Students produced a field guide for the San Diego Bay

Year 11 Students at High Tech High researched, edited and produced a 246 page guidebook, “Perspectives of the San Diego Bay: A Field Guide.”

CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES – If you visit San Diego Bay and discover a copy of “Perspectives of the San Diego Bay: A Field Guide”, you may not realise it’s the culmination of an eighteen month project of fifty-six eleventh graders from High Tech High. During 2005 the students researched, edited, and produced a 246 page guidebook to the biodiversity of the bay’s intertidal zones and harbours, under the guidance of teachers Jay Vavra (biology), Tom Fehrenbacher (humanities) and Rod Buenviaje (math).

During Spring, the students made nine field trips to the Bay to create the book as a central project of their junior year. The students were in charge of the vision, content, editing and layout. Their work has produced a beautifully designed and illustrated guide in the tradition of the adventurer’s log with close-up colour photographs and scientific descriptions of species ranging from sponges to herons.

With another student I made a database with coordinates and the levels of the tide heights, mapping out the amount of organisms found in a meter-by-meter square. It took a lot of teamwork trying to figure out what people want out of the graphs. We had many rows of data out of the transects-so how do we get that on a piece of paper in the field guide, so the average person can immediately pick up what is being presented? – Peter

The students’ research went beyond identifying, listing and classifying species. They were involved in multiple research projects, including census collection of macro-invertebrates as indicators of the health of water in the bay and boat channels.

If you wanted to do a similar biodiversity study in the real scientific community, this is how you would do it. Possibly a little more extensive, but we actually found a similar study in a scientific journal that used the exact same procedures. – Evan


A student-written history of mapmaking by early explorers is contrasted with maps and charts made by the students with the latest Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology.

I was down at the San Diego Historical Society for a half a week researching how the San Diego Bay mapping has evolved over time, from the Spanish settlement to the present. I needed to condense all this information into an article. – Josefina

Perspectives of San Diego Bay also has reflective, arts-based content, including poetry, which as the students say in the “Intent of Study” section, the “guide also embraces the beauty of thought, nature, and reflection in order to join the sciences and the arts in harmony.”

The students accessed community support and expertise as part of the project, initially through Jane Goodall’s worldwide organization, Roots & Shoots, aimed at youth making a difference in their community and its environment. The students wrote proposals to fund their basic expenses from national nonprofit organisations, What Kids Can Do and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As the project progressed, they arranged training in GIS from a local university research team, searched the archives with help from the curators at the city’s historical society, and sought scientific advice from experts at the San Diego Audubon Society, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

Student editors, appointed for their writing skills, energy and motivation, reviewed, critiqued and proofread the work. After several drafts, if the submission wasn’t of good quality, it was culled. In some cases, multiple writers would receive the same assignment and the best piece would be selected or different submissions would be combined. Students were also responsible for creating press kits to promote the book and tracking sales.

The book is integrated between humanities, biology, and math, so it has tons of sections. The more people you work with, the more planning and logistics you have to put into it. We were trying to divide the work between 50 or 60 people, and quality control is a big issue. Somebody submits a paper and even though it goes through proofreading, by the time we get it it’s still not quite right. The teachers gave all the planning and direction, focusing the book, but they were more mentors and guides. All the editing work was done by students. – Evan

Perspectives of San Diego Bay is available on Amazon or from Next Generation Press.

More Information:

A note from Trudy: To get a full sense of the rigour of this project, I highly recommend reading the Behind the Scenes interview with Jay Vavra and the collection of quotes as High Tech High students talk about how the field guide stretched them academically. These are the first two links above.


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