Environmental Science Interpretive Center

ZCES Mural to illustrate various environmental science concepts such as animal and fish life in Lake Tahoe, geologic uplift, cloud formation, moon phases. As of Nov 2016.

ZCES is developing an indoor/outdoor classroom that can be used by K-6 grades to illustrate the several scientific disciplines relevant to Lake Tahoe environmental science.

ZCES teachers can drop-in as part of their class time to use the Environmental Science Interpretive Center (the Center). In the 2017/2018 year, teachers throughout the Tahoe Basin, Carson Valley and surrounding communities could also come in and use the space.

Zephyr Cove Elementary School adopted Place-Based Education in the 2014/2015 school year to better align the students’ science education with the remarkable environment the school is in.

With a Place-Based Education focus, our teachers want to:

  • Match classroom lessons with hands-on experimentation and exploration.
  • Create and implement curriculum that supports the NGSS and NvACS and aligns with Common Core so everyone can learn more about Lake Tahoe.

Native fish of Lake Tahoe detail in the mural.


  • Deepen ZCES’s Place-Based Education effort with a hands-on learning resource on campus.
  • Expand ZCES’s appeal to other area schools as a resource and destination for learning more about the Lake Tahoe environment.
  • Be a classroom that teachers from any interested elementary school could drop into with their classes and have materials and curriculum ready about local water, geology, plant life, animal life, animal habitats, and resource management. Lessons structured as “Lake Lesson in a Box.”
  • Provide an educational connection point for area educators, students, environmental organizations and state agencies to share information about the health of the lake as a meeting site or as a venue to host a lecture series from experts.

Key areas for exploration, as per our partner TRPA:

  • Water chemistry
  • Geology
  • Animal life
  • Plant life
  • Resource management

Sample Projects and Exhibits:


  • trout-in-classroom-346x270With support from US Forest Service, set up 50-gallon fish tanks with coolers so students can raise Lahontan Trout from eggs to fingerlings. A fieldtrip will be incorporated to release the fingerlings. 2nd Grade will raise these fish with Mrs. Boulet.
  • Kindergartners will raise chickens with their focus on area birds and their development. Incubators have been secured.
  • We could also develop future exhibits if teachers are ready to incorporate them such as:
    • Build columns of carved wooden blocks that rotate so kids can match the head with the abdomen with the right thorax for insects, mammals, birds and fish.
    • Create animal tracks in cement paving stones so kids can walk along with deer, bear, coyotes, bird tracks and see how big they are, and improve their track recognition skills.
    • Create mobiles illustrating the food web of Tahoe’s top predators. Create worksheets as part of a mobile kit so kids can cut out the food for a given predator and assemble these to see the hierarchy.
    • Preserved local animal exhibits that children can touch and see their size, adaptions to the environment: an eagle, deer, Kokonee salmon, coyote, Black bear, for example.


  • growing cupsWith a grant from the Douglas County Education Foundation, we established a Native Plant Walk in the front of the school, which is easily accessed from the Center. The students and community would be able to appreciate it. 5th graders are working to become “ambassadors” and offer tours to guests.
  • Have live plants in the Center that the students studying plants as part of their Place-Based Curriculum have responsibility for watering and keeping healthy. Plant racks and resources are available for the 3rd grade to grow plants.
  • Bisections of pine, aspen and fir trees specimens are on display to show the differences in their development.
  • We could also develop future exhibits:
    • Bring in a large rock and grow a colony of lichen on the rock, learn what it needs to grow.
    • Find ways to show how these plants fit into the overall forest ecosystem.


  • lake tahoe mapIn partnership with the 4th grade, we developed a “Do-It-Yourself Graph” so when the students walk down to the Lake at Zephyr Cove to take water temperatures, they can come back and plot their data points on the wall-sized graph.
  • We are working with the Science/STEM Curriculum Trainer to setup a microscope adapter so the teachers can show water slides on the room’s mobile Promethian board, and the students can also have 400x microscopes at their desks.
  • We could also develop an exhibit, possibly with NV Dept. of Wildlife, around a small boat with actual aquatic invasive species like Quagga and Zebra Mussels attached so the kids could touch them, see their size and descriptions to learn about boat decontamination to protect water quality.


  • Our 6th Grade teacher organized Engineering Club in the Science Center space, an afterschool 6-week program in Spring 2017 where kids built catapults, cars, and towers to explore various engineering principles. Parents Club funded two 6-week sessions open to 2nd-6th graders.

Future Exhibit Ideas and Long-Range Opportunities:

  • Teacher Resources:
    • Build out multiple copies of Lake Lessons in a Box for each grade-level curriculum. In progess now.
    • Add an online scheduling tool to the school’s website so ZCES and outside teachers could set aside time for their classes and possibly order materials instantly, without waiting on staff.
  • Mixed Use Space:
    • Use the space to host external programs like Camp Invention and Nature Bowl, drawing in students from ZCES as well surrounding schools.
    • Develop a schedule of local environmental science experts to host talks about current environmental issues, seminars, training sessions.
  • Multi-Media Opportunities:
    • Create a YouTube channel or similar means for capturing student video logs about their experiments, experiences, sightings, husbandry for the Center’s plants or fish, and their videos become part of the data available for future students.
    • Allow students to check out waterproof digital cameras with easy access points in the Center to load that data back into the data pool.
  • Geology:
    • Create a pressure measurement tool kids could push on to see how much pressure they can deliver vs. how much pressure is required to create a rock.
    • Make topo maps available for area peaks and allow kids to check out compasses to learn basics of orienteering.
    • Offer rock samples they can touch and develop an exhibit on how granite is formed.
    • Develop relationships with USGS or Tahoe Rim Trail as possible partners for exhibits and expert talks or tours.
  • ASTRONOMY: Work with 2nd or 3rd grade class to build simple 3D models of constellations visible from Tahoe and hang those from the ceiling to create a permanent exhibit.
    • Create maps so groups can walk along adjacent trails leading from the Center to the north of the school, by the creek and down to the lake that will explain things like changing tree and ground plants, creek and watershed characteristics, rock types, symbiotic relationships between trees and certain plants, along with footprints the reader might see and bird habitats.
    • Work with US Forestry to create an access path out the north door of the Center to easily get to the creek running just to the north of the school.
  • PLACE-BASED, BEYOND SCIENCE: Add exhibits along the hallway leading to Room 19 about Washoe history in the area, Tahoe-specific literature, historic news coverage.

Timing & Milestones:

  • Feb 2016: Approved by Douglas County School District to move forward
  • Mar-Dec 2016: Gather and develop curriculum! that ties in with Common Core, NGSS and NvACS that is grade-level specific.
  • June – Aug 2016: Preliminary painting, room prep and started the main mural on the North Wall, budget approved to set up for Year One.
  • Aug 2016: ZCES teachers start using the Center to complement their instruction plans.
  • Dec 2016: Once curriculum has been established for a grade, begin marketing to area schools to attract teachers for fieldtrips. Post those materials on our website.
  • Mar 2017: Engineering Club sessions started.
  • May 2017: Do-It-Yourself Graph built.
  • June 2017: Ribbon cutting ceremony with teachers, supporters, District leaders, partners and ZCES families. Read the news coverage from Record-Courier.
  • 2017/2018 School Year Goals:
    • Install fish tanks and send Mrs. Boulet to US Forestry Service’s “Fish School”
    • Install microscope converter to Promethian Board
    • Install signage and build out ambassador program around Native Plant Walk.