Academic journal article Science and Children

A seQRet Treasure Hunt: A Project Combines Student Interests and QR Code Technology to Help Students Learn about a Local Natural Habitat

Academic journal article Science and Children

A seQRet Treasure Hunt: A Project Combines Student Interests and QR Code Technology to Help Students Learn about a Local Natural Habitat

Article excerpt

Designing opportunities for students to discover core science concepts can be challenging. But, with a good understanding of their interests, proper planning, and the use of technology and the outdoors, students can become engaged in a way that can leave a legacy for future students. Last fall I designed a nine-session unit for a group of fourth and fifth graders that incorporated ecology, sustainability, problem-solving, exploration, and gaming into student-created "seQRet Treasure Hunts" through our school's outdoor learning nature preserve. In the finished product, both treasure hunters and the student-designers gained self-directed understanding of our science curriculum and became more aware of the world beneath their feet, all in an enriching learning opportunity that was designed based on a survey of individual student interests.

The Preserve

I am the outdoor learning specialist for Round Rock (Texas) Independent School District and teach fourth grade. The school where I am based is home to a student-created wildlife preserve that is both state and federally certified and adjoins the Balcones Canyonlands Wildlife Preserve. Our preserve includes a series of ponds connected through a natural rainwater collection system, a restored native grassland-prairie, and various animal habitats. In addition to the project and problem-based, labor-intensive projects completed by students, academic work is found throughout the space on posters that describe the relationships between the plants, animals, and land. Our preserve serves as a unique outdoor laboratory to study life sciences and Earth sciences (including energy) as outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013).

I believe strongly in rooting for students to succeed by rooting them in their local ecosystem. In the documentary film Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People, biologist E.O. Wilson states, "Oikos means 'the house, the home, where you live,' and 'logos' means 'the study of, or discourse,' so it is really a study of our home ... ecology" (Ross and Spears 2009). Rooting for our students means more than being a cheerleader; it means giving them a sense of their identity within their "home" and a "place" where they are safe and realize the importance of their voice in contemporary history.

Our preserve was initially designed and maintained by a former teacher's fifth-grade classes, and we are forever grateful for the legacy they left behind. These students handled the physical labor and generated several years' worth of research and photographs pertaining to the plants and animals in the preserve that has provided a platform for deep, complex learning as students continue to collect and compare data. Currently, each of our fourthand fifth-grade classes uses field experiences and/or motion-activated cameras to track patterns and life-cycles in a natural environment, providing a clear window into a healthy ecosystem of many types of plants and animals that are able to survive in a "relatively stable web of life" (5-LS2). They also study changes to the physical landscape that result from weathering and erosion, particularly where weather patterns influence those changes and we have changes to the land, including fresh sediment in our ponds after a heavy rain. These reports and photographs are maintained digitally on a common network drive and are accessible to all learners on our campus.

The physical aspects of scientific field work in the preserve and the more technical aspects of data collection provide students who attend Laurel Mountain with a heritage-type connection to one another and an authentic, experiential basis to understand the foundations of science through the work of their peers. In addition to the community and campus culture shared through outdoor learning at Laurel Mountain, our preserve serves as a type of reflection of each student's personal growth and development and a reminder that no matter our differences, we are all connected. …

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