According to the National Fish and Wildlife Service the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem is the largest body of freshwater in the world. It provides the resources necessary to support the demands of urban communities, industrial giants, utility companies, binational and international trade and a plethora of recreational activities. Meeting these demands has seriously affected the ecosystem and endangered the fish and wildlife indigenous to the area. The region at the southern tip of Lake Michigan is of special concern since it is the site of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Natural dunes are rare in the United States. Consequently it is imperative to preserve the integrity of this ecosystem.
The residents of the far southeast side of Chicago regard Lake Michigan as an omnipresent aquatic neighbor whose shores are blemished with the remnants of abandoned steel mills and power companies, and whose beaches are overshadowed by the danger of industrial debris. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore provides an excellent opportunity for the children in this community to observe the overall effect of a well-balanced conservation program designed to protect the natural flora and fauna of an ecosystem. Perhaps as a result of their investigations and first-hand experiences these students will begin to formulate a vision that will incorporate what they have learned into an action plan for their own community.
As part of a unit on endangered species, the children in grade five are taking a field trip in the spring to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. There the rangers invite the students to participate in a special program available to elementary schools in the area. The children are asked to adopt an endangered species from the Lakeshore region. The ranger will need to be informed by of the students' choice so that the necessary forms and adoption papers may be forwarded to the National Park Service. The students continue their partipation in the adoption project into the next school year. When the children ask for a list of species from which to choose the ranger refers them to the National Fish and Wildlife Service web site. The teacher will instruct the children to keep this program in mind as they continue their field trip. He/she asks the students to think about what kinds of creatures might be endangered in the Dunes area and why. First-hand observations help them make a choice about which species to adopt.
The following day, during a review of the field trip, the teacher mentions the adoption program about which the Park Ranger had spoken, and engages the students in a discussion about which species they would like to adopt. During this session the teacher elicits the following queries from the students:
- (1) what species are endangered;
- (2) which of these endangered species is located in our region;
- (3) what changes in the ecosystem have created this endangerment;
- (4) what steps have been taken to protect these species and to reintroduce them into the ecosystem;
- (5) what other organizations other than government agencies are committed to protecting endangered species in the area;
- (6) what will be the role/responsibility of the class toward the adopted species;
- (7) what resources would provide the information.
Students divide into groups and brainstorm using the questions on the board as a focus. Students enter some ideas into their computer science journals. As a homework assignment the students: (a) develop a plan for researching this information; (b) be prepared to discuss plans in class the following day. The plans are entered in the students' computer science journals the following day.
Students begin investigating, observing and interviewing experts the via e-mail, chat lines, and newsgroups. Students are encouraged to use various search engines and compare the types of web sites returned by each. Students explore related web sites and gather information concerning their investigation. Students are encouraged to use various strategies to evaluate the information they collect and determine its validity and if it is the most current information available.
The students engage in a weekly review of their project's progress and the strategies that they are using. They identify problem areas and explore alternative methods of solving their problems.
In the following weeks the children work in collaborative groups to locate and record pertinent information. The students are encouraged to create charts and graphs to illustrate how the ecosystem is affected by various attributes. Students are encouraged to make daily entries on their progress into their computer science journal. The journal documents the activities and research results. Student progress is assessed on these entries and students are asked to include frequent self-evaluations of their progress. Each group presents its findings orally draws conclusions based on the student investigations.
As a result of the presentations the students address the issue of the role or responsibility of the class toward the adopted species. The students explore ideas for their participation in the saving of their endangered species. Students are asked to develop waysto create community awareness for their species and its plight. This prompts the students to design, print and disseminate an informational brochure about their endangered species to the school community. When the school has a web site, several other students will design a special web page to display the project.