Featured Teacher: Phil Kahler

In early May Mr. Phil Kahler, our science teacher (grades 7 – 10) flew to Ithaca, New York where he participated in the BirdSleuth Strategic Planning meetings held at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The team was composed of Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff and an advisory board consisting of seven education professionals including K-12 classroom teachers, a 4-H STEM Coordinator, and the Director of Education at the Atlanta Audubon Society.  Members were tasked with the responsibility of developing a 5-year plan for organizing, disseminating, and further developing BirdSleuth programs using the rich STEM resources at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds and is known for its scientific excellence and technological innovation.  BirdSleuth is Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s K-12 inquiry-based approach to science curriculum that engages kids in scientific study and real data collection through the lab’s exciting citizen-science projects.  Mr. Kahler and his students at Tualatin Valley Academy have had a long history of collecting bird observation data on campus at our bird blind to share with eBird, one of the lab’s citizen-science projects.  While participating in the BirdSleuth program, Mr. Kahler’s students conduct scientific investigations to discover answers to their own questions.   Over the years, we have had many Tualatin Valley Academy students publish their bird research reports and artwork in the BirdSleuth Investigator, a publication written by and for students.

This summer Mr. Kahler will make his fourth trip to the Amazon, where he will represent the BirdSleuth program as he works with science teachers participating in the Educator Academy workshops in Peru.   He will lead bird watching adventures while training teachers how to collect and enter bird observation data into the eBird data base.  “Early morning birding by boat is the most intense rapid-fire birding I've ever experienced”, recalls Mr. Kahler.  “At times our guides would be calling out 4-5 birds at the same time from opposite sides of the boat...all of which I had never seen or heard of before.  There just wasn't time to look in the field guide until afterwards.  The other teachers and I just wrote down names as fast as we could as the birds were being pointed out.  Later, we compared our notes back at the lodge as we compiled a complete checklist of birds observed that morning.  During my first three trips to the Amazon I have helped teachers report over 325 different bird species to eBird!  The diversity of bird life is simply incredible in the rainforest.”

During Mr. Kahler’s trips to the Amazon he became friends with Lucio Pando, one of the local Amazonian bird guides, who also had a passion for teaching children about birds.  “While talking with Lucio I learned he did not have adequate access to binoculars needed for teaching the children.  I just knew I had to do something to help Lucio obtain binoculars for his students!” exclaimed Mr. Kahler.  Sadly, last November Lucio unexpectedly passed away just as the Amazon Binocular Project began collecting donations of used binoculars.  Fortunately, two other bird guides who have been using the BirdSleuth-International curriculum in remote schools along the Amazon River are very excited to use the binoculars we have been collecting.  Some of Mr. Kahler’s students have been helping him evaluate, clean, and pack up the binocular donations.  Mr. Kahler recently shipped 23 pairs of new and used binoculars to a school group who volunteered to deliver the binoculars to the bird guides during their visit to the Amazon in early June.

Mr. Kahler feels honored to be on the BirdSleuth Advisory Board as he looks forward to the next five years of the program.  He enjoys hiking, beekeeping, and photographing birds.  

Featured Class: 9th Grade Science

At Tualatin Valley Academy, we focus on teaching students as much by experience as we do from a textbook. That's why the Freshmen class headed out on a Marine Biology Trip in mid-September, led by Mr. Phil Kahler. Students had 3 days jam-packed with learning, including fossil hunting at the beach, engineering ROV's (remotely operated underwater vehicles), exploring mud flats, salt marshes and tide pools and taking a boat trip to whale watch and collect specimens to examine for their Marine Biology class. Students camp during this trip, and each evening closes with a campfire and student-led vespers. 


"It was amazing, a beautiful experience."


Mr. Kahler teaches Middle School and High School Science at TVA. When asked about his teaching philosophy, he answered "As a science teacher I don't want to just sit around and teach my students about science. I want my students to experience science and to do their own scientific investigations. I want my students to be scientists! To make this happen for our students, we must leave the confines of the classroom from time to time.

Our Marine Biology Trip is much more than another activity in the curriculum, it is an experience that I hope will inspire these students for a lifetime of exploring the wild and wonderful things God has created. There is nothing quite like breathing in the cool salty air as you hear the ocean waves crashing on the shore. It really does not matter how many books you read or how many documentaries you watch on TV; something as wonderful as a California Gray Whale will always be an abstract concept until you have seen one surface right next to your boat. You always knew whales were big, but this creature is crazy HUGE! And it is a breathing, living thing that moves and does what it wants."

The Freshmen science curriculum is Physical Science, made up of Marine Biology, Astronomy, Electricity & Magnetism, and an Introduction to Chemistry. The course is a hands-on laboratory based continuation of the integrated sciences covered in earlier grades. Students explore their world and gain a solid foundation for what they will study in Science over the next 3 years. 

Students on the Marine Biology Trip kept journals of their findings and favorite activities. One of the students' favorite activities was building ROV's at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. The class was divided into teams (girls vs. guys!) to craft their ROV's out of PVC pipe with a magnet attached to them. The girls dubbed theirs Charlotte, the guys, Tera-DACT-yl 3000. They then had a competition to see which team could collect more magnetic items from the bottom of a pool. A student reflected on building the ROV's:

"Making a submarine was the coolest, not knowing we were using engineering the whole time."

Another favorite memory across the board was the Discovery boat tour. Students studied creatures from plankton to whales and even got to try their hand at driving the boat! 

"When we were on the boat we got to learn more about the importance of the ocean, which made it much more interesting rather than just reading about it." 


"You could see God's majesty through His beautiful creation."


Building students' relationship with God was central to the trip. When studying science, it is hard not to see God's hand in all of His creation. One student commented: 

"...and seeing how beautiful the sea is and the life that lives there made me reflect on how perfect of a job God did in crafting this amazing world."

God's amazing world, indeed. 

For photos, links and more information, check out Mr. Kahler's Marine Biology page here!