Signarture Course: Planet Earth

Hanif Amanullah, Staff Writer

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After taking a year of World Geography and Biology as freshmen, sophomores at LASA have the opportunity to take a signature course that, in a way, blends the two classes together. This course–called Planet Earth–works to help students think about their locations in geologic terms, as well as understand the history and biology of the Austin area through several field trips, labs and major projects.

One of the three Planet Earth teachers is Ruby Cong. Cong has taught the class for the past two years and hopes it promotes pragmatic problem-solving.

“I think the class is a great way to show how science can work in practice,” Cong said. “We are combining multiple different fields, and students can get a chance to see that…more first hand, rather than just sticking to one subject.”

The bulk of the class involves a semester-long biodiversity project, during which students form research groups and visit an Austin park to collect data on plant, insect or bird living patterns. Sophomore Olivia Gonzalez, who took the class last semester, explained that the project places emphasis on taking real data and using it for real research.

“I thought it was fun, and I had a friend in the class,” Gonzalez said. “We went to [a park] every other weekend and collected bug data. I think we really worked on analyzing data and that process.”

Planet Earth is also known for the new encounters, such as new animal finds and brushes with poison ivy that come along with it. Sophomore Mazzy Zimmerman took the class last semester and was surprised at the number of new experiences she had.

“Going out into the field was, well, hot. Also, I got my first bee sting,” Zimmerman said. “It was also really interesting. I didn’t know how many bugs you could catch with a single net. One time I caught a swarm of gnats and we had to chart 53 bugs!”

Students usually conduct projects on the abundance of an organism relative to a certain factor, like a water source or a hill. Zimmerman found that these experiences led to interesting results.

“We did actually find more of certain types of bugs depending on where water was,” Zimmerman said.

Looking back on the class, some juniors harbor the same feelings. Adrialys Luna, who took the class last year, has come to value many of the park trips she took over its course.

“I went to Mckinney Falls State Park and studied Cardinals, and I saw how they lived relative to the water,” Luna said. “I absolutely loved it. I got to experience a lot of different things, and I got to learn about a lot of different bird sounds.”

The three students all share one sentiment for certain: The class was not only a good learning experience but was fun and engaging.

“[Planet Earth] is good for sophomores to expand their horizons,” Luna said. “Maybe they’ll find an interesting plant, bug, or bird, and will want to go into a field that furthers that career.”