Forest Charter School students in the macro lab

Our curriculum guide

The Nature of This Place, an outdoor science K-8 curriculum guide we developed in collaboration with The Yuba Watershed Institute with funding from the Teichert Foundation, is available for sale or free download from Flicker Press. More information.

Donate Now

Science in the Schools

Sierra Streams Institute is committed to helping local schools bring hands-on, standards-based science to their students. Toward this end, we are currently developing partnerships with schools throughout Nevada County. We have partnered with Twin Ridges Elementary School District and Yuba River Charter School to provide a year-long environmental science program to students in grades 3-8, part of an effort to improve overall student performance.


Students in the program study their local environment, plant gardens, learn about plant-pollinator relationships by observing them in the field, and participate in active restoration projects. Their lessons come from The Nature of This Place, a curriculum guide developed by Sierra Streams' staff members specifically for the foothills. Although many organizations offer occasional field trips, assemblies and service learning days for local students, we offer the only sustained, semester-long environmental science program in the area.

The program offered by Sierra Streams has been extremely well received by students and teachers alike, and is allowing us to meet a need for rigorous science instruction that will better prepare our students for high school and beyond.

—Caleb Buckley, Yuba River Charter School Director


Students from Grizzly Hill School collecting benthic macroinvertebrates on a Salmon Tour.

In the Spring of 2013, Sierra Streams worked with all 3rd and 4th grade students of Deer Creek Elementary School to provide an introductory experience to watersheds and stream health assessment. Each class received two lessons. In the first class, students were taught the basics of what a watershed is and how rivers, streams, the landscape, and people are an integral part of any watershed. Using maps of the Yuba River watershed, students were able to visually explore the waterways of our home region. After this initial instruction, students were provided with art materials and asked to construct their own watershed map adding representations of mountains, plants, animals, farms, and towns (see photo). The second class was a field visit to Little Deer Creek, which gave a hands-on context to the watershed lessons. Students joined us at Pioneer Park to learn how to assess stream health through the collection of water quality data using monitoring equipment and through the collection of stream health data based on stream characteristics. Students also got their feet wet collecting aquatic macroinvertebrates (insects) in an effort to assess stream health. These classes were a resounding success according to feedback from students and teachers. We hope to reproduce this model in future programs as an excellent way to introduce 3rd-6th grade students to watersheds and stream health.

Deer Creek Elementary students creating their own watershed and displaying their stewardship cards..

We are currently working with Yuba River Charter School's 5th grade class and a split 7th/8th grade class. The 7th and 8th grade classes are centered on salmon and stream ecology, placing emphasis on the epic migration of Chinook salmon that return to spawn each fall on the Lower Yuba River. The course incorporates instruction on water quality and stream health by collecting water samples and macroinvertibrates, or aquatic insects. Macroinvertebrates live in the stream year-round and are an indicator of stream health, providing clues to current or potential future impacts. All classes had the opportunity to join the Salmon Tours that are put on through a partnership with SYRCL, Environmental Traveling Companions, and Sierra Streams Institute. The 5th grade class had a focus on plants and restoration with a connection to watersheds and the health of aquatic species such as salmon. The class has been highlighted by restoration field days where students plant native species and reflect on their personal ability to improve the health of the watershed around them. As a result of this class students have written poetry, created art, learned to read maps, written science journals, and experienced our local watershed on a deeper level. We look forward to a long lasting and enriching partnership with Yuba River Charter School.

Yuba River Charter 5th grade students planting riparian trees on Lower Deer Creek..

Sierra Streams had the great opportunity to join in a year-long partnership with Twin Ridges Elementary School District to cover topics ranging from watershed studies to restoration practices and principles. Our program utilized an existing school garden project along with a new native plant restoration plot to teach hands-on skills regarding plants and restoration in our watershed. Our intensive partnership with TRESD incorporated interactive science lessons two days per week with the 5th through 8th grades and included intermittent classes with the 3rd/4th grade classes at Grizzly Hill, as well as monthly classes for all students at Washington School. Classes allowed Sierra Streams instructors to integrate lesson plans with the ongoing math and science classes that the teachers were already working on. Sierra Streams obtained several grants in partnership with Grizzly Hill School including a Tiechert-funded grant through the Yuba Watershed Institute to write “The Nature of this Place” curriculum guide as well as grants from the Synopsys Foundation and Project Learning Tree to plant a restoration plot and create a schoolyard field guide. We hope to partner with TRESD in the future to supplement and enhance their ongoing science programs.

Grizzly Hill 6th through 8th grades collecting macroinvertebrates on the Salmon Tour on the Lower Yuba River.

We see a great need to expand our reach to the many other schools that are eager to improve their students' access to field- and lab-based science. All of the superintendents in western Nevada County have signed a letter of support for our program, and County Superintendent Holly Hermansen has endorsed the use of The Nature of This Place for local schools. We see a similar need in the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District. As a member of the North Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition, Sierra Streams champions the extension of our science education programs into the eastern portion of the county.