project swell Archives - San Diego Coastkeeper

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.

We Just Inspired 875 More Future Leaders to Love Our Water

Soon, our water’s fate will be out of our hands — our kids will be in charge. That’s why we’re excited to announce that over the past few months, we have educated and inspired over 875 children and their family members to love and protect San Diego’s water. By partnering with Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and League of Extraordinary Scientists, we brought Water Education For All curricula to classrooms countywide. And we keep working after the school bell rings to inspire young minds outside of class, too.


On October 6, 2015, we joined Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’s 52 Weeks of Science kickoff event, offering exciting, hands-on lessons about the specific water quality issues in kids’ own San Diego County backyards, rivers and beaches. Most importantly, we let them solve these problems on their own, offering them the thrill of building solutions to real problems that affect their families. These interactive projects are key to helping kids stay hooked on protecting our water for life.


On December 3, 2015, San Diego Coastkeeper presented at another 52 Weeks of Science event at the Boys and Girls club. We discussed the importance of water conservation and how students could start conserving as soon as they got home. We then brought out the crowd favorite, our hands-on watershed model, to demonstrate how urban runoff pollution travels from land to the ocean, and played a game to discover how long San Diego’s most common types of marine debris take to decompose.

We also teamed up with the League of Extraordinary Scientists and Engineers to incorporate our Water Education for All lesson on watersheds into its “Making Waves” tour held at libraries and community centers across San Diego. The League captured kids’ attention with the opportunity to interact with live marine organisms native to San Diego. Then, through our Water Education For All lesson and hands-on watershed model, they learned how our pollution on land can affect the health of these animals, building strong understanding of the importance of preventing urban runoff, the largest threat to San Diego’s water quality. Kids learned that urban runoff is made of pollutants like trash, dog poop, oil, cigarette butts and, as one student correctly suggested, “even hot cheetos.”

After the League witnessed our watershed curriculum and model inspiring both kids and parents to become environmental stewards, the its board of directors decided to permanently incorporate our watershed curriculum into its countywide classroom tours, which are anticipaed to reach 2,700 San Diego students in 2016. The League is even planning on building a larger mobile watershed with a clear floor and walls and gutters that lead to an artifical ocean. 

You can help bring water education to even more future leaders in the coming months. Share water science with your classroom or familiy by downloading our free Water Education For All curriculum, available in both English and Spanish. We are grateful to the Port of San Diego, our education interns and our partners League of Extradordinary Scientists and Engineers and Reuben H. Fleet Science Center for making these lessons and events possible.

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.

More San Diego Teachers Are Getting SWELL!

environmental education san diegoProject SWELL has been busy preparing San Diego’s future leaders to understand the role of water in our region and in our future by preparing those who teach them to talk about the importance of the region’s waterways.  Last month, we partnered with the San Diego Unified School District and Think Blue for two free workshops for K-2nd and 4th-6th grade teachers.

As part of our efforts to promote environmental education and increase science knowledge and stewardship among San Diego children, both workshops and science SWELL kits were made available to 20 San Diego-area school teachers.  

As part of that process we heard from teachers regarding what they found most valuable about Project SWELL Professional Development workshops. We are always happy to get feedback that helps us to hone and further develop processes, lessons and other facets of the program.

The teachers who participated reported enjoying learning to use the Project SWELL kits, which include all the materials that their students need to learn Project SWELL curriculum. Teachers said the kits would both engage and reach their students.  Another highlight they mentioned was the background information about storm water pollution and pollution prevention that can be used to reinforce and support the curriculum.  

The teachers also had the opportunity to explore Project SWELL website and learn how teaching SWELL can help their students realize Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.

Overwhelmingly and to our delight, teachers repeatedly reported that they liked to share ideas with other teachers  and learn all they can about our local habitats, pollution prevention and the importance of keeping our waters clean

Realizing that the website allowed them the opportunity to do both, the teachers were thrilled to find lessons and materials that help their students not only learned about our environment, but also develop the critical thinking skills young people  develop when engaging in hands-on science activities.

We were happy to see teachers getting SWELL for their classrooms because we know they are going to be teaching hundreds of student and preparing San Diego’s leaders of tomorrow to protect the environment! That is great news for the future of fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters.

If you want to participate in the next free workshop or want to get a SWELL kit for your classroom please contact Project SWELL at

A special thanks our sponsors Subway in Kearny Mesa and Barons Market in Point Loma for providing refreshments for our dedicated teachers!

Educators Come Together to Discuss Science Curricula, Including Project Swell

San Diego Coastkeeper recently had the exciting opportunity to take part in the San Diego Science Educators Association conference. The conference serves as an opportunity for educators of all grade levels to explore new standards, gauge the impact these standards might have on their curricula,Jocelyn at SDSEA and learn tools to help bridge the gap between outdated and newly approved methodologies.

Because the California Department of Education recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) model, many science educators intimated that they were very anxious to discover the impact of these new standards on their lesson plans.  More than 500 educators came together to share ideas and collaborate on the goal of motivating and encouraging a love of science in their students.

Coastkeeper’s own Sandra Lebron hosted a 50 minute session entitled “Project SWELL’s Environmental Education Curriculum”, where she spotlighted techniques that both spark the scientist in students and improve their speaking, reading, writing, and math skills. She emphasized that students of all ages can be inspired to make changes when they recognize the environmental implications of human activities on our waterways. In providing young people this lesson, she suggested, we can empower and embolden a new community to protect San Diego’s waterways.

Project SWELL also had an opportunity to host a booth where we were happy to hear from many fans of the Project SWELL curriculum and have the chance to introduce the program to some who had not discovered it. In addition to workshops, there were also several other  science-related area businesses and organizations hosting booths, they included the Wild Animal Park, CPO Science, the Living Coast Discovery Center, and Lockheed Martin.

It was very interesting to see the wide array of techniques already available to assist educators in the shift to the Next Generation Science Standards; they ranged low tech solutions like simple paper and water, to the more high tech like tablet and other electronic tools.  If the energy in the conference was any indication, a lot of San Diego students will be buzzing about science soon. That could spell good things for fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters in San Diego!

Project SWELL Inspires Students & Teachers Alike

Project SWELL Making a WatershedWhen should you start your environmental education? No matter what your age, the answer is always right now! At a recent Project SWELL workshop, San Diego area 6th graders discovered that you are never too young to learn the dynamics of our local watersheds.

Environmental education has many goals, including engaging students in learning about the environment and creating a generation of citizens empowered to make environmentally responsible decisions. Project SWELL’s environmental science curriculum is designed to present hands-on, inquiry-based activities to engage students in scientific exploration, with the hope that those students leave with a sense of increased environmental awareness and responsibility. In particular, the project aims to raise consciousness about one of our most precious resources—water.

In addition to the excitement of learning to build their very own watersheds, these newly-minted environmentalist were quick to recognize that watersheds in urban environments like San Diego face a multitude of threats from a variety of everyday occurrences. Walking our pets, driving our cars, building construction and a variety of other activities all leave their mark, often in the form of pollutants.

Pollutants, the traces of human life on earth– pet waste, leaky cars/oil, car soap, detergents, trash, sewage and much more– usually end up in our waterways. The 6th graders discussed what pollutants were and how they entered our waters, followed by the fun of exploring their own ideas for solutions.

With common-sense and achievable solutions, such as “don’t litter” and “clean up after your pet,” the students proved that all of us can change our habits to help our waters.  

This group of young people made it clear that passing the torch of environmental consciousness is well worth it. Here is to a new generation of stewardship of our waterways.

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:


Students Discover the Impact of Marine Debris

Every time I present at a school, I am always struck by how hungry students are for hands-on environmental education. Revently, I had the pleasure of meeting with over 200 students from Linda Vista Elementary and Carson Elementary school.SDCK_1

The students were in the middle of an environmental curriculum and were looking for additional engagement around the topic of water quality and pollution control. To augment their learning, San Diego Coastkeeper came in to teach a hands-on lesson from Project SWELL,  school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region’s waters.

Each lesson began with a simple question: What is marine debris and how does it affect the animals that live in marine environments? After spending a few minutes brainstorming ideas the students got an opportunity to model how entanglement can affect a sea animal.

Sarah Hargis, the Literacy Supervisor at Linda Vista Elementary had this to say about the presentation:

“[This] presentation not only gave real insight to our students’ questions, but also gave them hands-on activities that simulated real situations that occur in the environment due to human negligence. We wouldn’t have been able to have a successful environmentalism unit without Ms. Gipson’s presentation. We look forward to having her visit again and continue being part of our effort to educate students on the environment.”SDCK_2

Thanks Sarah! I look forward to working with your students again.

Interested in learning more about Project SWELL? Visit us online at


San Diego Coastkeeper at Millennial Tech Middle School

We spent a great evening at Millennial Tech Middle School’s Winter Science Festival in the Chollas View neighborhood of San Diego. San Diego Coastkeeper Core volunteer Caitlin, San Diego Coastkeeper’s education coordinator Nia, and I were on-hand to provide brief 25-minute educational sessions on marine debris.

The ‘Marine Sea Animal Entanglement Exercise’ was shared with students and their parents. Eliciting answers to questions regarding how marine debris such as plastic bags, cigarette butts, oil, and other items end up in the ocean and have their effect on sea life from students was fun and students always provided many examples of how this happens. Students know remarkably well the effects of pollution on their environment and how it can affect marine life as they explain it to everyone participating in the exercise.MTM_2

The exercise has students (and parents) pinch their fingers together like a dolphin beak or rostrum, pick up beans scattered on their table (representing fish), and placing them in a container for a 30 second time span. Each student then counts how many fish she or he caught and scores are tallied. Then a rubber band (representing a plastic bag entangled on the beak) is placed over the fingers and students again try to catch fish for 30 seconds. Scores are tallied and students can see the effects that this has on animals trying to survive in the wild.

One of the more interesting discoveries by most parents doing this exercise is that San Diego sewage and stormwater drainage are really two separate entities, that is, stormwater does drain directly into the ocean taking all the trash that accumulates on streets and watersheds with it directly. Educating parents and their young students in outreach activities like this is another step to moving towards San Diego Coastkeeper’s goal of having swimmable, fishable and drinkable water for everyone.

Millennial Tech Middle School is a magnet school with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Post written by Hector Valtierra. Hector is a member of San Diego Coastkeeper’s Community Advisory Council.


Make a Mini Water Cycle


The water cycle, also known as the hydrological cycle, is the process in which water moves and changes on Earth. All the water on Earth, whether it’s the water that we drink, the water that sustains the ocean or the rain that falls from the sky, has been around for millions of years. Because of the atmosphere, water molecules are trapped here on Earth for us, and all other life forms, to drink, use and enjoy.

There are three states of water: solid (ice), liquid and gas (water vapor). Water changes from one state to another because of the application of heat.  As you heat up the molecules in ice, it melts and becomes water and eventually evaporates into water vapor. Removing that heat causes water to condense and reverse this process.  This is the water cycle.

You can easily make your own mini water cycle at home using just a few materials. Here is what you need:

  • 1 plastic tub
  • 1 plastic cup
  • 1 small rock or marble
  • 1 roll of cling wrap plastic (or similar)
  • 1 roll of wide tape to seal the still
  • Water_cycleSoil or sand
  • 1 – 2  cups of water


  1. Add your soil to the plastic tub.
  2. Position the plastic cup in the center of the tub, partially submerged in the soil for stability.
  3. Sprinkle 1-2 cups of water over the soil.
  4. Seal the tub with cling wrap and tape. Add a pebble or large marble directly above the cup forming a depression in the cling wrap.
  5. Place the solar still in a still and sunny location. Observe your still throughout the day. What do you notice happening?

Follow-up Questions:

  1. How does water get into the oceans?
  2. What are clouds? What are clouds made of?
  3. How does rain form?

Did you build your own water cycle? We want to see! Send us a picture at and be featured on our blog.

Are you a teacher who wants to use environmental education lessons in your classroom? Checkout Project SWELL: a school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region’s waterways. The project helps teachers empower students about how to understand and improve the condition of San Diego waterways.