Giving A Hoot: Fifth Grade’s Owl Project Wins National Award!

Hoots and hollers – and animated screams of joy echoed throughout the gymnasium one recent afternoon, following fifth grade teacher Jessica Cambell’s announcement to her students that their environmental project was a national winner. “Give A Hoot: It’s Foul to Hurt the Burrowing Owl,” has won the elementary school Grand Prize in the 2012 Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge!

“Ring, ring,” Cambell said, grinning at her students and holding her hand up to her ear like a telephone, “It’s Siemens calling and you’ve won first in the nation!”

“I couldn’t believe it,” says eleven-year-old Sage Turner. “With more than 27,000 entries, I didn’t really think we were going to win!”

“I think it’s because we actually did something, and not just talk about doing it,” says fifth grader Ella Connor.

“Yes,” agree fifth graders Eleanor Harrington and Sophia Simo. “We replanted native grass lands and educated people about the threat to the burrowing owl.”

“It was important to get the message out to the public about saving this species,” comments fifth grader John Anthony Dias. “People are interested and want more information on how they can help.”

As Siemens Challenge Grand Prize elementary winners, prizes for the class will include:

• a Discovery Education assembly for their school
• a Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge green prize (for each student)
• a banner for the school

In addition, Mount Madonna School and Cambell will receive:

• a $5,000 grant for Mount Madonna School
• a one-year membership to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA); and registration and hotel accommodations to the NSTA conference
• a pocket video camera

Under the guidance of teachers and project mentors Jessica Cambell and the late Sri Gyan James McCaughan, the class has spent significant time studying the Western Burrowing Owl and looking at ways they can help save this threatened bird. Earlier this year, teachers explained that 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.

“It isn’t only about the owl,” comments Cambell, after learning of her class’ national win. “It is about helping students find power in being citizens of our country. My personal goal for the kids is for them to see the world for real – the good and bad and in-between – and change what they feel needs to be changed. So often children and adults feel powerless in a society with councils, and senates, and big companies, and they wonder what they can do if they are just one child – or even a group of children. I want them to realize that as a group, we are smarter, and with a unified goal we can change anything for the better. In this case, the owl was their unified goal, and once they collaborated, magic started to happen. In the end, the Siemens win is testament to this. As a group they did change the world for the better – not to mention the major environmental benefit of their work for the little burrowing owl.”

The Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge is a national sustainability challenge for students K-12 to develop and share environmental solutions. More than 27,000 students participated in the competition this year. The Challenge is a collaborative effort of the Siemens Foundation, Discovery Education, the College Board and the NSTA.

For their project, the fifth graders utilized numerous 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 earlier this year. “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.”

In addition to the Siemens national award, “Give A Hoot” has received additional state and local honors: First Place, California, in the Disney Planet Challenge; and First Place in the Santa Cruz Earth Day environmental class competition.

Donations to the students’ project will be invested with local conservation groups working to protect the owls’ habitat, and with, a micro-loan organization that arranges small loans to help subsistence people purchase tools, supplies and equipment.


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.