Quest Guidebooks: Students Team Up with Mentors to Develop Ways of Attracting Visitors to Conservation Properties

By Munn, Natalie | The Science Teacher, April-May 2007 | Go to article overview

Quest Guidebooks: Students Team Up with Mentors to Develop Ways of Attracting Visitors to Conservation Properties


Munn, Natalie, The Science Teacher


Conservation properties provide excellent outdoor classrooms. To give students the opportunity to contribute to their community and learn about local natural history, our school partnered with eight local conservation properties on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Students researched the eight properties and produced a collective guidebook based on what they had learned.

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Rather than producing a typical, narrative guidebook, students wrote a Quest for each of the properties. The collection of Quests was published as a guidebook. A Quest is a treasure hunt-style poem in which the writers lead the visitor to special places on the property. The poems have movement clues to take the visitor from place to place and educational clues that teach about aspects of each property. The writing experience allows students to research unique features of a local property, demonstrate their knowledge in a poem, and share the information with people in the community.

Why Quests?

The idea for the project grew from a meeting of environmental education professionals, including both school teachers and conservation property educators. The managers of the properties wanted to bring students to their sites. I wanted my students to have a chance not only to learn science, but also to practice audience-specific writing. Writing a guidebook for the properties seemed a great way to encourage natural science research and at the same time provide students an opportunity to write for a specific audience. One of the environmentalists in our group had written a Quest as a result of a workshop that she had attended, and she thought that it would be a great format for students to use. She had a copy of a book of Quests written for the New Hampshire/Vermont area, which we examined for ideas (Glazer 2001).

I offered the opportunity to my students, and the other science teachers at my school announced the project to their students. Students from several classes filled out a form to volunteer as small teams of two to four. Some conservation properties had volunteered to participate. Students also indicated interest in properties that I had not thought of, so I contacted those properties to see if they would be interested in participating in the project. Not one organization declined. Each group happily provided a mentor, and I matched student teams with mentors and properties based on interest. The process of finding and matching student teams to properties took a couple of weeks.

Guidebook steps

Student teams researched the properties in a few visits, then wrote and tested Quests over a few additional visits. I worked with older high school students who drove themselves, but bus or parent transportation might be needed for younger students. The entire project took a couple of months. The following steps can help students to stay organized and on track while developing their own Quests (these steps worked best for our students).

1. Gather background information

Student teams should first learn the history of the group that manages the site. What are the group's goals and missions? Is the conservation property organized around a particular idea? For instance, Mytoi Garden is a local, Japanese-style garden with an excellent collection of specimen plants. Therefore, our Mytoi Quest includes observing these plants (Munn and Munn 2007). Many properties have background literature available that students can read for ideas, and the mentors at the properties can help students find specific factual information to include in a Quest.

For example, the Mytoi Quest directs visitors to "Continue down the steps and past the golden bamboo,/No pandas live here, not even a few./Take a right at the bamboo and sticking up tall,/Is a Japanese Cedar whose needles are green, even in the fall./This tall cedar is different from before,/It can be as wide as twenty feet, which is hard to ignore. …

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