Sunday, March 1, 2015

Two Birds with One Curriculum

One of the myriad of challenges faced by curriculum developers today is finding out how many initiatives can be jammed into one curriculum guide.  Just in terms of standards, there are six sets which must be addressed to some extent in my curriculum.

What I will attempt to do is illustrate on possible model to satisfy many of these standards in one unit.   

For many years, students across the district have enjoyed a one day outdoor education experience as part of their grade five curriculum.  The focus is on energy transfer within different habitats.
Fortunately, the NGSS did not shift this content from grade five.  The Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems topic page still requires students to develop the quintessential food web model.  At the same time, elementary students across the state must have a "Meaningful Watershed Experience" (MWEE).

A MWEE is most readily defined by a primary research process (I smell a Common Core connection!) developed in the early 1980's by Harold Hungerford and Trudi Volk at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale.  The name of the process is Investigating  and Evaluating Environmental Issues and Actions (IEEIA).  Not to be confused with E-I-E-I-O.  The research process was co-opted by Maryland and is now standard 1 of the Environmental Literacy Standards.  The process looks like this:
  • Identify an environmental issue. 
  • Develop and write research questions related to an environmental issue. 
  • Given a specific issue, communicate the issue, the stakeholders involved and the stakeholders’ beliefs and values. 
  • Design and conduct the research. 
  • Use data and references to interpret findings to form conclusions. 
  • Use recommendation(s) to develop and implement an environmental action plan.
  • Communicate, evaluate and justify personal views on environmental issue and alternate ways to address them. 
  • Analyze the effectiveness of the action plan in terms of achieving the desired outcomes.  
With this process in mind, how do we have students focus on matter and energy in ecosystems?  To answer that, let's start with the issue.  Issues are usually stated in a simple question.  For this unit, we are looking at the following:

Can people manage the ecosystem within Baltimore County?

From here students go into the field and conduct a modified "BioBlitz". They leave the field study with a large list of living things that undoubtedly interact.  The students must develop a food web of these organisms.   Now, here is the secret.  The areas students  survey are overpopulated with deer.  This is no surprise as most of the metropolitan area is overrun.  The impact these large herbivores have on the environment cannot be overstated.  The question is what to do about it.  This is one of those situations which has no one right answer and one that will not make everyone happy. (Ambiguity is part of the P21 Standards).  Here is a great video to introduce the complexity of the issue.

There was a physicists several years ago that stated something to the extent that we have to stop asking students questions that had answers.  I think this might have been in reference to theoretical physics but the idea stuck with me.    We have a lot of big problems in the world that cannot be simply bubbled in on the test.  Giving students the opportunity to grapple with complex issues in a safe environment is something we should do in schools.  

If you are interested in seeing what students can generate when given a complex topic, take a look at my repository of student generated projects.  

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