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From Science Nation, February 6, 2017  --  NSF-funded research expands on the Billion Oyster Project in New York Harbor, giving urban middle school students a hand in restoring oyster habitats

Research consistently shows that children who have opportunities to actively investigate natural settings and engage in problem-based learning greatly benefit from the experiences. They gain skills, interests, knowledge, aspirations and motivation to learn more.

But how can educators provide these rich opportunities in densely populated urban areas where resources and access to natural areas are limited? With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Pace University educator Lauren Birney and her team are getting middle school students involved in an ambitious restoration program called the "Billion Oyster Project." The students study New York Harbor and the extensive watershed that empties into it, and conduct field research in support of restoring native oyster habitats.

"This National Science Foundation grant has made the "Curriculum and Community Enterprise for Restoration Science (CCERS) Project" possible, advancing environmental restoration through experiential and inquiry-based learning with New York City students and teachers involved at the core of the research," explains Birney, director of Pace University's STEM Collaboratory. "Pace University serves as the prime research institution leading a city-wide collaboration emphasizing the benefits of citizen science to underrepresented students in New York City. We are enormously grateful to the NSF for supporting this work and creating such outstanding digital imagery depicting the 'real work' of the project!"

This research involves a broad partnership of institutions and community resources, including Pace University, the New York City Department of Education, the Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the New York Academy of Sciences, the New York Harbor Foundation, the New York Aquarium, The River Project, Good Shepherd Services, University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science, Smartstart Evaluation and Research, Gaylen Moore Program Evaluation Services, and others.

"The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) STEM Department hails the Billion Oyster Project as a 'stemtastic' example for elementary through high school classes interested in taking on a relevant and cross disciplinary project that has environmental impact. The Billion Oyster Project embodies all of the domains of the STEM Framework for New York City schools," says Linda Curtis-Bey, executive director, NYCDOE STEM.

"This project is bringing hands-on restoration- and research-based learning that works so well in classrooms around the city. We've focused on neighborhood schools in poor and working-class areas, where this type of programming is rare and sorely needed. We are delighted with this opportunity to bring authentic science to the children of New York City," says Robert Newton, senior research scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

"The River Project is a proud partner on this project as it aligns with our mission to promote hands-on scientific exploration and restoration of our local estuarine ecosystem," says Elisa Caref, education programs coordinator for The River Project. "Furthering our reach of teachers and students in New York City has proven to be a vital aspect of our environmental education program, and we look forward to continuing this important collaborative work."

"Through their participation in the Billion Oyster Project, Good Shepherd Services' afterschool youth have discovered their own backyard -- New York City and its estuaries and ecosystems," says Lori Krane, educational director for Bronx Afterschool Programs. "They're more engaged in STEM, nature and ecology, all while making friends with scientists and restoring an important ecosystem. Thank you, NSF!"

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1440869, Curriculum and Community Enterprise for New York Harbor Restoration in New York City Public Schools. More information (images, etc.) available online.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer