Handbook of Engaged Learning Projects




Student Pages


Thornridge High School is using an approach to science that integrates learning strategies, math, social studies, and science. Dennis Condon, Gary Fryrear, Bill Meder, and Shelly Peretz share the same 40 students for two, 50-minute class periods. This gives the teachers the flexibility to meet with one group of students (20), one class period (50 minutes) every day or two class periods (100 minutes) every other day, within the confines of the traditional school schedule.

Each classroom has three ethernet ports which allow teachers to move computers around on the same network. In addition, the network is connected to a router and an ISDN phone line, so the network is connected to the Internet at relatively high speeds. Each classroom also has a telephone. Each classroom also has access to a computer lab with a T1 connection.

At the beginning of the period, students in Ms. Peretz's ninth-grade science class at Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois, enter the science room and sit with other members of their team.

Students were told it was important for their success in the course that they be able to apply the material we study in real life situations. The teacher asks students to spend a few minutes thinking about and jotting down responses in their journals to the question, "When you have gone somewhere on vacation, what kinds of things have you brought back?" She then asks the students to turn to a partner and discuss their responses. Each pair summarizes and shares their comments with the entire group. Several answers were given: pictures, postcards, souvenirs, etc.

The project on wildlife trade is expected to be a multiweek inquiry. The goal is to investigate the problem, as defined by the students, using a variety of tools. Students are assigned to base groups or teams, which are frequently reorganized based on interest, but all students return to their base group to share information and help each other fill in the information gaps. During the project, each team is responsible for developing a plan for conducting their research and for managing their plan.

The class was then shown some items that other travelers had purchased while away. The teacher opens up a suitcase containing "Cargo for Conservation" artifacts, confiscated items provided by US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Items are passed around the class. Malachi says, "I bet there's not an item under $300 here!" Latrice is heard to say, "Who would want a purse that looks like this?" "My mom has one," says Tanisha.

The teacher then says, "Some souvenirs you buy overseas could end up costing a lot more than you paid for them. If they're made from the hides, shells, feathers, or teeth of endangered species&endash;and it's quite possible that they are&endash;you risk their seizure by government inspectors and may face a substantial fine."

Erick asks how are people suppose to know what they can bring back. Phillip demands to know why they can't bring the souvenirs and stuff back.

The teacher shares a challenge with the class:

"We have been asked for groups of 2-3 students to develop their own 30 minute presentation on wildlife trade and endangered species for other students in grades K-3. Five teams of high school students located in Ft. Lauderdale, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Chicago/Dolton and New York City are working on this project to educate consumers about the impact of wildlife trade on endangered and threatened species. We will travel to our American Association of Zoos and Aquaria facility (i.e., Brookfield Zoo) to study exotic endangered or threatened species, to a US Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge (i.e., Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie) to study indigenous species and to a nearest USFWS Inspection Station at a port of entry (i.e., O'Hare International Airport) to learn about wildlife trade importation. We need to think about how we are going to get ready for this responsibility. What do we need to do? What do we need to know? "

The teacher asks student to turn to a partner and identify some of the questions and problems they want to think about that concerns wildlife trade and the class's responsibility in developing their presentations. After a few minutes of paired discussion, the teacher asks for their comments.

A new web is made to discuss the problem of wildlife trade in more detail. The teacher turns to a computer that is already set up with Inspiration, an organizational tool used to help students organize information and ideas. The teacher uses the LCD panel connected to the computer to project the web beginning with the words "wildlife trade and endangered species." The two main ideas leading off of it, "What do we know?" and "What do we need to know?"

"What schools are we going to for our presentations?"

"We need to find out what plants and animals are endangered."

"We need to talk to the people at the Zoo and find out what they do."

"Can we do anything?"

"What are the laws protecting endangered species?"

"We need to practice our presentations."

"What if the kids won't listen while we are doing our presentations?"

"I know someone that has a tarantula like that."

"Where did they get it from?"

"Do they know whether or not it came from the wild?"

"What kind of special care is required to keep such a pet."

"Do you think those coral earring I have could have come from an endangered species?

"Why save a ___________?"

"In advertisements for fur coats are those fashions real or fake?

The teacher added, rare dragonfly may delay the I-355 extension. Not long ago, engineers designing a highway through the southwest suburbs realized that more than farms, homes, hills and streams were in the path of their road. There also was a dragonfly.

So rare is the Hine's emerald dragonfly that it, like the spotted owl and the snail darter before it, seemed to have the kind of power that could scuttle road projects, snuff development and suffocate growth.

"Why save a dragonfly?"

Students break up into their project groups and begin to generate a variety of ways to deal with each of these questions and more.

The next day students are divided into pairs and each receives a copy of a questionnaire. It is explained to the students that they will be learning about issues related to wildlife use and the different ways that people value wildlife. They are instructed to interview each other and record their responses to the survey on the NCS forms. After they complete the surveys, the students run their own forms through the scanner in the classroom. The number of correct responses for each question are recorded on a chart. The questionnaire is used to get students to think about all of the different kinds of animals and plants, and introduce the concept of biodiversity. The teacher explains that these animals and plants are often referred to as "wildlife," but there is another word that is more encompassing and includes all life on Earth. The teacher then asks them if they know what the word is, and write in "biodiversity" on the flip chart. Students are given 2 minutes to write in their journals as many different kinds of organisms as possible that make up the biodiversity of the Earth. After a few minutes of paired discussion, the teacher then lists the different organisms under the word "biodiversity." The teacher then explains that sometimes it helps to organize ones thoughts if things are put into similar groups. Students then rearrange the names into similar groups of species, such as birds, mammals, insects, etc.

At the end of the period, students are asked to think about some of the reasons why biodiversity is in danger and write their reflections in their journal.

Students are divided into 5 cooperative groups or HIPPO expert groups. This activity was adapted from the HIPPO Dilemma lesson in Windows on the Wild (WOW), an environmental education program of World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Each student in the expert group has a copy of their topic from the WOW Primer, one of the five sections on "How is Biodiversity Threatened?": Habitat Loss or Land Use,Introduced or Exotic Species, Pollution, Population Growth, and Overconsumption or Resource Use. In Social Studies, the teacher uses the diverse locations mentioned in the articles to help the students bone up on their geography skills.

The teacher reminds all students that they must be able to clearly explain their problem to other class members not in their group. It might help to focus on the following areas: What is the problem? What causes the problem? How does this problem affect biodiversity? How could we solve the problem? The room suddenly gets quieter as students start to read the articles. As they read, students start talking with one another about what they have read. The room is noisy, but it is productive noise. As the teams go about their work, the teacher can be seen moving from group to group. She provides feedback and assistance and keeps track of noted problems and progress.

Students form a new team consisting of an individual(s) from each of the five original groups. The students now report to each other the issue they learned about in their original group and how it threatens biodiversity. Each person is responsible for making sure that all the group members understand their particular problem (H,I,P,P,or O).

The teacher asks students to identify what they now know about the threats to biodiversity and what they still need to know. As a class, students generate additional information for their know/need to know board from the documents that they have received so far.

She then asks students how could they find answers to their questions. The teacher tries to anticipate student needs in order to provide the resources and experiences that are requested by the students as the information is needed. She directs them without doing the work for them.

At the zoo, students look for species that are endangered by trade, and learn more about the natural history of these animals, why they are endangered, and what is being done to protect them. Each group takes a digital camera, or the video camera to obtain pictures to use in their presentations. Using images from the web on a web page or in a published report may place students in violation of copyright laws if they have not obtained permisssion from the copyright owner.

The teacher wants her students to understand that the solutions are not simple and all wildlife products are not illegal. It seems to be a good time to introduce another World Wildlife Fund "Windows on the Wild" module called "Elephant Economics", where students examine the many different ways that people value elephants and the impact these perspectives influence the way we feel about their commercial uses.

The next day, Chris and his team are using Netscape to search for information on the World Wide Web about offices in our state that deal with wildlife and conservation issues using the Yahoo search engine. Another group is using a variety of CD-ROM disks that contain images and information. Another group is designing their own surveys to gauge the community's knowledge about wildlife trade. Phillip and his team are lookingfor a listing of pet shops in the yellow pages and noting how many stores advertise their animals using terms such as "rare," "tropical," unique," and "exotic." The teacher encourages the students to find out more, to go back to their sources and get substantiation.

Students decide that most people are not aware of how wildlife trade threatens biodiversity and that it would be useful to take action to promote greater awareness about wildlife trade issues.

Some of the students go to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to see what is being done to conserve, restore, and enhance the native populations and habitats of fish, wildlife, and plants. The land, the site of the old Joliet Arsenol, an army ammunition plant, was just recently handed over by the U.S. Army to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. What to do with over 23,000 acres of open space so close to Chicago became the topic of considerable discussion. Midewin is home to 16 endangered and threatened species, including the loggerhead shrike. Hard feelings from the community still exist about private land being confiscated for the arsenol more than 45 years ago!

Other students go to O'Hare International Airport to see first hand how laws protecting endangered species are enforced. A very difficult task considering that there are only 73 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agents employed to inspect imports into the United States. The agents not only enforce U.S. laws regarding wildlife, but all International laws and treaties.

Appropriate technology will be used to collect and analyze consumer values, attitudes, and beliefs regarding wildlife trade and endangered species. Telecommunications is used to gather data and for collaborative research with experts and other students. The interaction that occurs among teachers and students face-to-face in the classroom is supplemented and extended by exchanges that occur among teachers, students, and subject matter experts via electronic mail.

One group of students is working with experts from Miami Metro Zoo via electronic mail and computer conferencing via the Student CITES webpage bulletin boards. Students (grades 9-12) working at school sites in the other port cities are working on a similar problem. They work to solve the problem separately at their site, then share their problem-solving methods with the science students at Thornridge High School (grade 9) electronically via e-mail and/or computer conferencing. Lanis Petrik, from Brookfield Zoo, suggests splitting up the suitcase items and focusing on a fewer number of confiscated products made from wildlife or their parts. Sharing the entire contents of the suitcase might be too overwhelming for younger students. "The younger students enjoy read-aloud books about animals," she says.

Read-aloud books are brought in from home and the library. Students read the books aloud to each other to determine how much time it will take and what animal products from the suitcase might be used. Students fill out a review sheet so that all of the students do not have to read all of the books. Latrice paid her little sister 25 cents to get her to sit down, listen to one of the story books and get her opinion.

In their Social Studies class, students are reading true stories of individuals who were caught in the act of smuggling wildlife and use these stories to trace pathways of illegal wildlife trade on a world map.

Students are continually updating their know/need to know board as they gather and share more information. Students are challenging each other to back up their research with facts, not just opinions. Students develop concept maps to organize their understanding of the problems related to "Buyers Beware."

Students are asked to write out a problem statement and then share it with a partner. As a class, students tentatively come up with a problem statement (often changes with the addition of new information):

How can we...come to a decision about limiting wildlife trade to protect wildlife species..in such a way that we address..

At the end of each period, students are given time to reflect, in their individual learning logs, on what they have learned. Some log entries are "directed entries." Other entries are "non-directed," written when students feel the need to write because of something they have seen or heard or as a result of a discussion they have had with the class, friends, parents, or us.

Students use a concept map to make their thinking visible and redefine their problem statement based on their additional information. Students make a list of all possible solutions generated and develop criteria to select the "best" solution to their problem. The students decide that the criteria should include:

Tashemia, Latrice and Lenice, having selected the "best" solution to their problem based on their criteria selected, begin to prepare their presentations. Michael and his group downloaded pictures from the digital camera. They had checked out the digital camera last weekend to take pictures at the Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.

Student groups decide to take a day to practice their upcoming presentations in front of junior and senior students enrolled in the child-development class that meets the same period. The child development students work with small kids everyday and should be able to give some good feedback. It was decided that most of the presentations definitely had to be more HANDS-ON and involve the little kids more. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

The day of the presentations has arrived. There are 30 presentations scheduled. The plan is that after arriving at the first school, each of the 10 groups would go into 10 different classrooms and give their 30 minute presentation. An introductory letter and Teacher Feedback forms are given to each elementary classroom teacher. Back onto the bus and to McDonald's to eat breakfast and debrief. Onto the second school, 10 more group presentations, back onto the bus and to Burger King to eat lunch and debrief. Finally onto the third school for the day, 10 more presentations, and finally back to Thornridge.

Back at Thornridge, teachers debrief with the students on what they learned in terms of content, technology skills, and applications, as well as collaborative and problem-solving skills. Students evaluate their own skills and those of others on their project team with the rubric that they developed for evaluating their presentations.

Hine's Emerald Dragonfly

Authors: Shelly Peretz, Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois
Handbook of Engaged Learning Projects sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab. Funded by the North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium based at the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL).
Created: July, 1997