Buffelgrass, a shrubby grass native to Africa, is considered among the most environmentally damaging invasive plants in Arizona. It increases the probability of fires that destroy native ecosystems and crowds out native plants by competing for water, sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Buffelgrass is present on the school property of Agua Caliente Elementary School in Tucson, providing an excellent opportunity for students to learn the environmental impacts of this invasive plant and the benefits of restoring native habitat. The students in my class will research the plants, connect with ecologists from the University of Arizona and Saguaro National Park, and document their work in the field.
Students will compare plant, bird, and insect abundance and diversity of an area infested and not infested with buffelgrass. The students will then remove the buffelgrass from the infested area and revegetate it with native plants that the students will grow in a classroom grow lab. Finally, the students will create an educational native plants garden in the schoolyard.
The buffelgrass project offers the students of Agua Caliente Elementary School the opportunity to answer a question (what is the habitat like? What species are observed), solve a problem (invasive species of buffelgrass) and reflect on what they can do as community members to find a solution (growing native plants in the classroom and replacing native with non-native species). This project will enable students to work together as a group for a common goal, as well as enables students to critically look at their native environment, not just as a desert landscape, but with a greater depth of knowledge about ecosystems and the organisms involved and how it is all interrelated. Finally, with this project-based experience, students will be taught the 21st century skills of communicating results, organization, time management, self-assessment and leadership skills.