Sonoma County Office of Education

Technology for Learners

Mark West Elementary Combines Website Development & Watershed Learning

Author: Rick Phelan
Published: 01.22.15

Students and teachers have many options for creating websites. Sixth-grade students at Mark West Elementary School have worked with their teacher, Gary Graves, to maintain an interactive website that documents their work supporting a local watershed.

Mark West Steelhead Website

This website is a nexus for class activities, with resources on:

  • Mark West Creek conditions
  • Mark West’s steelhead release program
  • Student art, pictures, and essays
  • Videos documenting class learning

Teacher Gary Graves initially envisioned the website as a way to introduce technology into the classroom. However, as time went on, he recognized the power of purposeful technology use and realized that a website could also be:

  • A portal for parents and the community at-large to understand what was happening in his classroom
  • A place where students could extend their learning

The central theme of the website is the Mark West watershed and the steelhead living in the creek. Gary explains that what was initially a six-week Steelhead in the Classroom unit has slowly grown into a yearlong discussion for the sixth-graders in his class.

“I looked for ways to connect lessons to our steelhead unit,” he says. “Most field trips would tie in some way, many of our art lessons would take place down at the creek, and science focused on landforms was an easy fit. But the best part was bringing in the outside world. Through the years, I have had many different guests come to class to spark conversations and debates. Some of the guests have included Fish and Game representatives, animal rights activists, and vineyard land managers.”

Learning About Technology

Gary confesses, “I am not what you call real computer-savvy. Adding technology to all areas of my watershed program has been a slow process.”

But finding solutions, Gary learned, was often just a glance away. “...It turns out that in a sixth-grade classroom, there is bound to be at least one kid who can teach us the next step if given the chance.”

On the website, student-produced news videos about class field trips are featured. To date, Gary has done much of the editing and uploading of the videos himself since the school didn’t have the necessary video editing technology. However, the Mark West PTA is working to support a program that will extend video editing to all the classes at the school.

Website Site Management

Gary supervises students working on the class website. “I would love to allow students to blog from home after a field trip, experiment, or even write about a family trip that they can tie into the watershed,” he says. “But I worry about outside people writing something that might not be school-appropriate. When a student wants to blog, add an essay, or add a picture, they write it at home in Google docs, then I upload it from my computer to the site.”

Community Connections

The website has been a great way for the community to learn about Mark West Elementary School’s efforts with the local watershed. Gary believes that “... it is good for the public to see that students are concerned about the world around them and to understand that the students are pondering the delicate balance between our creeks and the needs of people. It won’t be long before these children are making decisions for us. Studying the watershed shows that we are all connected.”

Mark West School Steelhead Program website

2012 Press Democrat article

Blog: Technology for Learners