Fermilab LInC Online

A Desert Oasis:
Keystone Park and Wetlands

Scenario for Preservice Teachers Enrolled in
Reading/Literacy Curriculum & Pedagogy Course

Ellen Treadway, Ph.D.
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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A Desert Oasis: Keystone Park and Wetlands is a semester-long, engaged learning project that partners New Mexico State University preservice teachers and Gadsden Independent School District sixth grade students in an exploration of desert wetlands located in Southern New Mexico and West Texas.  This project integrates all areas of the public school curriculum through a multidisciplinary approach to teaching science, math, language arts, and technology through project-based learning.  Critical thinking, visual literacy, and cooperative learning are also integral to the project.  These skills will be learned and demonstrated by students will work together to complete a series of activities in which they will respond to a real-world problem affecting their region and community. 

The scenario to follow will orient the reader to the role of the university reading/literacy curriculum and pedagogy class as project partners with sixth grade students.  As this preservice professional development course is intended to prepare elementary education majors to teach in regional schools, issues related to reading across the curriculum, student assessment and evaluation, and hands-on, experiential learning are addressed.  A rationale for establishing partnerships with the students with whom preservice teachers will be working is also explored in the context of the Desert Oasis project.


  Beginning/Getting Started

A Desert Oasis: Keystone Park and Wetlands is an engaged learning project will serve as the semester project for students enrolled in NMSU College of Education Block A reading/bilingual education curriculum and  pedagogy courses.  Block A preservice teachers are in their final year of education coursework and in the process of deciding where to student teach.  The Desert Oasis project will partner preservice teachers with Albert Ortizís sixth grade students at Desert View Elementary School in the Gadsden I.S.D.  As many preservice teachers are Gadsden I.S.D. graduates, for many, this project represents an opportunity to return to their home school district to explore teaching and community service learning in their community.  Through the Desert Oasis project, students will receive course credit for actively participating in this engaged learning project, reflecting and writing about their experiences, developing project components such as rubrics and web pages, and completing a culminating task to simulate or practice the development of similar projects for their own classroom.  Guidelines for each of these tasks will be developed in collaboration with project team members, including the course instructor, and preservice teachers enrolled in Block A methods courses.

Preservice teachers will benefit from this project in a number of ways.  First, this project will provide students with an early experience of practice teaching in their home school district.  The project combines practice teaching and project facilitation with community service learning, two real-world experiences expected of all students prior to graduation.  Second, this project integrates technology in the content areas to a great degree, thus providing an invaluable opportunity to apprentice with knowledgeable university instructors and public schoolteachers who will demonstrate and model literacy development with technology for both native English speakers and English language learners alike.  Third, this project will yield a portfolio of demonstrated learnings in the form of activities, lesson plans, and rubrics that preservice teachers can show as evidence of their knowledge and competence in a number of curriculum areas.  Fourth, this project is an ideal opportunity for students to gain experience prior to student teaching that can help them to choose their practice teaching school site and cooperating teacher.  Finally, this project will further the collaboration and good will between the university and the public school district, a relationship that is being forged through the efforts of university instructors who care deeply about their mission to prepare teachers for success in the classroom from the first day on the job.

At the start of the project, preservice teachers will be introduced to the concepts of engaged learning in the context of reading and literacy across the curriculum.  As many of the students in Albert Ortizís sixth grade class are English language learners, students will read about English as a second language and the cognitive academic language learning approach.  Understanding the importance of cooperation and collaboration among native English speakers and English language learners, preservice teachers will explore the technological tools to be used in the project, including the Internet, email and listservs, chat programs, digital cameras, and other programs that may be used during the project, such as Inspiration for graphic organizers and Microsoft Draw and Paint for illustrations.

Preservice teachers will brainstorm responses to the letter from the Keystone Park and Wetlands contact, listing problems and issues that can be addressed in cooperation with sixth grade students.  Preservice teachers will use the tools available to them and listed above to develop a plan of action, hypothesis for problem solving, and timeline for working with their sixth grade partners to investigate the Keystone Park and Wetlands and to begin to gather initial information about the location and related issues in preparation for visiting Albert Ortizís classroom and initiating the project with the children. 


  Middle/In Progress

As preservice teachers gather information about oasis wetlands and further development a plan for addressing many of the issues that they anticipate will be of importance and interest to sixth grade students, there will be a discussion forming teams with students so that preservice teachers can start to see themselves as project   facilitators.  During this time, preservice teachers will practice chatting online, presenting information using PowerPoint and Hyperstudio, and reflecting on their experiences via email and listservs.  All products generated throughout the project are to be stored in the College of Educationís server in Novell for inclusion in the final electronic portfolio.  Using the online resources developed for this project, preservice teachers will continue to add to their understanding of the research base and field experiences relevant to the problem as defined by the group.  The problem will be defined further as preservice teachers start to collaborate with their sixth grade student teams. 

It is expected that teams will divide into groups according to their areas of interest and expertise once the preservice teachers and students have developed a baseline of information about desert wetlands and the needs of the Keystone community to preservice and protect this natural landmark.  The teams will research and present expert information on soil composition, water quality, flora and fauna, weather, and preservation efforts.  Teams will identify local experts with the assistance of their teacher and university instructors and will consult with professionals to further the goals of their project.  The middle of the project will be marked by team presentations of their learning and contribution to the solving the problem.  Teams will work to ensure coherence across topics of expertise so that each team will contribute information that will contribute to the overall goal of the projectóto preserve the desert oases of West Texas and Southern New Mexico.  Teams will also present their conception of the web site that will be developed for the purposes of further disseminating information to the general public. 



The preservice teachers will produce a series of rubrics for evaluating team cooperation, information gathering and presentation, technology use, and literacy development to evaluate each student in Albert Ortizís class.  These assessment tools will help students reflect on the value of the engaged learning project for the sixth graders and for themselves as practice teachers.  These rubrics, reflection papers, and final products will be part of the
preservice teachersí electronic portfolio, which will be compiled by the university instructor on a CD-ROM for
disseminating among university faculty, community organizations, and expert participants in the project.

Among the final products will be a website and plan of action for additional community involvement, web site maintenance, and fundraising efforts that will benefit the Keystone Park in the future.  As preservice teachers and sixth grade students see the project come to a close, they will be able to reflect on their experiences and make recommendations for others for whom this and other projects will be developed by the Fermilab LInC team. 


  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): Ellen Treadway, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico (etreadway@zianet.com)
Created: March 4, 2001 - Updated: April 12, 2001
URL: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/lincon/w01/projects/nmsuwet/scenario3.html