Middle and upper school science teacher Sarah Holmes has a fascinating answer to the question, “What did you do on your summer vacation?”
Holmes is the only teacher in the Kansas City metro area—and all of Missouri—selected to attend the National Geographic Society’s prestigious Geo-Inquiry Summer Institute in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She spent a week in July hiking mountain trails, wading through creeks and learning how to bring the Geo-Inquiry Process into Barstow classrooms.
Geo-Inquiry is a five-step method that helps students understand the world by examining patterns, processes and interactions between human and natural systems.
“Wyoming was the perfect setting to learn about geo inquiry,” Holmes said. “My favorite activity was sampling fish from Kelly Warm Springs. It’s long been a place where people dump aquarium fish. We caught fish, identified species and checked for diseases.”
That’s the type of exploration Holmes encourages for her students. They already get their hands dirty and their feet wet examining ecosystems at local parks and waterways. Now, they’ll use this new lens of inquiry to investigate environmental concerns more deeply—and to look for solutions to problems that will improve relationships between people and nature.
“The National Park Service is already using geo-inquiry to make a difference in our environment,” she said. As a Geo-Inquiry Ambassador, she brought the process into middle school science classrooms this semester.
Working with the Blue River Watershed Association, middle school science students took a first step toward defining, analyzing and offering a solution to a local environmental concern in September.
Applying the Geo-Inquiry process, they are developing their perspective, collecting data and making connections with the world around them. The steps toward identifying a solution to an environmental issue are:

  • ASK a geo-inquiry question.
  • COLLECT information and data relating to the topic.
  • VISUALIZE, organize and analyze that information.
  • CREATE a story that explains the issue.
  • ACT by sharing the story and defining a solution.
Using that lens, students will focus on the watershed surrounding Barstow’s campus and how everyday behavior impacts it.

In the classroom, BRWA Water Quality Educator Dee Wilson showed students how waterways can be thrown out of balance by pet waste, fertilizers, detergents and construction materials. She explained that the health of waterways impacts the habitats and the wildlife that surround them.
Then, they went into the field. With Holmes, science teacher Kat Jones, Wallace and a group of volunteers, students tested water in a Leawood City Park creek oxygen, nitrates, phosphates, temperature and turbidity.
They also examined macro invertebrates that form the basis of the aquatic food chain. They’ll use these findings in the ongoing Geo-Inquiry project, which is part of an exclusive and ongoing partnership between Barstow and the National Geographic Society.
    • Sarah Holmes is the only Missouri teacher selected to attend the 2018 Geo-Inquiry Summer Institute in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

    • Dee Wilson of Blue River Watershed Association is working with seventh graders to examine the local watershed.

    • They tested a creek in Leawood City Park for chemicals and examined macro invertebrates.

    • Chemical testing will determine whether the water is out of balance with the environment.

    • Students examine organisms that provide the basis for the aquatic food chain.

The Barstow School

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