A Desert Oasis: Keystone Park and Wetlands
Studying a Real Wetland
Online Resources
Wetlands Data
 Student Pages
Site Index
Teacher's Page


Subject: Science, Math, and Language Arts

Grade Level: 6th grade and teacher education


Wetlands are very unique phenomenon. One such wetland was created in the desert southwest when the ancient Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) changed course and the water table remained high. Nestled at the foothills of the Franklin Mountains in the desert southwest lies Keystone—home to thousands of waterfowl. Keystone park has asked students to brainstorm ways in which they can contribute to their educational outreach for the children and citizens of three cities, three states, and two countries (Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico).

Back to top

Learner Description/Environment:

Sixth graders from Desert View Elementary (Gadsden Public Schools in southern New Mexico) will join forces with New Mexico State University’s pre-service teachers to help Keystone Park and Wetlands. Even though this desert marsh is in El Paso, Texas, state and city boundaries are quite often blurred here on the Mexican border. The great Rio Grande meanders from the foresets of the Rocky Mountains to the dry Chihuahuan Desert of the southwest. This desert marsh is a beautiful sight and should be shared and studied like real scientists who oftentimes ignore borders. Here, New Mexico and Texas have joined hands to work together as neighbors.

Who are our students? The children of Desert View Elementary are native Spanish speakers, Hispanic-Americans, and low SES. The university students are more diverse, reflecting New Mexico's diversity. The desert's annual rainfall is nine inches and so the birds who frequent the marsh have a unique find. Together we will all learn about this desert phenomenon and take part in preserving the park, studying the waterfowl, and educating the public.

Back to top


Desert Wetlands will be a semester-long project. An all day field trip will launch the project at the beginning of the semester where pre-service teachers and Mr. Ortiz' 6th grade students will meet. They will then participate in a weekly, 2-hour chat with each other; dedicating four hours a week for eighteen weeks.

Learner Outcomes:

Students will be able to describe biotic and abiotic attributes.
Students will be able to identify land management activities associated with wetlands restoration projects.
Students will be able to analyze the impact of specific human activities upon the wetalnds habitat.
Students will be able to identify birds and migratory waterfowl.
Students will be able to explain important scientific, social, and aesthetic values of this habitat.
Students will conduct a needs assessment and apply knowledge gained to the solution of a real world problem.
Students will apply scientific knowledge in a web design and web building process.
Students will access, critically evaluate and utilize information from a variety of sources
Students will communicate via e-mail, list serve, and chat.
Students will use database software, spreadsheets and scheduling software to plan the design and construction the web site.
Students will locate, pursue, and secure funding for Keystone Foundation.
Students will create and present a proposal to the Keystone Park (foundation) for approval.

Back to top

Structure of the Learning:

A recent purchase from a local real estate developer has afforded Keystone Park and Wetlands the opportunity to protect and preserve this desert wetlands (http://www.elpasogold.com/keystonepage.htm). The foundation has a lot of work ahead with the preservation of a botanical garden, building an interpretive center, and creating hike and bike trails. They have asked students to help them build a web site for children and for NMSU's student-teachers to design curriculum for the community's summer program and school educational outreach programs.


Dear Mr. Ortiz' 6th grade class,

"A 5,000-year old village, possibly the oldest and largest of its kind, has been discovered inside our city limits along an ancient, and rare, desert wetland. Water from the nearby Rio Grande has been seeping into this old bosque, or marsh, and serves as a resting stop for millions of birds of all types as they migrate yearly along this ancient river in the desert. Birds fill the sky at sunset every night all year long". You can see blackneck stilts, egrets, and –YES -  hundreds of seagulls--in the desert!
A group of El Pasoans are determined to help preserve Keystone. The necessary applications for funding have been approved from the Texas Department of Transportation, TEA21 Funds, and Junior League grants. Now officially protected from development, this rare desert marsh will continue to be a nesting ground. However, we still have a long way to go! We need a web site and we want your help!
Students, this is a great chance to preserve our history of the desert southwest. The Keystone Foundation is comprised of parents, teachers and members of the business community who want to keep and preserve this unique and beautiful place for our children.  We want to build a Keystone Interpretive Center for you so that you can learn about our desert wetlands and its impact on the environment, and the visiting waterfowl who live and nest in our desert marsh and share it with children from all over the world. We think a web site just might be what the doctor ordered! Speaking of doctor, you will be working the New Mexico State University student-teachers and their professors to build an online database of our feathered friends. Grab your binoculars and let's go!
By the way, funds will be available to build botanical gardens, wetlands, archeological site, an interpretive center, hike and bike trails, and more but we need your help and hard work.
Please help us preserve and learn to love our desert wetlands.

Bernie Sargent
Keystone Foundation

Back to top


Students will make their own decisions on this project. They will divide into groups based on their areas of expertise. They will be responsible for choosing their roles within their groups, creating a group contract agreement, and choosing their own direction. Students may use e-mail, bulletin boards, and chat software to locate and collaborate with schools, Keystone Foundation officials, and experts in the field.

The project starts with the college students working with the sixth graders to conduct a needs assessment, to identify why a web stie is needed for Keystone. From that point, the successive stages involve a variety of student groups, with each stage building on the information gathered in the previous stage. Students may decide to build a waterfowl database in which case students will go to Keystone as a group (and on their own). They will photograph the migratory birds using both regular and digital cameras. Then back in their classrooms they will research the bird they have photographed and input the data into an online database to be posted to the Keystone Educational website.  The student-teachers are simultaneously investigating the complexities of curriculum design in an educational outreach program and building an educational web site. Student "experts" from various group form groups to analyze and build upon the other experts' research and reach a new set of conclusions for their topic, to be presented orally (and in writing)the following week. Each group or series of groups includes a different mix of six graders and student-teachers, with each student having the experience of being a group leader. The process of "backward planning" is also to be used within the groups.

Although the instructors have planned groups for each of the major themes, the size and number of students in these groups are subject to modification. For example, if, as a result of research into web design basics, a fourth theme is discovered that students would like to pursue, then the project could easily be modified to utilize four teams of six, instead of three teams of eight. By the same token, the Soil Group, the Water Group, and the Bird/Waterfowl group could also be modified per student request.

Back to top 


Sixth grade students will co-create with pre-service teachers a database of local waterfowl in this desert marsh to publish to the Internet for the Keystone Foundation' educational outreach program. After teaming up, each group is responsible for compiling the results of its research and presenting the group's conclusions orally on an ongoing basis, at the end of the semester, and in writing for Keystone's Educational Web Site.

The students will use various ways to communicate long distance: Chat environments, web cameras, email. They will use the internet to research wetlands. They will create a waterfowl database for Keystone's educational web site. Together, students will design a rubric for their Desert Wetlands Project.

Best Use of Technology:

Students will investigate their topics and work with experts such as the Texas Parks and Wild Life, the International Boundary and Water Commission (U.S. State Department).
Students will be able to use aerial maps and GPS to map out the ecosystem on the proposed site.
Students will research the proposed site.  Students will be able to use such tools as MS Access to build a database regarding environmental issues.

Students will create a web page to document the local waterfowl and post to the Internet an image database for the Keystone Foundation. 

Pre-service teachers will be able to research the sites on the Internet about wetlands and share lesson plans with their peers, university professors, and local and regional schoolteachers.

Students will communicate on the Internet with other students and pre-service teachers researching the local wetlands.

Students will present their findings on Web site.

Back to top


Formative Evaluation (on-going; checkpoints):
Students’ responses to the K-W-L activity will generate potential research topics and a framework for deriving problem solving strategies. Throughout the project, the teachers and students will refer to a project-grading rubric. In addition, based on periodic assignments and project journal entries, the teachers will monitor progress and better anticipate and suggest alternatives to potential problem areas as they arise.

Summative Evaluation (final):
The reports, presentations, water quality test results, technology skills assessment, and classroom participation (i.e., journals, action plans) will be used to assess student learning.


Project Evaluation:

After facilitating and guiding students through the Desert Wetlands Project, NMSU's professors will meet as a team to share documentation on how pre-service teachers can bridge the relationship between the university and the public schools. Faculty will gauge what worked well and what didn't on an ongoing basis and discuss any necessary modifications to the plan for the remainder of the project. Data to be accessed for this meeting would include student feedback as provided on the oral presentation evaluation forms as well as student success/failure as indicated by scores on the rubric for that particular component. Modifications in terms of the amount of guidance to be provided could easily be made at each juncture.

If  NMSU's team of professors is successful in facilitating this powerful relationship between the kids, the student-teachers, and Keystone, perhaps it could serve as a model for other teacher education programs looking for the same connection.

Back to top

Alignment with the New Mexico Curriculum Framework:


Content Standard 2: Students will use evidence, models, and explanations to explore the physical world.

· identify and organize evidence needed to predict changes in natural and artificial systems; design and develop models.

Content Standard 4: Students will understand the physical world through the concepts of change, equilibrium, and measurement.

· illustrate that constancy and change are properties of objects and processes;

· use elementary scientific devices to measure objects and simple phenomena;

· employ mathematics to quantify properties of objects and phenomena; and

· relate the contributions of external and internal forces to change in the form and function of objects, organisms, and natural systems.

Content Standard 5: Students will acquire the abilities to do scientific inquiry.

· use the scientific method within the classroom and school environment; and

· employ equipment, tools, a variety of techniques and information sources to gather, analyze, and interpret data.

Content Standard 10: Students will know and understand the characteristics that are the basis for classifying organisms.

· use information about living things including:

· the roles of structure and function as complementary in the organization of living systems;

Content Standard 11: Students will know and understand the synergy among organisms and the environments of organisms.

· distinguish among organisms based on the way an organism regulates its internal environment in relation to changes in its external environment;

· describe how organisms obtain and use resources, grow, reproduce, and maintain a stable internal environment while living in a constantly changing external environment;

· predict behavior in relation to changes in an organism·s internal and external environments;

· use knowledge of population characteristics to distinguish specific populations;

· categorize organisms based on the function they serve within their ecosystem;

· examine the impact humans have had on other species and natural systems over time;

Back to top

Language Arts:


Strand: Reading and Listening for Comprehension

Standard I: Students will apply strategies and skills to comprehend information that is read, heard, and viewed.

5-8 Benchmark I-B: Gather and use information for research and other purposes

· 1.1. Understand concept of primary source.

· 2.2. Research multiple sources to deepen understanding and integrate information and ideas across varied sources and content areas by:

· Conducting research (with assistance) from a variety of sources for assigned or self-selected projects (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people, libraries, databases, Internet, computer networks)

· Evaluate the usefulness and quality of information and ideas based on purpose, experiences, text.

Strand: Writing and Speaking for Expression

Standard II: Students will communicate effectively through speaking and writing

5-8 Benchmark II-A: Use speaking as an interpersonal communication tool

· 1.1 Use language to:

· formulate hypotheses

· evaluate information and ideas

· present and support arguments

5-8 Benchmark II-C: Demonstrate competence in the skills and strategies of the writing process

· Produce a variety of written products that demonstrate competence

Back to top

Mathematics: http://sde.state.nm.us/divisions/learningservices/schoolprogram/standards/csnb.html

Content Standard 10: Students will understand and use statistics.

· collect, organize, and describe data systematically;

· construct, read, and interpret tables, charts, and graphs.

Authors: Michele Stafford-Levy, Shirley Davis, Albert Alvarez Ortiz, and Ellen Treadway.

Created for the NTEP II Fermilab LInC program sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab, and funded by United States Department of Energy, Illinois State Board of Education, North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium which is operated by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), and the National Science Foundation.
Web Maintainer: ed-webmaster@fnal.gov
Last updated: April 15, 2001