How We Help Teachers Grow Future Leaders

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

project-swell-middle-schoolTeachers know that in order to make sure our region has responsible leaders and residents in the future, we must raise a generation of science-minded students with an awareness of our regional water issues and a commitment to conserving resources. Sounds like a challenge to accomplish in the classroom, right? We thought so, too. That’s why we created Project SWELL.

Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership) is a completely free, standard-aligned, K-6 science curriculum about the importance of San Diego County’s water. San Diego Coastkeeper, City of San Diego’s Think Blue and San Diego Unified School District partnered to develop this teacher curriculum complete with models, hands-on projects and field experiences to spark students’ inner scientist, environmentalist or future responsible decision maker, all while reinforcing state standards.

Through Project SWELL, San Diego Coastkeeper provides teachers with training and in-class support including free classroom presentations, experiment kits and lesson plans. From showing first graders how trash from the schoolyard can hurt marine animals to helping sixth graders build their own watershed model, Project SWELL allows teachers to explain local environmental problems while ensuring that students meet Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math as well as Next Generation Science Standards.

During 2014 alone, San Diego Coastkeeper’s Project SWELL experts provided classroom presentations to 2,900 students in San Diego Unified School District and provided Project SWELL science education kits to hundreds of teachers for use in teaching hands-on science to students. In addition to working with San Diego Unified School District, we also provide free environmental literacy and stewardship resources to any and all educators interested in bringing water-based science education to their students and communities through Water Education for All. This includes homeschool groups and teachers outside the district, clubs, scouting organizations, camp leaders, artists and many other informal educators. Click here to browse these materials and download lessons for free.

The polls are in! Kids want to protect our waters

Written by Sandra J. Lebron
Coastkeeper Project Swell 3rd grade

3rd-4th Grade Marine Debris Lesson


How San Diego Coastkeeper took water education to the next level in 2015-2016

Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership) is a completely free, standard-aligned K-6 science curriculum about the importance of San Diego County’s water. Through Project SWELL, San Diego Coastkeeper provides all San Diego Unified School District teachers with free science kits and trainings. The curriculum explores the impacts of humans on our waters through a hands-on course of study focusing on water quality and pollution prevention.

This past school year, Project SWELL got a major boost. Thanks to a generous donor, we hired Julie Earnest as our dedicated education specialist for Project SWELL and the results have been stellar.

San Diego Coastkeeper Project Swell

6th Grade Modeling Pollution in Watersheds Experiment

The 2015-2016 school year was filled with lots of hands-on experiments, watershed models, marine debris activities and storm drain field trips for 4,460 K-6th grade students and 300 teachers. Our tireless and overly enthusiastic education specialist, Julie, offered 83 SWELL presentations in 67 schools in San Diego Unified School District.

To evaluate the effectiveness of Project SWELL, we surveyed students before and after the classroom presentations. The results of the K-6th grade student surveys showed us that more students now understand the importance of keeping our waters clean and have the desire to prevent pollution. But don’t take our word for it — see the results  yourself.


Check out how the younger students showed us what they learned with these inspirational art pieces:

Project Swell drawing4 Project Swell drawing5  Project Swell drawing3 Project Swell drawing2

Imagine the next generation of students making responsible environmental decisions because they know we should take care of the environment every day. This could mean a new generation of leaders that will be caring for our planet and teach others to do the same — the ultimate goal of environmental education.

After the classroom presentations, 96 percent of teachers said:

  • The presentation was engaging to their students
  • They would recommend the presentation to a colleague
  • They were more confident incorporating the Project SWELL curriculum into their classroom

Teachers in San Diego County can request a free professional development workshop at their schools whenever they want or join us in our scheduled workshops at the Advanced Water Purification Plant or at the District’s Instructional Media Center.

Since we started visiting schools in 2014, we have brought Project SWELL to a total of 96 schools and 7,362 K-6th grade students. Not bad for a team of two educators, some awesome interns and the support of our local donors and partners.

2nd Grade Student Surveys

2nd grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:

  • Q1: When water goes down the storm drains in San Diego, what happens to that water?
  • Q2: After it rains, why is the ocean in San Diego unsafe for swimming?

Project swell results 2nd grade


3rd – 4th Grade Student Surveys

3rd-4th grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:

  • Q2: After it rains, why is the ocean in San Diego unsafe for swimming?
  • Q3: What happens when “invisible” pollutants such as gasoline and fertilizer go into the ocean?

Project swell results 3rd.4th grade

5th Grade Student Surveys

5th grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:

  • Q1: Most of the water in San Diego used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning comes from where?
  • Q2: When water goes down the storm drains in San Diego, what happens to that water?
  • Q4: When water inside homes, schools, and businesses goes down the drain and enters the sewer system, what happens to that water?

Project swell results 5th grade

6th Grade Student Surveys

6th grade students showed an increase in learning, with the best improvements in their responses to these questions:

  • Q2: What features determine the boundary of a watershed?
  • Q4: When rainwater and urban runoff flow into storm drains in San Diego, what happens to that water?
  • Q5: When water from inside our homes flow into the sewer system in San Diego, what happens to that water?

Project swell results 6th grade

There was an average increase learning of 20-56 percent for all groups of 2nd, 3rd/4th, 5th, and 6th graders. Students showed an increase in knowledge about the difference between storm drains and sewers, where San Diego water comes from and how runoff pollution affects the ocean. This could help change behaviors in our students as well as their families and communities as they become advocates of our water resources.

San Diego Coastkeeper Education Programs

If you are not part of San Diego Unified School District, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Thanks to the support of the Port of San Diego, we’ve developed and piloted a new curriculum called Water Education for All. This is available online and has already reached nearly 3,224 children and adults in Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, Coronado, San Diego and National City.


“Water We” Westview wolverines going to do?: A High School Conservation/Ecology Project

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

Check out this water recycling dataThe challenge: Use the information on the water scarcity problems we face in San Diego to become the solution. That’s what Vicki Binswanger’s Biology class at Westview High School, Poway did. They used our education lessons and website for their class project and the results are very impressive. After learning how scarce our most important resource is, water, they were given the challenge to be a part of the solution. They had to either take action by:

  • Persuading or educating others in their community.
  • Reducing their own ecological impact.
  • Designing an experiment to further understand conservation.

Overall, this small project made a huge impact on the environment:

  • Several students managed to reduce their own water and electric bills, as well as trash production.
  • Other students educated their sports teams and children at local schools as well as persuaded local business people to promote eco-friendly ideas.
  • Many chose to design experiments where they answered their own questions related to the environment.
  • All students used research skills, analyzed data, used critical reading and writing skills and demonstrated scientific thinking. This confirms that environmental education not only promotes stewardship but also increase student’s college readiness.This water conservation report is awesome, check out why.

They also designed a website to share all their projects and titled it the Green Teen.

Ms. Binswanger loved the presentation materials, reports and data we provided. She was impressed with the outcome of the project and how well it reached the students. The project was especially successful in speaking to students that are less inspired by traditional activities because they saw authentic value in what we were doing. Using San Diego’s environmental real-life problems was important to help students connect with their science class.

Big thanks to Ms. Binswanger and her awesome biology class for sharing their project with us. You are a very inspiring group.

Project SWELL well equipped to educate future generations on water issues facing San Diego and possible solutions.

swell class projectTeachers have a great impact on the attitudes students have towards their class subjects and subsequently have the opportunity to cultivate an appreciation for San Diego Waterways. With the assistance of Think Blue and San Diego Coastkeeper’s Project SWELL curriculum, it has never been easier to instill a sense of environmental responsibility and awareness in San Diego youth.

swell class experimentThe environmental education made accessible by Project SWELL, online and through classroom presentations to all San Diego Unified School District teachers, enhances current science curricula to better address pressing environmental issues related to local waterways. The Project SWELL lesson plans help teachers meet new Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards as well as raise awareness of issues that impact the San Diego environment and actions that students can take to improve and sustain it.

For the first time ever, due to the generous donations from Stiefel/Behner Charitable Fund, Project SWELL offers a choice of classroom demonstrations. These demonstrations give students access to hands-on experiments and models that promote critical thinking in determining solutions for pollution problems in San Diego. Classroom visits also allow the teachers to learn the SWELL material in order to continue implementing in classrooms with the SWELL kit and PowerPoint presentations given to the teachers. The classroom visits consist of various lesson topics and are designed with grade levels in mind.

There are various subjects, each tailored to specific class levels. The topics include lessons about identifying a marine animals’ habitat, storm drain pollution, what types of pollution are found in San Diego waterways and San Diego watersheds, water sources, and conservation. Not only do these lessons teach students about the issues San Diego faces, but the curriculum also incorporates material on how students can personally contribute to alleviating the issue.

swell student assessmentsJudging by the pre-assessments and post assessment student results given at a variety of San Diego Unified District schools from September 2014 to December 2014, it is evident that Project SWELL lesson plans enhance students’ understanding of the connection between their actions and the natural environment.

Pre-assessments are given prior to the lesson plan and assess the knowledge on the presentation topics that students have preceding the lesson. The results demonstrate that many San Diego youth have a basic understanding on how their actions may affect the local waterways, as well as possible ways they can personally improve it. The post assessments indicate that Project SWELL deepens the students’ understanding about San Diego water supply, water conservation, and pollution problems.

The curriculum supplied by Project SWELL also helps teachers build their own environmental knowledge and teaching skills. We hope the skills and knowledge acquired from the curriculum will be a lifelong lesson for our students and teachers. We are confident that the Project SWELL lessons will motivate these individuals to inspire others to care about our most precious resource, water.

New Classroom Presentations Teach Students About Our Most Precious Resource

05.07-press-event-students-As this historic drought continues, it’s easy to see how dependent we are on water. Allowing students at a young age to explore the water in their communities creates a better understanding of how to preserve and protect this resource while gaining valuable science skills. 

That’s why in 2003, we partnered with San Diego Unified School District, and the City of San Diego’s Think Blue Outreach program to create Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership).  In Project SWELL, the impacts of humans on water are explored through a well-balanced, comprehensive, and hands-on water quality and pollution prevention course of study. Project SWELL helps teachers empower students to understand and improve the condition of San Diego waterways. 

Project SWELL is a state standards-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the region’s waterways by providing teachers with training about the scientific content, information on how to conduct scientific investigations and in-class support including materials, in class teacher trainings and lesson plans. 

Through this partnership, San Diego Coastkeeper has created a hands-on program that offers training for teachers, makes it easy to engage students and meets new standards. Each Project SWELL unit of study (grades K, 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6) consists of 5 or 6 age appropriate, standards-based lessons that build student understanding of San Diego’s aquatic environments and emphasize the actions that students can take to improve them.

SDUSD K-6 teachers are you looking for an environmental education curriculum that helps your students realize the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards? Our lessons can help your students develop critical thinking, find solutions to real-life problems using science, practice reading informational text, writing, and increase their science literacy.

And here’s what we offer for teachers:

Classroom visits free of cost. Students will do hands-on experiments, models and/or find solutions to real-life problems using science. Teachers if you want a SWELL expert to present in your staff meeting or classroom contact us today! Reservations for class visits must be submitted 2 weeks before your anticipated class visit.

SWELL Science Kits are offered through the district’s Instructional Media Center upon teacher request and include materials for 36 K-2 and 4-6 grade lessons.

Professional Development is offer twice a year for K-2nd and 4th-6th grade SDUSD teachers. Teachers receive 1.5 hrs. of professional development, SWELL kit, and time compensation. Please visit for more details and to download curriculum.

Contact us at (619) 758-7743 x125 or email To learn more about Project SWELL visit the Project SWELL website.



Marine Ecology 101

Welcome to part two of our three part blog series (see part onethree, four and five) on the best ways to enjoy San Diego’s very own ASBS and Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores are both protected areas — the Cove and Shores are both classified as Areas of Special Biological Significance and La Jolla Shores is also a marine reserve known as the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. These posts will show you how to enjoy these special places while not harming those that live there. 

Before we go exploring the tidepools, let’s learn a little bit more about this habitat.


Many species live in the narrow band between the sea and the land. Some of them make rocks their home because of the support it provides for them. These creatures are subject to many hardships: they have evolved to endure desiccation, wave impact, and insane temperature changes. Because of this they often have hard bodies with shells or calcareous (a hard, cement-like substance) deposits. Tidepools are filled with competition. Space is scarce on the rocky shore and the organisms are constantly fighting for it. They try to outgrow each other and often get creative to find new spaces. They also have to protect themselves from wave impact which is why they are often strongly attached to rocks.

The lower parts of the rocky shore are occupied by algae and other organisms that are willing to stay underwater most of the time. The higher parts are full of limpets (#8 on illustration) and barnacles (#3 on illustration) that are able to survive long periods with out water, also known as desiccation. The level of exposure to the waves and other environmental factors results in zonation of the tidepools.

Stronger organisms live in parts of the tidepools exposed to stronger waves (High Tide Zone) while fragile ones hide in protected areas (Low Tide Zone).

The zonation is very important to keep the balance of this amazing coastal ecosystem. The food web (who eats who) in the tide pools is quite complex — it consists of many levels and many different predators. As a consequence, each species has adapted to a different strategy to obtain food, creating rich and beautiful biodiversity.

tide-pool-tramplingFragile Beauty

All this ocean beauty could be menaced by our activities.

Walking (trampling)
The constant stepping on top of rocks removes their algal cover and destroys the tide pool community.

Collecting animals or even empty shells can leave the hermit crabs homeless.

Urban runoff
After it rains, the sediments and pollutants from the streets can be deadly to the tidepool creatures.

Our trash can enter the tidepools and cause damage. We need to take action to protect the tidepool communities.

The tidepools house many living creatures — when we explore them we are only guests. In the next posts, we will see what it takes to be good guests. We will talk  about “house rules”, and the ways to take care of ourselves while in this beautiful wild place.

Written by Thais Fonseca Rech

Published in Marine Conservation

La Jolla Beaches: What You Need to Know

Welcome to part one of our five part blog series (see part twothree, four and five) on the best ways to enjoy San Diego’s very own ASBS and Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores are both protected areas — the Cove and Shores are both classified as Areas of Special Biological Significance and La Jolla Shores is also a marine reserve known as the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. These posts will show you how to enjoy these special places while not harming those that live there. 

Hello, my coast-loving friends! This is the first of a series of posts about the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve and how to enjoy the best of the tidepools, while protecting our coast. A tidepool is a rocky habitat on the coast, squeezed between the waves and dry land. It is a somewhat extreme place to live on, but it’s great to explore. The activity of exploring the tidepool is called tidepooling.

La Jolla Shores is one of the busiest beaches in San Diego with its waters used by tourists and locals alike. It features bounded rocky formations, both in the North and in the South, where tide pools form during low tide. These are great places to watch the sea-life; to observe the lives of tiny animals and see the connections between different species and the elements. la-jolla-shores-sdck

During winter, low tides are much lower, creating the best conditions for tidepooling. However, during summer, the tides are higher and the water is warmer, creating perfect conditions for snorkeling. The best place for snorkeling is the rocky formations at the south of La Jolla Shores because the waves are smaller. Groups of snorkelers often flock to this area, looking for sea-life and unique rock formations.

Less known is the fact that La Jolla Shores is part of the of Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve (SMR) and subject to several rules and protection measures. Unlike in the Scripps tide pools, there isn’t a sign telling the beach-goers about the status of the area. 

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a State Marine Reserve is a demarcated area to protect part of the marine environment, where “is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living geological, or cultural marine resource, except under a permit or specific authorization from the managing agency for research, restoration, or monitoring purposes”. It is the most restrictive of marine protected areas – you shouldn’t take anything but pictures.

Educational and recreational uses are encouraged, as long as they don’t damage the environment, so enjoy! There is so much you can do in La Jolla Shores: swimming, kayaking, surfing, snorkeling, tide pooling, or just chilling on the beach.

In the next posts, we will talk about two great ways to enjoy the reserve; tidepooling and snorkeling, and learn the best ways to reduce our impact and enjoy ourselves safely during these activities.

Written by Thais Fonseca Rech



Published in Marine Conservation

Four Ways to Stay Informed about the San Diego Bay Shipyards Cleanup

The Shipyards cleanup is finally about to start. 

After decades of studies, plans, negotiations, expert reports, technical reports, legal posturing, and public hearings, we are poised to see contaminated dirt removed from San Diego Bay.  This cleanup is a critical step towards healing our bay so that it can once again be safe to feed our families fish from the bay.

TSD-Clean-Bay-Project-Maphe cleanup is slated to start by September 17 so the dredging will continue through the fall and winter months, ending before the least tern nesting season, which starts April 1.

So how can you stay on top of the cleanup progress?  What if you live or work near the shipyards and need to contact someone with a question or concern during the cleanup?  Here’s how you can stay informed:

1.  Attend a public meeting about the cleanup on Tuesday, September 10 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Barrio Station, 2175 Newton Ave, San Diego, 92113.

2.  Fill out this survey.  You can mail it back to the shipyards at: PO Box 420785, San Diego, CA 92142  or email it to  The survey lets the shipyards know how you want to stay informed about the cleanup progress–by mail, e-mail, social media or public meetings.

3.   Check out the cleanup webpage.  It contains lots of good information about the cleanup, including information about the route trucks carrying the dredged dirt will take to the highway, and a contact page where you can leave a message or get on the mailing list or e-mail list.  Information on the website is in both English and Spanish.

4.   Call the cleanup hotline at (855) 817-4397.  It contains a cleanup update message in both English and Spanish and allows you to leave a message.


Project SWELL Teaching the Teachers

Lana_1Last week, San Diego Coastkeeper and Think Blue San Diego hosted their second set of professional development workshop for the 2012-2013 academic year. During the two-day event over 20 elementary school teachers from San Diego Unified School District were trained to use  Project SWELL in their classrooms effectively.

Thanks to our three fantastic professional development instructors, countless students will be exposed to the hands-on lessons that center around the preservation and betterment of our local waters.

Project SWELL was developed through a ground-breaking partnership between San Diego CoastkeeperThink Blue (the City of San Diego) and the San Diego Unified School District. Project SWELL is a school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the PDimportance of the San Diego region’s waterways.  Project SWELL helps teachers empower students about water quality issues and helps them to understand how to improve  the condition of San Diego waterways.

Each SWELL unit of study (grades K-2 and 4- 6) consists of five or six age-appropriate, standards-based lessons that build student understanding of San Diego’s aquatic environments and emphasize the actions that students can take to improve them.

More information about Project SWELL can be found on our website:


Make an Edible Aquifer

An aquifer is an underground layer of rock, gravel, sand or silt through which water can easily move. This water can be extracted for human consumption through the use of a water well. Aquifers provide natural filtration that helps to purify the groundwater flowing through them. However, not all contanimants are rendered harmless by this purification process, and some pollution can still be found in the groundwater, making it unsafe to drink.

You can make your own model of an aquifer from things found in your grocery store. To start you need the following:

Materials Needed

  • Blue/red food coloring
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Clear soda pop (7-Up, Sprite, etc)
  • Small gummy bears, chocolate chips, crushed ice or other material to represent sand and gravel
  • Sprinkles
  • Drinking straws
  • Clear plastic cups
  • Ice cream scoop
  • Spoons

Activity Steps

  1. Fill a clear plastic cup 1/3 full with gummy bears, chocolate chips, or crushed ice. This represnts sand/gravel in your aquifer.
  2. Add enough soda to just cover the candy/ice.
  3. Add a layer of ice cream to serve as a “confining layer” over the water-filled aquifer.
  4. Then add more “sand/gravel” on top of the “confining layer.”
  5. Add a layer of sprinkled over the top to create the porous top layer (top soil).
  6. Now add the food coloring to the soda. The food coloring represents contamination. Watch what happens when it is poured on the top of the “aquifer.”
  7. Using a drinking straw, drill a well into the center of your aquifer.
  8. Slowly begin to pump the well by sucking on the straw. Watch the decline in the water table.
  9. Notice how the contaminants can get sucked into the well area and end up in the groundwater by leaking through the confining layer.
  10. Now recharge your aquifer by adding more soda which represents a rain shower.
  11. Eat and enjoy your aquifer!

Lesson adapeted from the Groundwater Foundation.