Fifth Grades’ Owl Project Wins Top State Honors

“It is very important to learn how to save our ecosystems,” comments fifth grader Jules Barivan. And for the past several months, the class has been doing just that – engaging in extensive research, public speaking, local habitat restoration and community outreach and education, all as part of their project “Give A Hoot: It’s Foul to Hurt the Burrowing Owl.”

The class learned recently that their project has won First Place in the Disney “Planet Challenge”! Prizes include $1,000 and a gift pack for each fifth grader.

Under the guidance of teachers and project mentors Sri Gyan James McCaughan and Jessica Cambell, the class has spent significant time studying the Western Burrowing Owl and looking at ways they can help save this threatened bird. The teachers say their project goals included providing opportunities for students to discover their academic gifts; and helping them to understand the difference between achieving and learning, consumer and citizen, by observing and being involved in their communities to positively impact the environmental issue of their choice.

Through project-related work, fifth graders utilized several skill sets, including applying science, math and reasoning to their observations and experiences; learning to craft written and oral language that is persuasive, informative and descriptive; artistically informing, inspiring and delighting others through drawing, painting, acting, directing, filming and editing a story about the owl.

“The educational benefits of this project are both strongly academic and practical,” McCaughan and Cambell shared in a written project reflection. “Students used explicit curricular instruction as a foundation for enacting change. As teachers, we gave the students tools, such as learning to calculate percentages, identifying solid research sources, writing formal letters, using statistics, creating a learning spreadsheet, word processing, email, Internet, LAN, photo, audio and video software to construct and tell a story and make a compelling case that protecting the burrowing owl benefits the whole ecosystem.

This project enables students to see the meaning behind the academic content by using a project-based curriculum, as well as participate in collaborative learning where they learn to hold multiple points of view and understand that together they are smarter. In a collaborative situation students learn to organize according to their strengths and weaknesses in order to generate the best team for their task within the project. Students also develop an understanding of time management, organization, team accomplishment, peer learning, retained knowledge, and self-management. A final major benefit of this project has been incorporating state standards either directly or indirectly in ways that benefited the project.”

Two California schools tied for the top state prize in the Challenge: MMS, and El Verano Elementary in Sonoma. The class has also entered this project in Siemen’s “We Can Change the World” national challenge, for which awards won’t be announced until May. The project will also be entered in Earth Day competitions in Santa Cruz and Morgan Hill later this spring.


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing & Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.