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This project challenges students to analyze our nature trail to determine what environmental problems exist, including erosion and pollution.  When the nature trail was constructed, the impact that the trail would have on the surrounding fragile environment was not taken into account. Over the past 20 years, erosion and litter pollution has plagued the trail. Since much of the trail is located on a hillside that leads down to a fragile swamp/marsh land, the erosion is now a major concern.

The students will make observations and collect data over the school year. In small groups (teams of 2nd and 7th grade students), they will create possible solutions to these problems and submit them to middle school classes for any needed improvements. Together they will implement the solutions. Additionally, the students will share their observations, which will include data and video, on the web.


Second Grade:

Beginning/Getting Started

As an agent from the Department of Natural Resources walks into the room the second grade students are impressed with his uniform! With his multimedia presentation about the environment, he has their complete attention. He speaks about how fragile our environment is and challenges the students to help conduct a study of our school nature trail environment to help identify problems. He offers his e-mail address to the students and states that if they have any questions to email him. He will respond to their emails swiftly, much like Batman responds to the Bat Signal.

The second graders are excited about the possibility of helping to save one of their favorite places, the Nature Trail! The teacher introduces the project's student web pages as each student follows along on an iBook computer. They eagerly dig into their work as some are gleaning information on the environment and environmental issues from web resources. Others are taking notes as they process information from books and CDs. The second graders decide that they might need additional help from some "experts." They know that Mr. Fawver is an expert on the Nature Trail and wish to ask him and his students for help. They decide to send an e-mail to Mr. Fawver, inviting them to assist them in this project. They anxiously await a reply. When it finally arrives, the second graders are filled with excitement. They set up a time to meet with their partners.

Middle/In Progress

The second graders seem a bit nervous as they meet their seventh grade collaborators. The students participate in a Think-Pair-Share activity and cooperatively fill out a K-W-L chart as the facilitators assess student background knowledge. The students now seem to be fairly comfortable working together.

A second grader squints as the sun reflects into his eyes off of the calm waters of Balsam Lake. He walks with his team (two seventh graders and two second graders) down the nature trail in search of environmental problems. One of the seventh graders picks up a pop can and states that this is a problem. His teammates quickly agree. The team starts to take pictures of litter with a digital camera. Farther up the trail a group pauses at a place where the stream meanders dangerously close to the trail. We see one of the second graders start to write about this in her journal. Meanwhile, a teacher walks the trail as a facilitator and manager, acting as an on-site consultant and troubleshooter to a student team that seems to be confused. Another group notices an ugly mass floating down the stream. Screams of "Gross" ring out causing a nearby group to come over to investigate. Later we see the teams and facilitators meet together in a comfortable spot in a field near the trail and discuss this day's investigation. Finally, we see all of the students back in the classroom making reflections in their iBooks and completing self evaluations.

The next day the seventh graders greet their teammates as they meet to make decisions about details of their scientific investigation. They decide which trail problem they would like to focus on and collect data for. With teacher guidance they consider such things as where to set up observation stations and what type of observations they will make. They determine what kind of data can be collected. Decisions are made about frequency of data collection. Information about the culminating project is given to the students. The project rubric is explained.

The next week on the nature trail we anxiously see the data collection in progress. One group finds litter and plots locations on a map. They determine the mass and volume of litter on the trail for that day. Another group takes water samples from the lake and stream. One of the students has a video camera and is documenting the process. We see the seventh graders using the testing kit, explaining what they are doing to the second graders. Together the team graphs the results on a chart. They discuss results with a facilitator. By the stream we see a team cooperatively taking measurements of the distance between the stream and the trail. Then they hike close to the road and measure the volume of dirt which has eroded down the hill. Fortunately it isn't raining and the teams meet at the field and enter data into the iBooks. Facilitators discuss their observations. Students journal and complete group process evaluations. Some students decide to e-mail the DNR agent to find out further information about the source of the water entering the stream near the nature trail and all other inlets to Balsam Lake.

Monthly we find the teams on the trail eagerly collecting and recording data. They continue to document their efforts for the final project. The facilitators guide students as they interpret their data. The students find helpful information from the student web pages. Project data is now being posted on the district web site.



After many enjoyable spring days on the trail and in the classroom our nature trail winds to a close. The DNR agent meets with the students one last time. This time at the trail. He helps the teams review their data and formulate suggestions for improving the trail. He tells them that they can make a difference, and challenges them to present these suggestions to the school board and other appropriate agencies.

Now we see the teams focusing on completing their projects. Some are working on PowerPoint presentations. Some second graders are using Kid Pix Deluxe. I have to laugh as I see one group video taping a puppet show!

Most of the teams are pleased with their scores on the project rubric. They have done a fine job! The school board president offers the students a hearty,"Well done" as she seems amazed by the quality of the projects. These projects are then posted on the web for the world to see. The students are proud of themselves. The facilitators agree, they can't wait to do this again next year!

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Seventh Grade:

Beginning/Getting Started

To get the seventh grade started with this project, the teacher will read an e-mail from the second grade class asking for their help to save the nature trail. The letter will go on to say that the second graders are going to look the them as experts in the areas of conducting certain tests, training them to use certain technologies, and assisting them in putting together their findings and possible solutions into a report to be posted on the district web page.

The first step for the seventh graders will include getting together with the second graders to introduce each other, meet with the individual teachers, and learn of their upcoming adventure.

We will begin our project by having a presentation by a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agent. He will talk with them about environment, pollution, observation, problem identification and problem solving. He will challenge them to help do a study of the trail environment to help identify problems and solutions. Following the DNR agents presentation, the students will be introduced to the project's student pages. Here they will have the opportunity to access web and local resources to acquire more background information on environment and environmental issues. This will be in a webquest type format. Information on the website we will maintain will be sent to the DNR and community members.

Middle/In Progress

At this point we will form teams of 2nd graders and 7th graders. The teams, with appropriate facilitating by teachers, will begin to make decisions as to the details of their scientific investigation. They will consider such things as where to set up observation stations and what type of observations they want to make ( types of animal, plants, measure rainfall, position of the sun, analyze the water, etc.). They will also make decisions as to how this data will be collected (video and still pictures, statistical data). Seventh grade students will be setting up and manning observation stations along the trail. One group e-mails the DNR agent to ask his opinion of where the best sites on the nature trail would be to set up the observation stations.

As the school year progresses the students will "work" the trail on a regular basis. Among the data they will collect is rainfall and the effect it may have on the trail. After each rainfall they will record, using video technology, the extent that the rain may have eroded the trail. Over time this video can be compared to measure the effects of erosion over time. Students will also analyze the water from the lake to see if the the erosion effects the quality of the water. In addition to video recording students will be using databases and spreadsheets to record numerical data. They will be making similar observations of plant, and animal life and other items they decide upon. Chuck will be working with the students and teachers in developing spreadsheets and databases in which the information and data will be collected. He will also be facilitating the creation of web pages into which the the data will be posted. Paul will be be helping the teams with the video technology and the posing of that information to the web. Greg will be working with his 2nd graders. On a regular basis students will updating the website.


The students will then post their data onto our web site at Unity School District. The project will culminate in the spring with another visit from the DNR agent. He will help the students review their data and formulate some suggestions. The students will then prepare a PowerPoint type presentation which will be presented to the school board at their June meeting. This presentation will also be posted on the district web site.

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Tech Support:

Beginning/Getting Started

Well before this project begins, Paul and Chuck are getting all the equipment and software ready that will be necessary for this project to come off without a hitch. They are making sure that the iBooks are fully charged and that there are enough for each team to take with them on the trail. They are also making sure that there are enough digital still cameras, digital video cameras, pencils, pens, crayons, paper, and plastic bags available for each group. There is also the need to make sure that everything is fully charged and operational so that there are no surprises once the students are out on the trail.

Paul and Chuck also make sure that all the tutorials are ready for the students to use. The tutorials will include the use of the iBook computers; digital still and video cameras; and MGI PhotoSuite, iMovie, and Clarisworks/Appleworks programs.

Paul will make contact with the Department of Natural Resources Agent to make sure the necessary equipment (computer, projector, microphone) are all available when the agent arrives to talk with the second and seventh grade classes. He will also make sure that the auditorium is reserved.

Middle/In Progress

Paul and Chuck meet with all the groups before they head out to the nature trail with the sensitive equipment. They discuss with the students how to care for the equipment out in the dirty and wet environment, carrying the equipment in the plastic lined bags and only taking it out when necessary. They also discuss how to operate the equipment, but most of the students have already gone through the tutorials, so this is just a quick refresher for the students.

As the first groups go out to the nature trail, Chuck and Paul prepare to any emergencies. They carry along extra batteries for all the equipment that the students are taking along with them. They also take extra disks for the digital still cameras and video tapes for the digital video cameras.

The students eagerly take pictures, video and notes on their first and successive trips to the trail. They have questions about the equipment, but Chuck and Paul find that the seventh graders help the second graders with most of the questions. They can just stand back and observe the learning taking place in both age groups.

Once back in the classroom, the students download pictures and data to their personal folders located on the district server. They try to assimilate some of the information but the students are encouraged to wait until they have more data.


As the year comes to a close and all the data is accumulated over the school year, now is the time for the students to "crunch the numbers." They look at all the data and pictures and design how they will present all the information to the school board. Some decide to use a web page, others Power Point and others a "news show" format. Chuck and Paul assist in all areas, but again the seventh graders surprise both facilitators in the knowledge.

Before the presentation to the board, all the equipment is moved to the Board Room and tested. The students are nervous but ready. The big night approaches and everything goes off without a hitch. All the presentations are saved and posted on the Unity Home Page for the world to see.

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Created for the 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.

Author(s): Chuck Bouthilet, Greg Paulsen, & Paul Uhren
School: Unity School District, Balsam Lake,WI 54810
Created: February 15, 2001 - Updated: April 18, 2001
URL: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/lincon/w01/projects/naturetrail/scenario.html