The new AP Environmental Science Class, teacher, and Fairchild Challenge goals

This year has seen many changes to Christopher Columbus High School. Changes like new technology in the classrooms, a new grading program, and new teachers joining the current faculty. One of the major changes has been the addition of an AP Environmental Sciences class.

This class is taught by a new teacher who originally came from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, Mrs. Christine Taylor. Along with teaching AP Biology, Mrs. Taylor introduced the AP Environmental Sciences class, which is open to anyone who has taken Honors Chemistry and Honors Biology. This AP Environmental Sciences class stresses science in the field, with trips like shark tagging with UM graduate students, and researching in the Everglades. “I call them ‘APES,’ which is short for AP Environmental Science,” Mrs. Taylor said. One of the most significant projects Mrs. Taylor is having the AP Environmental Science class take part in, is the Fairchild Challenge.


One of the “APES” inserts a tag into the shark’s dorsal fin


The Fairchild Challenge is split into different competitions and challenges. Ranging from debates, and songs, to artwork. The Fairchild Challenge itself was started and is still hosted by the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden. The Fairchild Challenge, according to the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden website “is our award-winning, interdisciplinary, environmental science competition designed to engage students of diverse interests, abilities, talents and backgrounds to explore the natural world.” Fairchild often partners up with agencies like NASA to conduct large scale experiments. In fact, one of the challenges Mrs. Taylor is pushing her APES students to compete in, is the Citizen Science: Growing Beyond Earth challenge in which students partner up with NASA to test which plants are most suitable to be grown for astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS). The winning plants must be very nutritious, easy to grow, and hardy.

Students competing in this challenge must use the proper scientific procedure, outlined on the Fairchild website, to ensure all tests are as similar as possible. This includes proper planting, measurement, watering, sunlight control, temperature control, and data keeping.

This competition is not just being done locally, but in all across the state. The winning schools get the opportunity to video chat with the NASA mission control specialists who help manage the ISS. “It’s exciting to participate in a scientific experiment orchestrated by NASA!” APES student Joseph Alvarez exclaimed. APES student Jared Machado has said “It’s not often that you can be part of an experiment being done on a state, if not national level.” So far, the APES class has done a great job completing the 1st 30 day trials, and is making great progress on the 2nd 30 day trials.

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This is a snapshot of the data sheet APES students competing in this challenge must fill out


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Plants at the end of the first 30 day trial


Even when the students are out of the classroom, Mrs. Taylor still has work for them to do. She encourages students to participate in the other Fairchild challenges. For example, Joseph Alvarez and Jared Machado, in addition to the Growing Beyond Earth challenge, plant to participate in the Fairchild debate challenge. Mrs. Taylor also looks to the Columbus band to help compete in the Fairchild music challenge. She wants Columbus to participate and win in as many of these challenges as possible to increase our school’s involvement with the scientific community.

It is clear that Mrs. Taylor, along with the other science teachers, are making great progress to transform our school into not just a sports focused school, but a science focused one too.

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