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Amesbury Teacher Receives 2011 Forest Watch Lauten Award

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Louise James of Amesbury, Mass., received the 2011 Gary N. Lauten Award for outstanding service and commitment to UNH's Forest Watch program at a ceremony held recently on campus.

Forest Watch is an inquiry-based science program that takes students and teachers out of their classrooms to study air pollution and forest health. Since 1991, more than 350 schools across New England have helped researchers at UNH to gather samples and measurements of white pine needles to monitor the impacts of tropospheric ozone, or smog.

James is a retired elementary teacher from the Sewall Anderson School in Lynn, Mass. She used Forest Watch to build science into elementary school curricula, and with her students has been monitoring the health of white pines in the Lynn Woods Reservation for 10 years.

Recalling the startup in 2002, James said, “At that time, the city did not have an official science program for elementary school. Each grade level had assigned topics but there were no materials or support provided by the city. Forest Watch enabled me to make science important to my students, and I was lucky enough to work for a principal who recognized my enthusiasm and was willing to let my work at UNH mold the science program at our school.”

Soon, James was taking not only students but also parents and other teachers into Lynn Woods, where they learned much more than the science of white pines and ozone.

“I began each year with the message that ‘science is the story of how the world works.’ Then I made connections: connections between the students and their world, connections between each science topic and other academic areas, and connections among the science topics themselves. I developed a reputation among the students that science in my class was fun,” James said.

The Lauten Award is named in honor of Gary Lauten, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel who died in December 2001 and served as the Forest Watch program coordinator from 1992-1999. In 2002, the program began recognizing teachers who best exemplify Lauten's devotion to Forest Watch's long-term goals.

For two decades, Forest Watch has demonstrated that students can collect valuable data for ongoing scientific research and learn science and mathematics by doing hands-on research in their local areas. Student data have clearly shown how responsive white pines are to year-to-year variations in ozone levels. NASA's New Hampshire Space Grant Consortium has sponsored Forest Watch since 1991.

"Over the years, I've been very impressed with how well student data mirror annual variations in air quality," says Forest Watch director Barry Rock of the university's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space and the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. "During a poor air quality summer, student data indicate poor tree health, but during a good air quality summer the data indicate improved tree health."

Rock notes that the annual award recognizes Lauten’s commitment to making science accessible in the pre-college classroom. “He loved the program and became its heart and soul. And teachers love the program because it integrates biology with physics, math, Earth science, and chemistry."

More than 30 teachers attended Forest Watch’s annual meeting recently in Durham. In the past year, students and teachers measured more than 8,000 pine needles and calculated their health and damage by ozone with over 1,200 different mathematical calculations. In the coming months, Forest Watch plans to train 20 new schools for the science program.

For more on the Forest Watch program, visit http://www.forestwatch.sr.unh.edu.