New FireWorks Program for Sierra Nevada: Igniting a Passion for Science

  • By Michele Jimenez-Holtz, Education Liaison and Fire Restoration, Plumas National Forest
High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings. High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings. High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings. High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings. High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings. High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings. High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings. High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings. High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings.

Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) science teachers are using an exciting new fire science curriculum to ignite students’ passion for science. The Sierra Nevada FireWorks curriculum about the science of wildland fire was developed as a collaboration among PUSD, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory (of the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station), and the Plumas National Forest. While the curriculum for the Sierra Nevada is brand new, many activities were adapted from the original FireWorks educational program, published in 2000.

The new curriculum has been pilot-tested in many science classes and is now available for free online at https://www.frames.gov/fireworks/curriculum/sierra-nevada. Many activities require associated materials such as posters, hardware, and plant specimens. Digital materials can be downloaded and printed from the website, while other materials are available in FireWorks trunks. Trunks of materials have been provided to teachers at PUSD school sites.

FireWorks is a valuable tool to all educators, interpreters, and fire prevention specialists. Activities provide students with interactive, hands-on materials to study wildland fire and local ecology. Many of the activities are applicable wherever wildland fires occur, however, many are specialized for the Sierra Nevada.

High school students play with fire in various experiments and display their findings.

Teachers experiment with the Tinker Tree Derby, one of the lessons within the FireWorks curriculum. (Forest Service photo by Plumas National Forest staff)

To get a flavor for what takes place in the classroom: students learn how ladder fuels affect fire spread from the forest floor to the tops of trees in the Tinker Tree Derby. Students design model trees using metal stands and newspaper ‘leaves’ and then light a fire beneath their tree. Winning trees survive the fire with plenty of unburned leaves so they can still photosynthesize. Experiments with the Matchstick Forest Model examine how slope, density of trees, and other variables affect fire spread.

Rob Wade, PUSD outdoor educator has this to say about FireWorks, “It has been a great experience working with the team during the past couple of years. They really have transformed this idea into a meaningful, relevant curriculum for our teachers. We couldn’t be more pleased and are excited to integrate it district-wide this year.”

Ilana Abrahamson, Ecologist with Missoula Fire Sciences Lab added, “This program offers exciting, hands-on activities for students to learn about Sierra Nevada ecosystems and the role of wildland fire. It resulted from a rewarding collaboration, and PUSD teachers provided valuable feedback about the activities and instruction. The result is a fun and robust program for educators and students to use throughout the Sierra Nevada.”