SENCER E-Newsletter, April 2005, Volume 4, Issue 8
By: Anne L. Pierce, George Burbanck, Barbara Abraham, and Judith Davis, Hampton University
Riverscape is an innovative science curriculum designed for potential (undergraduate) and declared (graduate student) pre-service teachers that involves a series of timed interactions among five courses. The civic challenge organizing the interactions is the overall health and sustainability of riparian biology and wetlands ecology at the intersection of three local water systems in Virginia: the Hampton, James, and Elizabeth rivers. The science covered includes sampling and measurement techniques, soil and water chemistry, weather systems, and insect and plant biology.
In Riverscape, graduate education students in a Science Methods course (EDU 630) and a Directed Practicum (EDU 608) collaborate with undergraduate students in an upper-level in Biology research course (BIO 408), an introductory Environmental Science course (ESC 203), and a course in technical communication for Computer Science majors (ENG 218). The Biology, Environmental Science, and Computer Science majors serve as subject experts helping the education students both learn basic science content and design curriculum for K-6 students. The undergraduate students, in turn, become familiar with the civic context of elementary and middle-school education including state-wide standards and the mandates of school boards, city councils, and the Virginia Department of Education.
Both the Biology and Environmental Science courses involve laboratory work, field research, and community-based learning. This allows the education students to refresh their basic science knowledge of chemistry, geology, and biology while developing engaging experiments and inquiry-based curricula that they can use in their own teaching. For these students, the "civic" component of the course revolves not only around general questions of environmental policy, water quality, and safety, but also around the educational implications of these environmental contexts: How does the proximity of the school to the waterway (with its insect populations and waterborne diseases) impact student health and absenteeism? What percentage of parents derive their livelihood from the fishing industry, shipbuilding, or other enterprise linked to the river systems? Are the schools prepared for storms and environmental emergencies resulting from their location at the intersection of three rivers? Does the development of instructional materials and classroom activities take full advantage of the proximity of the public schools to the rivers?
In completing the course, the education students in EDU608 produce an electronic exit portfolio that documents that the Riverscape program addresses six out of the ten Virginia state science standards (INTASC) for pre-service teachers.