Academic journal article Science and Children

Big Project, Small Leaders: A Creek Restoration Project Led by Fifth-Grade Students Affects the Whole Community

Academic journal article Science and Children

Big Project, Small Leaders: A Creek Restoration Project Led by Fifth-Grade Students Affects the Whole Community

Article excerpt

Fifth-grade students work in small groups along a creek. Some students, donning waders, are carefully recording data, while others are preparing equipment for data collection. Working alongside the fifth-graders are graduate students from the University of Idaho McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS). MOSS students have been working with Ms. Bingaman's students for several weeks, explaining the water quality characteristics and the methods used to test them. At this point, the fifth-graders are running the show, having had much practice with the skills involved. Not on scene but very much a part of this picture is the greater community, including landowners, parents, and state and government officials of this small town who support the students' work. This network of people was brought together by Ms. Bingaman and her students to help restore Boulder Creek, a creek that travels right by their school in Donnelly, Idaho.

Donnelly, Idaho is a small town surrounded by private ranches and Forest Service property. Through the center of Donnelly runs Boulder Creek, a small tributary feeding into Cascade Lake Reservoir. Boulder Creek originates from a mountain lake north of Donnelly. Since 1994 it has been listed as "impaired" by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for phosphorous loading, high temperatures, low dissolved oxygen, and sedimentation. As a result, many segments of Boulder Creek no longer support any beneficial uses (IDEQ 2009). Because the creek runs behind the school, it is a natural place for students to focus their science study. When the class found out that it was impaired, their studies took on a new level of authentic inquiry as the students sought to assist in monitoring and restoring the creek with the help of local agencies and other partners.

The impetus for pursuing the Boulder Creek restoration project was threefold, resulting from a need for engagement in education, restoration, and community involvement. The partnerships with local agencies and university resources represented in this project can serve as a model to schools anywhere for teachers looking to infuse their curriculum with rich, authentic experiences. A collaboration between schools and local agencies and/ or universities also benefits the partners by providing local agencies an opportunity to get more involved with the community. Government agencies often struggle with involving citizens and landowners in restoration projects and securing access to land to conduct their own surveys. This article is an examination of how classrooms, with help from local agencies, can play a role in a restoration effort by collecting data, participating in restoration, and motivating other members of the community to get involved while enriching the science curriculum with an authentic, problem-based approach.

Seeking Help Beyond the Classroom

In the first year, Ms. Bingaman posed the following question to her students, "Boulder creek is impaired. Is there anything we can do?" With her open question, she guided them to become stewards of their creek and to understand their community's impact on it. With help from the community, Ms. Bingaman opened up the endeavor by teaching her students about what a healthy stream looks like and characteristics it needs to sustain a healthy population of trout, the species of fish commonly found in streams in the area. From there Ms. Bingaman discussed the factors in the area that could be negatively impacting Boulder Creek and options for restoration. She was amazed by the response, as the students were overwhelmingly excited that they could play a role in something bigger than themselves. They decided to begin by testing the water quality and studying the characteristics of the creek. For many students, there was an intense desire to be involved in protecting their backyard creek. In subsequent years, she has added components to the project, most significantly the Trout in the Classroom component. …

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