Handbook of Engaged Learning Projects


Scenario - Getting Started

HELP Index




Student Pages

Getting Started

Really Raw Data


Wrapping Up

As the children returned from the creek, the teacher wrote the word "RIVER" on the board. Everyone chatters about their first visit to the local creek near their school. They have returned with drawings and observations. They had spotted a few fish, some crayfish, and a lot of plants and stones. As the teacher quiets the children she slowly moves toward the door. A sign on the door reads " Environmental Research Laboratory." Questions flow like the creek they just visited. "What are we researching? The creek? What are we going to do? Are we going back to the creek? Can we go again? Someone notices the applications for employment on the table. "I have it!" one student exclaims. We are going to do river experiments!" The teacher poses the question, rive" Why is our creek, or any river important to study?"

The children are aware of the need for clean water for all, but a little stream like ours didn't seem to be that important to the big picture. Some of the children wanted to know where the creek went, and how it started. Some others wanted to know how you would know how to tell how clean a river was. The teacher stopped the class when more questions were asked than answered. She then asks how many students would like to learn more about the importance of rivers and participate in a real study of our creek as part of the DuPage River system? All hands shot up. She told them that the DuPage Forest Preserve has asked school children to help the Forest Preserve monitor the rivers and creeks around the county. Our little creek and our partner school's river would be part of the study. She hands out the letters that describe what the Forest Preserve wants. Someone notices that the Forest Preserve also would like the children to raise smallmouth bass and prairie grasses to help in their effort to improve the streams. More questions arose about the bass, but they all were excited to have these mysterious fish in their classroom. After waiting for the excitement to subside a bit the teacher asks, "What skills would you need in order to become an expert in our river study?

The children brainstorm in small groups and try to imagine the skills they would need to become river experts. After a few minutes the teacher makes a list using the children's ideas. The skills range from knowing facts about water to finding out how to make a bass happy. The children then try to organize their ideas into major headings including data collection, botany, zoology, geology, weather, and microbiology.

Next the students filled out the River Project Application and signed the contract given to us by Steve Leonard, our "employer" from the Forest Preserve. The children begin to realize that there is a lot to learn to become experts in river management. The teacher also knows this and suggests to the students that they may "try out" some activities to see which area of expertise is most interesting.

The next day the children notice a list of activities on the board. Around the classroom are books and magazines about river topics and a video-tape borrowed from the Forest Preserve about what makes a healthy river. There are two fish tanks on the counter, one a 30-gallon tank, the other a ten-gallon tank. There is box with filters and other apparatus including a tank set up guide and other aquarium books. There are nets and stream literature and gear in another corner, water chemistry tests near the sink, and two computers with Internet access. Along with the lists are sign-up sheets to allow for choice. The teacher invites the students to choose an activity. Because they are scientists and their activities are important they will use their science journals to record which activity was chosen and what they learned each day. Dating the journal would be important. Drawings or charts could also be included as well as research on various topics. These beginning explorations (mini-lessons) would give the children an opportunity to develop skills in order to decide on their chosen "field of expertise."

The students are members of the Project Idea Plus class at Mill Street and Highlands School in District 203 in Naperville, Illinois Project Idea Plus is a self-contained class for gifted 4th and 5thgrade students. Each classroom has two dial-up Internet connections. The science curriculum is organized around a two-year cycle. The focus theme for this year is "Beginnings and Influences." This year's science curriculum has district required units of study: Data Collection, Weather, Plants, Small Life, and Rocks and Minerals.

The river is the ideal vehicle to unify this diverse curriculum in an outdoor laboratory setting. To engage the students a scenario is created to hire students as junior ecologists in the school's "Research Laboratory." Coincidentally, the DuPage Forest Preserve District has a river monitoring project for school children associated with the Conservation Foundation of DuPage County. They have mapped the river system and assigned groups to monitor certain areas. The monitoring areas for these schools are about 2 miles apart. The students will be collecting data from the river, sending it to the DuPage Forest Preserve's web site where it will be recorded and compiled along with other schools' data. Bass In The Class is another program run by the Forest Preserve where school children would agree to raise smallmouth bass to introduce to the cleaner streams. The two programs work hand in hand to allow children to be stewards of a real ecosystem.

The research and experiences that they have will lead to a project of their choice.

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Created: July 23, 1996 - Updated: November 24, 1999