Handbook of Engaged Learning Projects




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Project Beginning

As the fifth grade students enter their classroom, they encounter the environmental issues in the town of Smallville. A copy of a newspaper article from a Web page is posted on the bulletin board notifying the citizens in the town of the potential development of a plot of prairie land on the outskirts of town. Interested developers (each represented by a cooperative learning group of four students) have been asked to determine the best use of this parcel of land for Smallville. They must determine how their proposed development will affect the ecological environment of their community. Students will be using the resources of the Internet to investigate the options for an impact of the development of a parcel of prairie near Smallville. Each cooperative learning group of students will make a multimedia presentation to the class to enable them to decide which development will be chosen.

The Following Two Weeks

Since the project began two weeks ago, students have been meeting in their groups (assigned by the teacher) representing different developers and one citizen action group. With teacher guidance, students have been accessing various Web sites to find information about their type of development, consulting with experts electronically, and creating the documents and visuals needed for their presentation. The teacher has been monitoring the work of the groups on a daily basis, providing support, questioning rationale for activities, observing group dynamics, and guiding information searches when needed.

Throughout this project students assess the progress of their group and review tasks which need to be accomplished. The teacher moves from group to group discussing options and providing feedback on work from the previous day. Throughout this process, students keep a journal, maintain a running account of their progress, reflect upon their research and the discoveries of others, and document their findings. For ongoing assessment students utilize the checklists given to them by their teacher to keep track of their progress ("What have you learned about . . ., Company Progress Record Sheet and PAC Progress Record Sheet?"). Opportunities for peer and self-assessment are readily available, and performance rubrics are accessible to students online. Here is an example of what the teacher and students might be doing during a typical workday:

Amanda and Tasha of the Prairie Rover Automobile Company head to a computer to re-examine the newspaper article in their e-mail file and note the deadlines that the group must meet in order to present a plan at the Smallville town meeting for an auto manufacturing plant on the site. They pull up the group time line and evaluate the group's progress toward the deadline dates. Two other group members, Rizwan and Cheryl, begin to search the Internet for employment statistics, wages, and benefits of autoworkers to add to the "Benefits of the Auto Plant" sheet that will be presented at the town meeting. They are trying to show how this auto plant will be of benefit to Smallville.

The Commonwealth Franklin group, which would like to build a power plant on the site, is gathered around a table covered by a map of the planned development. Group members are using cut-outs of the buildings, parking lots, roads, railroad tracks, etc. to examine possible layouts. A lively discussion takes place on the pros and cons of each site plan. Candi is planning to use a drawing program on the computer to create the final version of their plan. The teacher reminds the students that he/she will be evaluating the final blueprints of all of the development plans. They are trying to show how this power plant will be of benefit to Smallville.

Lara and Oswaldo of the Dino-matic Oil Company are searching the Internet for information about oil refineries using the existing links on the resource page. This facility will provide heating oil and gasoline for many surrounding communities. They are designing a blueprint for their proposal. Betsy and Chris are gathering information about how to control oil spills and the positive effects an oil refinery will have on Smallville. All of this information will be helpful when the group presents their proposal at the town meeting.

Across the room, Josh and the other members of the Prairiefield Mall Corporation are examining e-mail from merchants located in other supermalls in the U.S. The students have requested sales figures and personal comments about being located in a supermall. After reading the e-mail and noting important information, the group members work on completing their environmental surveys explaining what currently exists at the prairie site.

Garrett and Lakesha are viewing pictures of amusement park attractions. Since their group is proposing a theme park for the Smallville site, they want to incorporate pictures of the attractions they will build in their park. They feel that these pictures will enhance their statements on the social, economic, and recreational benefits of Ten Banners Over Smallville. After spending several days last week examining information from various Web sites on safety issues in amusement parks, the other two members of the group found a substantial amount of information on roller coaster safety. They are upstairs in the school's Library Media Center downloading this information in preparation for answering safety-related questions during their presentation.

Representing the Prairie Advisory Council, Cheri's group is creating a plan for a non-destructive use of the prairie site. Yamil and Steve are downloading into a computer several images found on the Internet about a local prairie. The pictures of prairie plants and animals will be used as part of the group's presentation giving reasons why the entire prairie should be preserved. Cheri and Mike are searching through Internet field guides to locate information on the uses of the prairie plants by native American and early pioneers in the area. They are also searching for medicinal uses of prairie plants.

Scent of a Prairie wants to build a landfill on the site. Doug is gathering information on household garbage production and disposal. He is also establishing the need for landfills and why Smallville will be an excellent location. Meanwhile, Jason and Sarah are using the Internet to find information on recreational uses of closed landfills. Following the group's time line, Christina is heading to the school computer lab to finish the graphics work she has not yet completed for the blueprint of the site.

Aamir and the rest of the Wright-Built Prairie Homes group are working on a proposed map of this residential subdivision. After e-mail conversations with a city building inspector, a local developer, and a city land use planner, the students collected information on building codes, soil types, retention ponds, and the suitability of residential buildings on this site. After discussing this information with their teacher, they are working on residential landscaping designs for the four styles of model homes to be built in this subdivision. They are searching the Internet for various designs to be downloaded in order to incorporate this data into their environmental impact report that they will present at the town meeting.

Pride of the Prairie Internet Discount Club (seeking to build their corporate headquarters on the prairie site) is working on a plan for the management of the prairie acres that will remain after the building is completed. On the Internet, Anthony and Jeremy have contacted prairie restoration specialists. The specialists are helping them develop a management plan that will preserve and enhance the existing prairie. Andrea and Heather are searching the Internet, using links established in the resource guide for information regarding the different plants and animals which can be found in a prairie. They are working on a justification for keeping a parcel of the prairie intact.

Toward the End of the Unit

Two weeks later, the development groups are completing their required documents and making their final preparations for their presentations at the Smallville town meeting. Since each group will have a limited time for presentation, the Prairie Rover Automobile group has adjusted their group time line to allow for practice time early next week. After pulling up their time line for a quick review, group members agree on an adjustment of responsibilities to finish during that week.

The Prairie Advisory Council group is putting the finishing touches on their presentation on the value and beauty of the prairie. Steve and Cheri are selecting music to use as a background to their presentation. Mike and Yamil are working with the teacher to use a desktop publishing program to develop an information flyer that the group plans to distribute as people arrive for the town meeting.

Carla and Aamir of the Wright-Built Builders are putting the final touches on their group's attractive graphics while Kirk and Jeff are using the draw program on the computer to create their final blueprint of the location of the multifamily community on the site.

Lakesha and Darren are using a laser disc and selecting a video segment showing a trip on a roller coaster (from the rider's point of view) to integrate into their presentation for Ten Banners Over Smallville. Garrett and Naomi are completing the final section of the environmental impact report as they word process their management plan for the remainder of the prairie. The teacher stops by as the group works and provides feedback.

Aaron and Tabitha of Scent of a Prairie are using a drawing program to create a cross-sectional view of the proposed landfill. They intend to import the drawing into their environmental impact report. Sarah and Jason are checking their e-mail for responses from ecologists about the effects of a landfill upon ground water quality.

Project Culmination

The day of the Smallville town meeting has arrived! Each cooperative group of students will present their findings. Each student pulls out his/her Development Plan Analysis form for each proposal. (Residents will not complete a form for the group they represent.) As the presentations are given, each class member or Smallville citizen listens attentively. Students will be able to ask questions following each group presentation. At the conclusion of all of the presentations each citizen will analyze all of their summary sheets, indicate his/her choice for the development of the prairie site, and write a paragraph substantiating the decision. The teacher will collect all Development Plan Analysis forms and attached paragraphs. The teacher will then tally all votes and inform Smallville of the fate of the prairie plot. The teacher has the right to eliminate any student's choice if it is not properly documented.