Utilizing the Tools of Poetry for Science Inquiry
by Jim Martin
pril is National Poetry Month. Can we celebrate it by using poetry to facilitate teaching science as inquiry? What does the flow of thoughts, images of relationships, grammar and syntax, in poetry have that would make it an effective element to use while engaging in the process of science inquiry? Is it possible? Let’s see.
So, what would it look like, engaging a science inquiry in a natural place with the tools of poetry? Might be interesting; might be a flop, depending on my own interest, familiarity, and confidence in science and in poetry. A natural concern, yes, but I do know that my students would become invested in their work when I decided to spring something unexpected on them. How would I go about this now?
One thing I’ve learned from looking for curricula outside my classroom, even in school parking lots, is that curricula of all kinds are actually there, embedded in the world. If you think about it, school is learning about the world outside the classroom. We just insulate our classrooms from the world, then teach about the world from within them. It takes dedicated work to make our curricula connect with the world it teaches about. The arts and humanities do open the mind to clear thinking and good work. We might consider using them more often to make those connections.
Which gets us back to poetry. We are human, all of us; we use the arts and humanities to communicate. Not just writers, artists, musicians, and actors, but suits running a powerpoint for other suits at a table, or a man with a cardboard sign saying, “stranded, anything helps.” Without that grounding, we might stumble through life; and, on a larger scale, lose sight of our on-going move toward a global civilization. We need the arts and humanities as much as we need science and technology.
Does poetry really relate to scientific inquiry in riparian areas?
How do I tell this need for the arts and humanities to a streambank? We can combine the streambank and the arts and humanities as we teach; the place and the tools. My own experience tells me that doing science with the assistance of the arts and humanities does work, does engage students in their studies, and does empower them as persons. When students draw what they observe on-site or at a lab bench, and condense each drawing to a word or phrase, use these to build an illustrated poem, write a story, or draw an accurate “photo” point then return in another season to re-draw and analyze it, they easily attain new concepts, and develop conceptual memories that remain with them. These memories tie the work to a personalized picture in their mind; the laying down of a conceptual memory. It is those kinetic, verbal, and visual records of what they experience which help build the strong conceptual memories that they will carry into their lives as something understood; just ‘common sense’.
Poetry, coupled with a drawing, can do this. Here’s a simple example of using the arts and humanities to help clarify conceptions in a stream study. Students are studying a section of a side-channel of the stream, comparing it with the main channel. You have them start the project by observing a reach they choose along the stream. As they decide on their particular reach, they get to know it by observing things there that they think might play a role in maintaining the main and side channels as habitat. This helps them begin to develop an incipient concept of a riparian area as an integrated organization of collaborating entities.
As they work, you ask them to express what they have observed with an incipient poem about the things, themselves, and their place in the stream; how they think that these things help maintain the work of the stream, and the life it supports. This poem is a work in progress, so they’ll add elements to it as they encounter them; updating it as they discover and understand more. Once they are engaged, you ask them to draw a birds-eye-view map of their reach, from stream bank to stream bank. When this is done, you ask them to use their observations, work, and poem to date, to build a section at the end of their poem that ties the parts of the map together within a conceptual framework to express the life of this stream.
They, not you, pull the work they’ve done on-site, and express it as a conceptual schematum
When their work is done, you bundle up and return to the classroom to begin to pull meaning from the evidence and thoughts they have engaged. And, to present each group’s findings and products to the class. The final presentation begins with a seminar report from each group on their work, results, interpretations, and recommendations. This presentation will utilize students’ data, insights, map, and poem, in a way that works best for them. They may wish to keep the map projected on a screen for their entire presentation, with verses of their poem interspersed to the place where they will fit best, or make the most sense. Some groups may wish to include an artful representation of their map. Others may wish to complete their presentation with a performance of their poem. Others may do the same, but with their map, data, etc., included in the performance in spots where they work well. Your job will be to comment on what each presentation brings to the goals and outcomes you had planned to achieve. The first time through, this is an interesting experience, sometimes with a challenge or two. A perfect learning experience for any teacher! Take notes, and incipient preparations for the next time you do this.
By this time, your students should have reached a place where they own their work, and know it intimately enough to begin to intuitively make decisions about it on their own. After the presentations are completed, each group hangs or posts their map and poem in the classroom. The class can then discuss the information in their posted maps and poems, and in their data and analysis sheets, to come to some consensus about connections among the elements of the stream, its environment, and its channels.
Then, they discuss and comment upon a question posed at the beginning of this article: “Can we celebrate our work in the field and lab by using poetry to facilitate teaching science as inquiry? What does the flow of thoughts, images of relationships, grammar and syntax, in poetry have that would make it an effective element to use while engaging in the process of science inquiry?” They’ll be ready to provide specific examples to support their thinking about this. As they share their thoughts, observe carefully for evidence that they have assumed ownership of the work, involvement and investment in their shared learnings, and personal empowerment. When you see evidence of this, ask some questions about it. How did they feel? When did they know they were on a profitable trail? What most helped them get to where they are? And, what part did the poem play in their inquiry? Was it effective in helping you think about the work, relationships around the components of the system?
Something for you to do:
If you did try this in some form or another, and it worked somewhat, but needed tweaking or major surgery, write a blog about your experience and post it to clearingmagazine.org. Or, post it as a comment here, just below the end of this blog, and I’ll get back to you.
This is a regular feature by CLEARING “master teacher” Jim Martin that explores how environmental educators can help classroom teachers get away from the pressure to teach to the standardized tests, and how teachers can gain the confidence to go into the world outside of their classrooms for a substantial piece of their curricula. See the other installments here, or search Categories for “Jim Martin.”
The search for sea slugs
Linking non-divers to the excitement of ocean discovery
by Elise Pletcher
Citizen Science and Volunteer Coordinator
The Marine Science and Technology Center
The Dendronotus iris, a species of nudibranch recently found in one of the MaST Aquarium tanks.
he Nudibranch Team is a citizen science volunteer program at the Marine Science and Technology Center of Highline College. Volunteers work with Aquarium Staff to record populations of nudibranchs (colorful sea slugs). The MaST Center’s 3,000-gallon aquarium is operated on a “flow-through” model where 250 gallons of unfiltered Puget Sound water is pumped every minute through the tanks. This water brings with it several kinds of plankton, which are hard to identify and collect in the open waters of the Puget Sound, but within our tanks can be identified at the species level. Even once they are past their planktonic larval stage, many of the nudibranchs found in our aquarium are less than 1 cm in length!
This system offers the unique opportunity to record abundance of several nudibranch species throughout the year. Citizen scientists on our nudibranch team are trained to identify upwards of twenty nudibranch species, and use flashlights to track them down in our tanks. Why nudibranchs you may ask? They make an excellent species to study because each species is very distinct morphologically. Nudibranchs are the subject of a lot of macrophotography here in the Puget Sound; their bright colors and patterns make them a photogenic group of animals. Many of the animals in our aquarium are collected, but the nudibranchs come in naturally. When we see a nudibranch, it is exciting, because we get to discover them in the tanks! The thrill of not knowing what you are going to see is also a key part of what makes diving so exciting. The Nudibranch Team provides this thrill to non-divers.
The MaST’s Nudibranch Team hosts a diverse crowd with a wide range of abilities. Some are divers who already have a passion for filming nudibranchs, while others are just learning about these sea slugs for the first time. Our team is made up of mother-child duos, music teachers, retirees, and recent college graduates, all with one thing in common: their obsession with these peculiar sea slugs. You don’t need a SCUBA certification to get involved, just an interest in peering into a tank with a flashlight for an hour or two a week. Volunteers start with a 1.5 hour training in which they learn all about nudibranchs and how to identify them, including morphological traits. After the training, they’re given an identification guide, a data collection sheet, and set loose. Of all the MaST’s volunteer programs the Nudibranch Team demands the least amount of training time, it’s what helps make it so efficient.
The program originally started in 2013 when former Education Coordinator Eugene Disney and Manager Rus Higley started noticing certain nudibranchs were in the tanks in greater numbers depending on the time of year. They decided to round up a couple of volunteers to help count nudibranchs. Fast forward five years, and we are starting to see some interesting trends in nudibranch abundance emerge. Certain species are peaking in abundance at certain times of the year.
Of our most common species, each has a distinguished peak in annual abundance. Some tend to have high abundance throughout the year, but dip in the summer. While others peak in the summer months. This is interesting because nudibranchs are indicators of ocean health. If we see a huge spike in populations, something in ecosystem is likely influencing this spike. Since they occur naturally in our aquarium, we can use their abundance as a proxy for nudibranch abundance in the water at Redondo Beach. With the MaST’s four complete years’ of nudibranch population data, we have a strong baseline for tracking population changes. Nudibranch population changes can provide insight into the population health of their food sources: hydroids, sponges, and bryozoans.
We have shared this unique citizen science program at the Western Society of Naturalists Conference in 2017, Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference 2018, and the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators Conference this summer! Are you attending the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators Conference this summer? Check out our poster Tracking Temporal and Seasonal Changes in Nudibranch Populations from a Small Aquarium presented by the wonderful Vanessa Hunt, an Associate Professor at Central Washington University.
In the next few months, we hope to design a better classification system based on volunteer experience and expertise. This includes updating our identification keys to address species color variation. The ultimate goal for this program is to publish the data, and make it available for public use by others who wish to study invertebrate population trends in the South Puget Sound.
While the MaST is excited to have some quantitative data behind our sea slug populations, the best part of the team is still sharing in the excitement of discovering a new nudibranch –just recently, we found a Dendronotus iris, a beautifully branched nudibranch, mostly white and flecked with orange and purplish-brown. Staff and volunteers flocked to the aquarium to get a closer look at this nudibranch. It has been over a year and a half since the last time this species was spotted in one of our tanks!
The Marine Science and Technology Center is the marine laboratory of Highline College. Committed to increasing ocean literacy through community interaction, personal relations and exploration; the MaST strives to accomplish this through volunteer programs, formal college classes, and k-12 school programs.
Author: Elise Pletcher is the Citizen Science and Volunteer Coordinator at the MaST Center in Des Moines WA, where she works alongside volunteers on the Jelly, Nudibranch, Marine Mammal, and Discovery Day volunteer teams.
from the Fall 2016 Issue of CLEARING
Integrating Watershed Science in High School Classrooms:
The Confluence Project Approach
by Audrey Squires, Jyoti Jennewein, and Mary Engels, with Dr. Brant Miller and Dr. Karla Eitel, University of Idaho
It’s not just because I personally love snow and skiing and snowshoeing and all that. It’s not just because I love to teach science outdoors in the field. It’s not even just because I value connecting my students with real scientists every chance I get. It’s honestly not any one of these particular things alone that has made the Snow Science field trip the absolute favorite part of my Environmental Science curriculum over the last four years. Instead, it’s the simple notion that for this generation of teenager in the Inland Northwest, the impacts of climate change on the hydrology of snow within our watershed might be the most valuable social, economic, and ecological topic to cover in the entire school year. Snow is the backbone of our way of life in North Idaho, and the sense of awareness and empowerment my students develop as a result of this Confluence Project three-lesson unit is absolutely critical for their growth and progress as young adults heading into the 21st century. – The Confluence Project Teacher, Advanced Placement Environmental Science
lean water matters, immensely, to all of us. We desperately need education that promotes deep understanding of how water is important to students. Fortunately, water as a theme is easily incorporated into numerous scientific disciplines. From the basics of the water cycle in foundational science courses to the complexities of cellular processes in advanced biology; and from energy forecasting with anticipated snow melt in economics to the nuances of water as a solute in chemistry, water is foundational to a variety of subjects and can be incorporated into the learning objectives with a little creativity and willingness to step outside the box.
Over the past three years in high schools across Northern Idaho we have been working to develop a water based curriculum that has the flexibility to be used in many types of classroom, and that provides students with firsthand experience with water and water related issues in their local watershed. The Confluence Project (TCP) connects high school students to their local watersheds through three field investigations that take place throughout an academic year. These field investigations are designed to integrate place-based educational experiences with science and engineering practices, and focus on three themes: (1) water quality, (2) water quantity, and (3) water use in local landscapes. During these field investigations, students actively collect water, snowpack, and soil data and learn to analyze and interpret these data to the ‘big picture’ of resource quality and availability in their communities.
Before each field investigation, students are exposed to the pertinent disciplinary core ideas in class (National Research Council [NRC], 2011; NGSS Lead States, 2013), explore issues present at field sites, read relevant scientific articles, and learn field data collection techniques. Students then collect data in the field with support from resource professionals. After each field investigation, students analyze their data and use the results to discuss how to solve ecological issues they may have encountered. Adults guide students through this process at the beginning, with the goal that students will develop the necessary skillset to conduct independent, community-based, water-centric research projects by the end of the academic year (Figure 1). Students are ultimately challenged to creatively communicate their research projects, including both the scientific results and their proposed solutions to environmental issues encountered in their watershed, at a regional youth research conference (e.g. Youth Water Summit).
Figure 1: The Confluence Project continuum through an academic year. Curriculum units are listed on the left and can be taught in any order. For each unit, students participate in a: pre-lesson, field investigation, and post-lesson. Students then complete individual or group research projects using the knowledge and skills built throughout the year. The culminating event, the Youth Water Summit, invites students from across the region to present the results of their independent research projects to an audience of community stakeholders, experts, and peers.
Originally created to serve as a sustainable method to continue outreach efforts from a National Science Foundation Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) grant (Rittenburg et al., 2015), the development of TCP coincided with the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States, 2013). With a strong emphasis on science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and coherent progressions (Reiser, 2013), the TCP model closely aligns with these new standards. Given that much of the curriculum developed for the older National Science Education Standards is content-focused (NRC, 1996), TCP fits the need to create curriculum that includes opportunities for students to explain how and why phenomena occur and to develop the critical thinking skills associated with scientific investigations.
Sobel (1996) wrote that “authentic environmental commitment emerges out of first hand experiences with real place on a small, manageable scale” (p. 39). In TCP, authentic learning often emerges as students engage in first-hand exploration. Using the local watershed as a lens for field investigations enables students to connect with their landscapes and develop new depths of understanding of the world around them. By connecting students’ lived experiences and local landscapes with scientific information we are able to generate a unique learning setting, which in turn sparks continued interest in exploring the familiar from a new perspective. As one student from the 2015-16 program wrote:
Before the several field trips that our class went on, I had no idea how many water related issue we had on our environment (sic). After being in the field and working with experts about this topic, I now know how to inform the public, how to test if the water is clean, and how to better our ecosystem for the future. Without this hands-on experience, I would still be oblivious to the issues around me.
This localized learning approach is often referred to as place-based education (PBE), which engages students in learning that utilizes the context of the local environment (Sobel, 1996; Smith, 2002). PBE seeks to connect students to local knowledge, wisdom, and traditions while providing an authentic context to engage students in meaningful learning within their everyday lives.
TCP also uses a project-based learning (PBL) approach (Bell, 2010) to help students frame the field investigations and the subsequent analysis and interpretation of collected data as foundations for their own research projects. These practices emphasize student construction of meaningful and usable scientific concepts and, perhaps more importantly, relating these concepts to their own lived experience. For example, one student wrote the following reflection after a class water quantity field investigation:
I learned that snow is a lot more complicated than I thought. Before, I had never heard the term “snowpack.” I learned about the different layers and how they vary and can have a great affect (sic) on our watershed. This new knowledge could help me be more aware of snow and now that I understand how it works, I can watch and see how my watershed will be affected that year by the amount of snowfall.
These types of reflections demonstrate an internalization of curriculum unit topics, which in turn motivates students to continue learning.
Importantly, PBE and PBL are used as frameworks to align lessons with the NGSS. The pedagogical features of PBL match well with the eight science and engineering practices at the core of the NGSS framework, which include: (1) asking questions and defining problems; (2) developing and using models; (3) planning and carrying out investigations; (4) analyzing and interpreting data; (5) using mathematics and computational thinking; (6) constructing explanations and designing solutions; (7) engaging in argument from evidence; and (8) obtaining, evaluating and communicating information (Bybee, 2011). In TCP, these pedagogical approaches provide a meaningful context for students to engage in developing understandings of disciplinary core ideas, while the curriculum creates new, effective ways to enact the NGSS.
Empirical evaluation of student learning in the program (Squires et al., under review) indicates that after participation in TCP, students expressed greater concern for local ecological issues, recognized the efficacy of science as a tool to address environmental issues in their communities, and were more engaged in science when PBE and PBL pedagogies were used.
Yesterday my entomology class went to a local creek to study the bugs and life around it. It was really cool to fish a lot of bugs out of the water. We got lots of benthic macroinvertebrates such as a mayfly (dragonfly), damselflies, all in different instars (sic) [stages of growth] …. We tested the pH of the water, the transparency of the water, and the dissolved oxygen in it…This was really a fun project, it was great getting all of the bugs I’ve been learning about and it was really cool to use my knowledge about them… I suggest that anyone should go and do this, you could learn a lot about your region’s water quality. –TCP Entomology Student
TCP curriculum aligns with several Performance Expectations and Disciplinary Core Ideas from the NGSS (Table 1), and can also easily adjust to fit within multiple courses. TCP curriculum has been incorporated into less flexible, standards-driven courses like Biology and Chemistry, as well as more flexible courses like Environmental Science, Entomology, and Earth Science. While each class participates in the same three units (water quality, water quantity, and water use), teachers tailor these units to the learning objectives of their courses.
For example, environmental science teachers have been able to tie the water quantity unit to global climate change, land and resource use, and local economics. Students analyzed collected snowpack data to determine how much water would be available in their watershed for growing crops and sustaining lake and river-based tourism economies. They also compared their data to historical figures to understand how climate change has impacted water availability in their watershed over the past several decades.
By contrast, TCP biology teachers have successfully incorporated TCP units as part of their yearlong curriculum aligned with rigorous biology standards. For example, as part of the water use unit one teacher discussed sustainable water use in an agriculture setting by focusing on concepts like plant growth and cellular function. Other teachers have presented photosynthesis, primary productivity, and fisheries biology during the water quality unit, and speciation, biodiversity, and habitat as core topics during the water quantity unit.
Even in very specialized science classes there is room to engage with this curriculum. For example, one entomology teacher was able to highlight the role of macroinvertebrates as indicators of stream health when teaching the water quality unit. He taught students insect characteristics, discussed growth and metamorphism, and then showed students how to tie flies in order to solidify that knowledge in a unique, hands-on way. The class then visited a stream near their school to identify macroinvertebrates and learn their importance in evaluating water quality. Last but not least, TCP curriculum was designed for the potential of cross-course collaboration, which gives students the opportunity to apply and link concepts and skills learned in science class to their other courses while developing critical thinking skills. Several program teachers have collaborated with colleagues in their schools to integrate content across disciplines and open students’ eyes to interdisciplinary study.
Table 1: NGSS Performance Expectations targeted by lessons within TCP Curriculum and their related Disciplinary Core Ideas (National Science Teachers Association [NSTA], 2013). See Supplemental Material for detailed lesson plans.
||Disciplinary Core Idea
|EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCES
||Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
||Earth Materials and Systems
||Plan and conduct an investigation of the properties of water and its effects on Earth materials and surface processes.
||The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes
||Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
||Natural Resources; Natural Hazards
||Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
||Human Impacts on Earth Systems; Developing Possible Solutions
||Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
||Optimizing the Design Solution
||Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
||Developing Possible Solutions
||Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis.
||Structure and Function
||Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
||Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience
||Evaluate the evidence supporting claims that changes in environmental conditions may result in: (1) increases in the number of individuals of some species, (2) the emergence of new species over time, and (3) the extinction of other species.
Connecting with local professionals.
The most valuable thing that we learned on our field trip to [the restoration site] was learning about the processes that were taken to restore the creek, and why they did it… We think that this field trip has shaped our understanding of these careers by actually experiencing the job and their daily tasks that can do good to the environment (sic). Following the field trip, we can say that we have a better understanding of just how time consuming and difficult the process of restoration in an area such as [the restoration site] can be. –TCP student water quality field investigation post trip reflection
Teachers often struggle to plan activities beyond the day-to-day classroom lessons, which is one reason why local professionals and leaders are an essential facet of TCP. Agency scientists, Tribal land managers, and graduate students provide scientific support to teachers and students during field investigations, in-class pre- and post-lessons, and final research projects. This gives students an opportunity to collaborate with and learn from specialists and practicing scientists in their communities, allowing the students to gain experience carrying out science and engineering practices alongside experts. In addition, students learn about career opportunities and restoration efforts in their local watersheds from TCP partners. Examples of past TCP partners include universities (extension, graduate students, and professors); Tribes (environmental agencies and Elders); state agencies (environmental quality and fish and game); federal agencies (Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Avalanche Center); and local organizations (environmental nonprofits, homeowner’s associations, and ski resorts).
Since these collaborations are critical to the success of TCP program we have developed a Reaching Out to Potential Partners checklist to help teachers contact and recruit community partners. The checklist helps teachers develop a coherent narrative to use with busy professionals which highlights the mutual benefits of collaboration.
Keeping costs to a minimum.
Admittedly, implementation requires some capital investment to cover essential program costs such as busing, substitute teachers, and field equipment. However, these costs can be minimized with some creative organization. Multiple TCP schools have been able to eliminate busing costs by using streams near or on school property. Supportive administrators can creatively minimize substitute teacher costs (in one case the principal agreed to cover the class instead). Field equipment is certainly necessary to collect data (see Resources), but the equipment required may potentially be borrowed from agencies or university partners. A classroom supply budget or a small grant from the booster club or other local organization can also help cover such costs and build supplies over several academic years. While regional youth research conferences, such as the Youth Water Summit are excellent ways to motivate students, it is possible to get the research benefits without the associated costs. We suggest inviting partners and other local experts to attend research project presentations at school. This way students can still benefit from external feedback as well as gain research and presentation skills.
TCP has provided a valuable framework for school-wide exploration of local water-related issues. TCP provides hands-on, place-based and problem-based learning while addressing key Next Generation Science Standards and preparing students for the kind of inter-disciplinary problem solving that will be increasingly necessary to address the complex challenges being our students will face as they become the workforce and citizens of the future.
The full TCP curriculum including lessons, standard alignment, field trip planning, and other recommendations can be found at: http://bit.ly/2cNdNIm
Interested in learning more from the TCP’s leadership team? Contact us at email@example.com
A program like this requires dedicated and creative teacher and program partners. Without the enthusiastic commitment of our past and present teachers and partners TCP would never have been actualized. We’d like to thank Rusti Kreider, Jamie Esler, Cindy Rust, Kat Hall, Laura Laumatia, Jim Ekins, and Marie Pengilly for their aid in program design and implementation, as well as for continued programmatic effort and support. Furthermore, thank you to Matt Pollard, Jen Pollard, and Robert Wolcott; along with graduate students Paris Edwards, Courtney Cooper, Meghan Foard, Karen Trebitz, Erik Walsh, and Sarah Olsen for your dedication to TCP implementation. In addition, we would like to acknowledge funding from the NSF GK-12 program grant #0841199 and an EPA Environmental Education grant #01J05401.
Audrey Squires, Jyoti Jennewein and Mary Engels are past program managers of TCP. Squires is currently the Restoration Projects Manager for Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council while Jennewein and Engels are PhD students at the University of Idaho (UI). Dr. Brant Miller, UI science education faculty, was the Principal Investigator of the EPA grant that funded TCP in 2015-16. Dr. Karla Eitel is a faculty member and Director of Education at the McCall Outdoor Science School, a part of the UI College of Natural Resources.
Bell, S. (2010). Project-based learning for the 21st century: Skills for the future. The Clearing House, 83(2), 39-43.
Bybee, R. W. (2011). Scientific and engineering practices in K–12 classrooms: Understanding a framework for K–12 science education. The Science Teacher, 78 (9), 34–40.
NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
National Research Council. (2011). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), 2013. Disciplinary Core Ideas in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Final Release. http://nstahosted.org/pdfs/ngss/20130509/matrixofdisciplinarycoreideasinngss-may2013.pdf Accessed 22 April 2016.
Reiser, B. J. (2013). What professional development strategies are needed for successful implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards? Paper presented at the Invitational Research Symposium on Science Assessment. Washington, DC.
Rittenburg, R.A., Miller, B.G., Rust, C., Kreider, R., Esler, J., Squires, A.L., Boylan, R.D. (2015). The community connection: Engaging students and community partners in project-based science. The Science Teacher, 82(1), 47-52.
Smith, G. A. (2002). Place-based education: Learning to be where we are. The Phi Delta Kappan, 83 (8), 84–594.
Sobel, D. (1996). Beyond ecophobia: Reclaiming the heart in nature education (No. 1). Orion Society.
Squires, A., Jennewein, J., Miller, B. G., Engels, M., Eitel, K. B. (under review). The Confluence Approach: Enacting Next Generation Science Standards to create scientifically literate citizens.
Wolverines, Wonder and Wilderness
Why the Wolverine Matters to a Kid Who Has Never Seen a Raccoon
by Megan McGinty
IT IS APRIL AND I AM SITTING UNCOMFORTABLY on the cobbles of a gravel bar on the Skagit River in the North Cascades National Park with a group of local fifth graders, talking about the special rocks we just found. Ranger Paula arrives and greets us, asking the kids about their day and if they’ve seen any wildlife on their hike this afternoon. Excited, they all talk at once, clamoring to describe the chipmunk that ran across the trail and the robin they tried to take pictures of as it flew into the canopy. Paula begins to talk about the wildlife research being conducted in the park by scientists and asks the children “What animal would you most like to see while you are here?”
At this last, my answer, the kids all turn and stare at me quizzically. Paula laughs and explains to the kids what a wolverine is and that they require a large amount of wilderness for their habitat. “How do you know they exist?” one asks. “Good question.” replies Paula.
For many of the kids, these two nights in a paved campground, using a bathroom with flush toilets and running water, eating out of a group kitchen with a gas stove and a refrigerator (albeit at picnic tables under a roof with only two walls), will be the most rugged outdoor recreation experience they ever have. For nearly all of them, the most pressing environmental issues they will come to terms with will be economic, as the area’s historically resource extraction-based industries dwindle. There is less land, less water, fewer trees and not enough fish available for these kids to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. Some of the students are already coping with the effects of illnesses caused by exposure to pesticides, industrial pollutants, lead in their drinking water and a myriad of other difficulties resulting from low-income residency. Given the realities of daily existence for some of these students, the fact that they are living within two hourís drive of one of largest areas of wildernesses within the contiguous United States is of little importance to them. Or is it?
Wilderness has long held a role in Judeo-Christian culture; its effects are still felt each year as millions of devout practitioners observe Lent. A significant portion of modern American culture still grapples with the issues raised by wilderness, from literary classics such as”The Call of the Wild” to the hit TV show “Survivor”. Many aborigine cultures used wildlands as the foundational setting for rites of passage and seeking insight. As we began to define ourselves as human and civilized, we also needed to label that which we were distinguishing ourselves from. It seems that as soon as man began to exist, so did wilderness.
Environmental education first came about as a movement when conservationists and educators recognized the effects of an increasing disconnect between society and the natural world. The need to rekindle that connection inspired efforts to get kids out into the woods, to take them out into the wild, because that’s where “real” nature was. It was assumed that a big part of the reason for the growing alienation from nature was due to the fact that there was no nature worthy of inspiring a connection in the cities and suburbs we live in. As school budgets tightened, the likelihood of such field trips and opportunities became scarce. At the same time, many thinkers began exploring the connections made to the natural world during childhood and realized that for many kids, it happened in the more common places such as vacant lots or backyards, places that they were allowed to have daily contact with. Educators began to wonder if the connections being made had less to do with the “wow” factor than with intimacy and immediate relevance.
Recent trends in environmental education have rendered the phrase ìplace-based-educationî a hot term, and rightly so. More curricula are available that allow the local schoolyard or drainage ditch to be a laboratory for ecological study. Innovative teachers have devised lessons that allow even the most urban settings to serve as the source for environmental theory. Students living in heavily-impacted areas are now more likely to be exposed the concepts behind environmental justice than to a canned curriculum about the Brazilian rainforest. By bringing a concrete (literally) relevance to the students’ daily lives, environmental education is being brought closer into the fold as a valid academic discipline.
The problem is this: wonder thrives on apparent irrelevance. I think of my friend Diego, born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the South Bronx. When he was fifteen, he went to a wilderness program in the Appalachians for students from the South Bronx High School who spoke English as a second language.
Incredibly out of place in an alien land and culture, he fell in love with climbing and returned to the program as an intern and later as a staff member. He now spends his free time in alpine wildernesses and climbs in some of the most remote parts of North America.
In this more recent vein of locally-focused programs, many kids are not introduced to the large chunks of land and water that are todayís wildernesses. This is often done with the assumption that this is best for them. Every educator is charged with the task of assigning importance to some lessons over others. The best educators begin with assessing what their students already know and where they are coming from.
There are many students with a wide range of experiences, so a sort of middle ground is aimed for, that is, the lessons are designed for the greatest commonalities among the students and the experiences they are most likely to already have. To be sure, Diego is an anomaly, but he is also an example of a student that flourished by getting a chance to see the wide world beyond his backyard.
It can easily be argued that a wilderness area isn’t needed to teach a group of fifth graders what watershed they live in or where their food comes from. A significant number of environmental education programs never reach a point where wilderness issues become pertinent and of those that do, there is rarely room in the curriculum for the issue. However, an educational program that is not prepared to address the question of wilderness is limited in its ability to handle the larger philosophical questions that environmental education tends to beg. (Should we preserve lands? Which ones? Why? What is ‘preservation’?, etc.) Even though the instructors often have to work with constraints such as lesson time, program length, or student background, they need a solid fundamental philosophy from which to base their lessons in order to effectively grapple with the more abstract aspects, the “big questions” of environmental education.
As we make lessons more real and connect them more intimately to students’ daily lives, we must not forget the importance of the great unknown. Appealing to the sense of wonder, to the promise of discovery, is of essential importance when convincing future generations to become active conservationists. When we introduce schoolchildren to the mysteries of their backyards, we cannot answer every question, nor should we try to. If they receive the message that all the answers have been found, that everything is under control and fully explained, there will be no reason for them to continue discovering and questioning.
By presenting the backyard as what it is, a test case, a fraction, a tightly bound series of parameters that can only serve as the roughest of sketches for the great ecological mysteries of the wildlands, we are giving them the most honest of lessons. No longer are they schoolchildren on an outing following a curriculum designed to lead them towards a predetermined outcome. They have been initiated as citizens of the planet who will play a role in shaping its future. How these kids will feel about their role in the environment can be decided by whether or not they know or don’t know that there are places on the planet where human impact is not yet a primary shaping factor.
Environmental issues cannot be conveniently contained with the boundaries of a city, state or even a country. Instead, they ignore the abstract divisions we have attempted to draw and reinforce the interdependence of ecosystems on both big and small levels. We need clean air, clean water and healthy soil, and preserving the areas that are still reservoirs of these things is as important as cleaning up the areas that are dangerously contaminated. Letting kids think that recycling and picking up litter will be sufficient to address the current and pending environmental issues is not far from lying to them.
The value of something beyond that which we know and see in our daily lives is of absolute importance when trying to convince people to work towards a goal that does not have immediate or tangible results. Kids need to be encouraged and to believe their efforts will have results, but we should not deceive them about the magnitude or pace of environmental progress. They will need inspiration for the work that lies ahead, be it in the form of a magnificent photo in National Geographic, a video of an amazing rainforest or tales of strange and fantastic creatures that live in remote wildlands.
When I was young, before I could read very well, one of my favorite books was a Dr. Seuss volume titled “McElligot’s Pool”. The story is simple: a farmer is teasing a boy named Marco who is fishing in McElligot’s Pool, a small pool in the middle of a cow pasture that people throw junk into. He thinks Marco will catch nothing but an old shoe. Marco concedes that the farmer may be right, but wonders if the pool could be connected to an underground river that flows to the sea. He imagines the progression of the secret river that connects the puddle to the great sea and the increasingly more bizzare creatures that live there. As a kid, I was absolutely captivated by the idea that the mundane things in my backyard could be connected to bigger, more exotic things that lay far beyond. Suddenly, pretending to be exploring the Amazon while catching and identifying spiders in the vacant lot next to my friend’s house did not seem quite so farfetched. In fact, it made the spider-hunting seem less like playing and more like training for someday exploring the great unknowns that still remain in the wildlands.
Megan McGinty lives in Bellingham, WA and is an Environmental Educator with North Cascades Institute. Photo by Benjamin Drummond.
Wenatchee School District’s Case Study of Science Field Experiences
by Susan Ballinger and Karen Rutherford
his year (2005) in the shrub-steppe eco-region of rural Eastern Washington, over 3600 elementary students, teachers, and adult volunteers will spend a wonderful day of adventure and learning outdoors, at a science field experience. Kindergarteners pound leaf chlorophyll into fabric, 1st graders capture insects amidst blooming wildflowers, 2nd graders use iodine to measure sugar content in ripening apples, 3rd graders wade in icy waters looking for aquatic insects, 4th graders build paper dams, and 5th graders climb a 1000-ft mountain, rewarded with an expansive view their valley home below.
All science field experiences take place within a 20-mile radius of city elementary schools. Each experience is co-sponsored by local organizations. In the Wenatchee School District, a field experience differs significantly from a just-for-fun “field trip.” This place-based field experience is a relevant, multidisciplinary day of adventure and learning in a local outdoor setting. There are two distinct parts to a field experience, both tied to local natural resources:
1. In-class curriculum integrating science and social studies concepts
2. On-site field curriculum, applying classroom concepts with hands-on activities.
Here is our story of how weíve worked from the inside of our school district to make significant connections with the natural and cultural landscape of our collective home.
As field teachers, we try to fight the desire to verbally import knowledge and instead allow students time and space to discover using their senses.
The Wenatchee School District (WSD) is located along the Columbia River in the state’s geographic center with a rural metropolitan population of 50,000.
Over 7,000 students are served at seven elementary schools, three middle schools, an alternative high school, and a 4A high school. Our K-5th student population is 55% Hispanic with 55% Free/Reduced lunch poverty levels.
Six years ago, the Wenatchee School district embraced a vision to connect classroom science curriculum to the local landscape of our watershed and cultural community. At that time, our assistant superintendent, Dr. Jeanine Butler, wanted our district to comply with our state’s (unfunded) mandate to provide environmental education, K-12. A wonderful model existed in the Leavenworth Salmonfest, serving all 3rd grade students in our region. This outdoor festival co-sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service included teacher training for classroom pre-work lessons. Student come to Salmonfest with foundational knowledge and participates in hands-on activities at the festival. Initially, only schools that had strong parent support organizations could afford to pay for school bus transportation to Salmonfest. Dr. Butler recognized the need for equity and strategically budgeted bus transportation money for all schools into the science curriculum. This budget decision significantly addresses the issue of environmental justice. In our district, we see a high correlation between poverty and ethnicity in student populations, which is reflected in our low scores on state standardized testing. Among our 7 elementary schools, a wide disparity between overall ethnic and poverty levels is found between buildings. Schools with high poverty rates have fewer resources available to provide student trips. With a district-level initiative, all students, regardless of income or ethnicity, have this opportunity and an even-playing field for learning. For science field experiences, district-budgeted bus transportation money has been the key to serving all schools.
The community college arboretum is the location for the kindergartner Wenatchee Tree Walk and college students work as volunteer teachers.
CREATIVE FUNDING and SUPPORTIVE PARTNERS
Community partners provide the key help needed to launch a science field experience. For example, the USDA Forest Service spearheaded a successful grant-writing effort that enabled the purchase of supplies and development of the 5th grade field experience curriculum. Our 4th grade field experience found significant funding support at our local Public Utility District for 25 classroom kits, valued at $400 each. They are our hosts for our annual watershed-based River of Power experience at Rocky Reach hydroelectric dam. Our community college arboretum is the location for our kindergartener Wenatchee Tree Walk and college students work as volunteer teachers. Our local museum provided relevant local history resources and staffing for many grade level experiences. Members of local non-profit conservation organizations volunteer each year as field teachers. Our local Arbor Day Committee purchased non-fiction tree books for 25 classroom kits. As part of their coursework, Central Washington University pre-service teachers lead groups of 5th graders each May. This broad base of community support has institutionalized field experiences in both the school district and the partner organization.
The key to effective use of community agencies and organizations has been the use of a school district coordinator. The coordinator initiates the contacts, ensures good communication, and follows through with strategically worded thank you letters sent to organization leaders and local newspaper letters-to-the-editor.
Most of our community partners have organizational education goals and our district curriculum structure allows them to concentrate their efforts annually. For example, instead of responding to year-round requests from individual teachers to give tours or be guest speakers, local research scientists from Washington State University know that every September, they will teach stations as part of the Awesome Apple Adventures, serving every 2nd grade student in our town in a concentrated manner.
IN-CLASS CURRICULUM- A FOUNDATION FOR THE FIELD
Teacher today are under great time pressures. Increased testing requirements means even less class time is available for extra activities or field trips. By using a district science field experience coordinator, classroom teachers can focus solely on teaching. The district coordinator designs, and produces an in-class curriculum. With this, we provide a classroom kit filled with all the materials needed to teach the classroom field experience lessons, from videos to local maps, books, and supplies. For example, our second teachers receive an art kit with craft supplies necessary to make anatomically correct insects. This pre-work art lesson prepares students to learn in the field where they use beating trays to find aphids and moths living in apple trees. Another example is our linkage of local cultural history to watershed concepts when our fourth graders view a vintage 1950s film documenting the building of Rocky Reach Dam, prior to their visit.
A pre-work art lesson prepares students to learn in the field where they use beating trays to find aphids and moths living in apple trees.
Seven years ago, we adopted a national FOSS curriculum for K-5th grades. This broad-based national curriculum needed a local focus to become relevant, interesting, and meaningful to our teachers. Teachers have no time to research local connections and then integrate this into the adopted curriculum. For example, our fifth grade teachers were struggling to teach the FOSS landform kit topographic map lessons, using a Mt. Shasta map, and many found the stream tables to be baffling. Most had never heard of Mt. Shasta and had never worked with a topographic map themselves. Many teachers are new to our region and had limited knowledge of the local environment and landforms. Teachers simply didn’t realize that our region was a topographic wonderland. Views of Mt. Rainer, catastrophic Ice Age floods, and the Columbia River Watershed were literally within a short bus ride of every classroom. As curriculum designers, we realized we had to start with adult-level learning as a key part of our trainings, giving foundational knowledge to our teachers. At the training, our teachers heard a respected local geologist lecture about our valley’s remarkable erosional features. Suddenly, stream tables are seen not as sandboxes, but as working models of the Columbia River that bisects our town. The FOSS curriculum suddenly had connections to the local environments, so teachers saw the connection between science and experience.
Classroom teachers, librarians, and music specialists spend one month preparing students using science lessons, integrated with reading, writing, art, music, and social studies. Our 4th and 5th grade curriculums include a student reader containing local artist biographies, memoirs, interpretive sign texts, song lyrics, poems, legends, radio plays, and newspaper articles. Classroom teachers have the option to teach non-fiction reading lessons using original source material directly linked to the science lessons. After the experience, students reflect on their experiences and new knowledge by drawing, composing poetry, producing a play, and or by writing essays as culminating classroom projects.
Local research scientists from Washington State University teach stations as part of the Awesome Apple Adventures.
SCIENCE FIELD EXPERIENCE — THE DAY!
Coordinators, not teachers, set up the logistics of the experience, so teachers can instead focus on preparing their students to learn in the field. Coordinators write and prepare hands-on field station curriculum, schedule the buses, recruit station teachers, and devise class rotation schedules. The coordinators take care of the nuts-and-bolts of putting on a big event: making sure everyone can get to where need to be, drink, eat, use the bathroom, and stay safe. They make sure that schedules are fastened to clipboards, binder clips secure watercolor paper to lap easels, port-a-potties and hand-sanitizer are strategically placed, small digital clocks attached to clipboards, large water jugs are ready to refill water bottles, and first aid kits are on hand to handle skinned knees.
FIELD CURRICULUM-BUILDING ON CLASSROOM LEARNING
One of the most fun and creative parts of developing a science field experience is designing the outdoor learning stations. We aim to select activities that extend classroom learning, are best done outside, are too messy for the classroom, and that require special equipment. We assemble an array of visual aids and needed tools into a station kit that is delivered to the field location, ready to go. We often enlist the expertise of a scientist to help with the content of a field lesson. For example, several local wildlife biologists helped develop 5th grade stations called “Mule Deer/ Marmot.” and “Coyote/Cougar.” We use pelts, scat, prints, skulls, and photographs to compare and contrast the life history of these two sets of native mammal species.
We strive to offer an art or music station at each field experience. Art teachers develop the watercolor painting or pastel drawing lessons so that every student produces a masterpiece in the field that is later delivered to their classroom. Our music teachers have enthusiastically created music stations, teaching science content through finger-plays, songs, dances, and games. We provide classroom teachers with a music CD (recorded in-house) so students can start to learn the songs before coming to the field experience.
Each station lesson presentation is written as a “script” so that a non-scientist volunteer or paid teacher can successfully present the material with minimal preparation time. If a skilled professional is available as a station volunteer, we encourage them to modify and extend the lesson to best match their expertise. These scripts are modified and improved each year, using input from the field teachers.
Teachers simply didn’t realize that the region was a topographic wonderland. Views of Mt. Rainier, catastrophic Ice Age floods, and the Columbia River Watershed were literally within a short bus ride of every classroom.
FIELD EXPERIENCE LOGISTICS
A critical element for success of a field experience is detailed event planning. Logistically, field experiences differ significantly in length, type of location, and structure. We try to match amount of time spent in the field with the developmental abilities of students. Kindergarten students spend only 2 hours on site, eliminating the need for eating, having lots of extra water available, and frequent bathroom stops within this time window. In contrast, our 5th graders spend 5-1/2 hours on site, hiking a steep trail, covering a roundtrip distance of three miles. We provide port-a-potties at 3 strategic points, lots of water, and schedule a 1/2 hour seated lunch break. While students rest at lunch, music teachers lead a camp song sing-a-long.
In-District partnerships are another key to our success. The most essential partnership has been between the two co-coordinators for field experiences. Both of us bring a different suite of skills to the tasks of curriculum and event design, event implementation, and last-minute problem-solving. It takes two coordinators to pull off each event, dealing with the last minute crisis that always arises. We do have stories to tell! Maybe you’d like to hear about the time a sudden gust of high winds blew over a port-a-pottie, with a child inside!
In designing the activities and the flow of the day in the field, we’ve borrowed what we call the “Disneyland principles.” To ensure that science learning can happen in the field:
1. Participants leave, wanting to come back because they didn’t get to do everything;
2. Music is embedded in the event;
3. Adequate food and drink are ensured;
4. A wide variety of offered activities; and
5. Something to take home to remember the experience.
What may look like a marketing plan, in reality has ensured a quality science learning experience for all ages of participants. It ensures a good flow of the day that taps into all the senses. We strive to create a scheduled day that runs smoothly with a balance of activities at a pace that isn’t rushed. At all of our experiences, student groups attend some, but not all learning stations. Many of students are dual-language learners so field learning activities involve touch, smell, and creation of art, singing, and movement. We strive to minimize talk and maximize doing. As field teachers, we try to fight the desire to verbally impart knowledge and instead allow students time and space to discover using their senses. Simply being in an unfamiliar outdoor environment is very new to our mostly urban, poor children. We try to select field locations in public spaces so children can potentially return with their families.
We’ve discovered that field eperiences have woven a web-like interdependency between non-classroom employees and our classroom teachers in our school district.
We’ve discovered that field experience have woven a web-like interdependency between non-classroom employees and our classroom teachers in our school district. School nurses, warehouse managers, delivery truck drivers, building secretaries, food service workers and district office administrators all provide logistic support. We’ve also built partnerships with a corps of district substitute teachers who are hardy souls, willing to teach outdoors in all types of weather. We depend upon hired station teachers who can modify and adjust their teaching when high winds spread materials far and wide, a massive bloody nose erupts, or when a rambunctious high school helper decides to capture a bull snake. Community volunteers, many of whom are retired, and will likely vote in the next school bond levy, have positive, one-on-one contact with students and are introduced to the diversity of our student population. Many of our volunteers return year after year. We often need to provide special transportation for senior citizens and some teachers in order to get them to their teaching locations. We strongly encourage pregnant teachers to take advantage of our transportation offers!
Creating a sustainable field experience program is important to us. Often, outdoor education programs depend upon the charisma and energy of a few key people and once these people move on, the program dies. By fully integrating our field experiences into classroom curriculum, they have become part of the schoolís culture. Students and teachers alike look forward to their annual adventure in the field. District funding ensures that staff are dedicated to refurbishing kits and implementing six yearly experiences.
An important key to our success is that we’ve taken the FOSS and STC national general science curriculums and made them place-based for both social studies and science. Integration has helped our teachers see the “why” of teaching science because it is locally relevant and fun. We’ve brought science “home.”
Karen Rutherford is the K-8th Science Resource Coordinator for Wenatchee School District. Over the past 6 years, Karen has implemented and maintained over 270 FOSS and STC kits. Karen has a strong background in Marketing and Business to compliment her passion for science education.
Susan Reynolds Ballinger has a M.S. Education and M.A. Biology and works as a consultant to Wenatchee School District as the Science Field Experience Coordinator. Susan’s former pursuits include middle school science teaching, biology field work, and a variety of natural history interpretation projects.
For Science Field Experiences, Karen and Susan have worked together for over five years on grant-writing, curriculum development, kit assembly, and event coordination.