Engaging Ecosystems

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Duncan, Jerry Papers, Woody Franzen, and Pat Otto

Vertical connections, constructed using inquiry, give students the skills to reach new heights in both their academic and local communities. These inquiry projects, developed by middle level teachers, ensure that students use higher-level thinking skills to improve the community. By investigating local natural resource issues, students

demonstrate an understanding of, and responsibility for, global and environmental issues;

actively support and participate in classroom and/or community service projects; and

demonstrate self-directed involvement toward improving the welfare of others (Tahoma School District #409, 2001).

In this project, designed to span grade levels, students culminate the school year by researching solutions to one of three local issues:

The health of a local waterway,

Species diversity and urbanization, and

Designing a working biosphere.

Explore the topic of Explore the environmentEach project is connected to the previous year's to give students a deeper understanding of how research can help citizens build a sustainable community. Teachers work together to plan field studies and guide students in presenting their findings to others in the community using models, PowerPoint presentations, a web accessible database, and reports from field investigations.

In sixth grade, the activities are hands-on, including the creation of a field guide of organisms. In seventh grade, students participate in an indoor presentation that combines the ancient art of locating wildlife in their natural habitat with a high energy video production. Then, they take these observation skills back outdoors to inventory wildlife at school, at home, and in the community. Finally in eighth grade, students put together a model biosphere and use technology to present and support their ideas with knowledge from units ranging from chemistry and energy to food production and simple machines.

By the end of three years, students clearly demonstrate that they can meet assessment guidelines for natural science inquiry developed in cooperation with the state office of public instruction (see Resources). Just like their teachers, students respond to the camaraderie of working with a team to make choices that will sustain generations to come. Additionally, the authentic feedback students receive from their group partners, teachers, and resource people in a teaching and learning community transforms the end of the school year assessment into a time of celebration.

Healthy marine ecosystems-Sixth grade

The purpose of this project is to create something that will be used to introduce next year's students to the "life" in their local waterway, in our case the Puget Sound. This is not a "go see what you can find on the beach" field experience. Each student has a purpose for being there, with the primary objective to connect to the marine organisms. The experience is guided by having a specific focus-discovering organisms that might not be included in field guides.

Many factors contribute to successful field experiences:

Chose a local environment as a focus. (For example, intertidal environments could be used as a focus to prepare students for visiting tide pools.)

Prior to the trip, study the physical properties of the environment. (For the ocean, physical properties included currents, tides, waves, and heat storage.)

Bring lessons into the classroom that will complement the exploration students will be doing in the field. (For example, students categorized shells by characteristics of organisms.)

Put together a quality miniguide for the students that contains basic outdoor etiquette, basic descriptions of common species, and note-taking pages that will form the basis of individual student assessment.

Tie together ecosystems and learn about how physical processes at work in the environment affect the systems of living things. …