Handbook of Engaged Learning Projects




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In science class students read a Sunny Times newspaper article about the potential development of a prairie site near the town of Smallville. This leads to a general discussion of the problems communities face when they balance economic development with a desire to maintain open spaces. Students begin by brainstorming what they know about how communities reach land use/development decisions, how companies present ideas for land use and about what a prairie is.

A hard copy of the newspaper article from the Web page is posted on the bulletin board notifying the Smallville residents of the town meeting when interested parties will present development plans. Student form cooperative learning groups--each one representing one of the parties interested in the potential prairie development. They begin working by creating a project time line and assigning tasks to group members. One student sets up a daily group log to keep track of the work done by each member; another student prints out the record sheet on which he will keep track of completed tasks. A third student sets up a log to keep track of Internet sites visited and the information found there.

Typical Classroom Interactions

Since the project began two weeks ago, students have been meeting in their groups. With teacher guidance, students have been accessing various Web sites to find information about their development, consulting with experts via bulletin boards, and performing lab studies to create documents and visual aids for their presentation. The teacher has been monitoring the group work daily, providing support, questioning rationale for activities, observing group dynamics, and guiding information searches.

At the beginning of the class period groups assess their progress and review tasks to be accomplished during that class period. The teacher moves from group to group discussing options and providing feedback on work from the previous day.

Throughout this process, students keep journals, maintaining a running account of their progress, reflecting upon their research and the discoveries of others, and documenting their findings. Opportunities for peer and self assessment are readily available, and performance rubrics are accessible to students online.

Typical Student Group Interactions

Amanda and Tasha of the Prairie Rover Automobile Co. 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. 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 auto-workers to add to the "Benefits of the Auto Plant" sheet that will be presented at the town meeting.

The Commonwealth Franklin group 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 different 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 the land use planner from their city will be visiting their classroom next week, and he will be helping to evaluate the final blueprints of all of the development plans.

All four members of the Dino-matic Oil Co. are at a lab station constructing an oil spill clean-up demonstration. After finding several articles on the Internet about public concern for potential oil spills, the group has decided to do a demonstration of their ability to clean up an oil spill should one occur near their refinery as part of their presentation.

Josh and the other members of the Prairiefield Mall Corp. are examining e-mail from merchants located in U.S. supermalls. 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 survey.

Garrett and Lakesha have set up a slide projector in one corner of the room to view slides of amusement park attractions. Since their group is proposing a theme park for the Smallville site, they want to incorporate slides of the attractions they will build in their park. They feel the slide show will enhance their statements on the benefits of Ten Banners Over Smallville. Lakesha checks the audiovisual sign-up sheet to make sure a slide projector will be available on the day of the presentations. After spending several days examining information from various Web sites on safety issues in amusement parks, the other two members of the group found a videotape on roller coaster safety in the local library. They are upstairs in the school's library media center watching the videotape 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 several Zap Shot camera images taken on the class field trip to a local prairie. The pictures of prairie plants and animals will be used as part of the group's computerized presentation. The images are supplemented with information gleaned from several online prairie tours the students took. Cheri and Mike are searching through Internet field guides to locate information on the uses of the prairie plants by native Americans and early pioneers.

Scent of a Prairie, which wants to build a landfill on the site, is developing a survey on the topic of household garbage production and disposal to be given to Smallville residents. Tabitha is entering the survey in the computer. Meanwhile, Jason and Sarah are using the Internet to find information on recreational uses of closed landfills. Following the group time line check at the beginning of the period, Aaron is heading to the school computer lab to finish the graphics work he has not yet completed for the environmental survey of the site.

Aamir and the rest of the Wright-Built Builders group are at a lab station designing a series of soil tests to be performed at the prairie site. They searched the Web to contact a city building inspector, a local developer and a city land use planner and determined they needed information on soil features to insure the suitability of the site for residential building. After discussing lab procedures with the teacher, they are gathering materials for percolation tests and running sample chemical tests that they will repeat at an outdoor site. Kirk and Clara worked with the teacher to set up a spreadsheet to record their data. They plan to compare their field data to soil test data retrieved from online sources and incorporate this data into their environmental impact report.

Pride of the Prairie Internet Discount Club is working on a plan for the management of the prairie remaining after the building is completed. Via a bulletin board, Anthony and Jeremy have contacted the natural resources restoration volunteer coordinator of the local forest preserve district. She is answering their questions to help them develop a management plan. Andrea and Heather have made plans to go to a workday on the following Saturday morning to see prairie restoration work in action.

Two Weeks Later

Two weeks later the development groups are completing their required documents and making 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 computerized presentation. Steve and Cheri are selecting music to use as a background to their digitalized prairie photo program. Mike and Yamil are working with the teacher to use a desktop publishing program to develop an informational flyer that the group plans to distribute as people arrive for the town meeting.

Carla and Aamir of the Wright-Built Builders are converting their soil test data into an attractive graphic while Kirk and Jeff are using the draw program on the computer to create their final blueprint of the location of the multifamily community.

Lakesha and Darren are selecting a laser disc 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 their environmental impact report as they write 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 a response from a wetland ecologist to a water quality question they placed on a bulletin board.

The Town Meeting

The day of the Smallville town meeting has arrived! Students have invited the principal, the mayor, the head of the Chamber of Commerce and a representative of the Forest Preserve District to attend their mock town meeting. Each guest is greated by one of the students selected to serve as members of the Smallville Town Council, introduced to the rest of the students and invited to join the Town Council at the head of the room.

The presentations begin and proceed in an orderly fashion with the secretary of the Town Council keeping the proceedings on schedule. Students listen attentively to identify pros and cons of each development plan that are recorded on the forms provided by the Town Council. At the conclusion of all of the presentations, students write down their choices for the prairie site development, explaining the reasons for that choice. The Town Council takes a quick poll of the audience before each member casts his/her vote for the best proposal. After the winner is announced the class and their guests enjoy light refreshments as they share in the success of the Smallville prairie development project!