to be helpful and to take part," Pratt says. "Also, the school district administration has been incredibly supportive and I'm extremely grateful for that."

Students also learn about non-point source pollution, track it to the creek near their school, do creek cleanup, study ecology, and learn how pollution can migrate from the creek to the Bay and out to the ocean. Students see how pollution and debris can harm sea life and birds such as the albatross.

"Birds eat the plastics that are floating around in the ocean, and the mother bird feeds the baby birds these pieces of plastic," Pratt explains. "Then when the baby bird is ready to leave the nest, they regurgitate a bolus [round mass] of undigested material that can contain rocks or squid beaks along with the plastic. The students get to dissect the bolus and categorize the material they find, thereby learning more about our local environment."

In June, students have an "Ocean Night" and put on an ecology-based musical called "Tide-Pool Condos." Fourth and fifth graders organize a carnival with games.

In addition to her upcoming presentation in Austria, Pratt's accomplishments are getting recognized in other areas. Recently, she flew to Boston to meet with the executive producer of a science-based television show in development at WGBH, the Boston PBS affiliate. She has been asked to serve as the program's advisor. The show, geared for ages 6-10, plans to focus on physical science during the first season and biology in season two.

"I really hope that teachers are finding the time for environmental education in their curriculum. Our kids are important, the planet is important. When you bring the two together, kids really care," she says with passion. "Teachers have the power to give this message to help the environment and to help kids keep learning."

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