Students tracking environmental changes at Yellowstone National Park

Students at two HISD schools are helping to monitor the health of the planet, and it’s all thanks to one passionate teacher.

For the past 17 years, Ann Linsley has been taking her Bellaire High School IB and AP geography and environmental science students on field trips to Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Six years ago, she added a group of Pin Oak Middle School students, and this year Pin Oak Principal Rita Graves accompanied them as well.

The seven-day field trips integrate the sciences and social sciences with geography, geology, ecology and biology. Students visit some of the world’s great thermal hot spots, exploring steam vents, hot springs, mud pots, and geysers in locations like the Great Salt Lake, Grand Tetons National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.

“The geosciences are not a lab science class,” Linsley said. “Our lab is the field. We assess the health index of geothermal streams and springs where my classes have been collecting data for more than eight years.”

Pin Oak students work alongside Bellaire students collecting and testing water samples for a long-term study of local streams in Yellowstone. The thermal data they collect is given to the Yellowstone Education office, but park rangers collect data as well, because it is the first indication of changes in the volcanic/geothermal behavior of the region.

“We are assessing the health of the river system,” said Linsley. “In some areas, we are seeing higher temperatures and more flow, while others have had their water source altered, which affects the higher end of temperatures.”

Linsley’s classes complete the interpretation and analysis of samples back at school. Their lab reports are written in the analytical method required by the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, and comprise 25 percent of the students’ scores on the IB geography final exam.

“Many of these kids have never been out of the city, so this is quite an experience for them,” said Linsley, “They have to pack light and dress for temperatures that can get down to 25 degrees. We don’t go out to eat either – we bring provisions and prepare them ourselves. The students pay their own way, saving all year for the trip.”

Linsley is a graduate of Bellaire, where she has been teaching for 29 years.

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