Riverscape

Anne L. Pierce, Assistant Professor of Education, George Burbanck, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental and Marine Science, Barbara Abraham, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology, and Judith Davis, Assistant Professor of English, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia.

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? Is the proximity of the public schools to rivers taken full advantage of in developing instructional materials and classroom activities?

Upon completing the course, the education students in EDU 608 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.

Learning Goals and Objectives

The learning objectives below benefit from "lessons learned" in our previous participation in ThinkQuest, a PT3 project, which did not focus on the learning community aspects of project operation, but did focus on the development of technology integration strategies in our courses. Our learning objectives were to:

  • Model student-centered instructional strategies in the learning of science;
  • Institute project-based activities for both college students and the pre-college students they will teach by not simply requiring lesson plans, but by operationalizing those plans;
  • Require hands-on collection of biological field data (students later learned that they could order specimens from a catalog but agreed that the field experience was critical to teaching);
  • Introduce collaborative strategies for classroom activities; it is particularly important that the collaboration be across majors that model the actual school faculty that the pre-service teachers will be joining.

EDU 608, Directed Practicum is an observation course and students are interested in these questions: "How often do you see science taught over a 90 hour period?" and "Since the school you are observing in is within one mile of the Hampton or James Rivers, how often do you see an opportunity to build material pertaining to the river into classroom activities?" For example almost every month the local media cite the problems of the Chesapeake Bay due to river based pollutants. How is this addressed in your observation? EDU 630 is Science Methods for Elementary Schools. EDU 630 students are interested in these questions: What science concepts are specified by the Virginia Standards of Learning for grades K-6? Can I develop a lesson plan that promotes an inquiry approach to the standards by linking it to something the community values such as: "Why are James River beaches closed?" for the study of microbial concepts; "How do we know when a hurricane is coming?" for the study of weather; and "Where does the trash from our school go?" to set the stage for a trip to the landfill and trash to energy steam plant.

Each course has a textbook as indicated in the syllabus. This acts as a student touchstone for factual material. However, all faculty have adopted the 5-E model of instruction (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, 1989) as demonstrated in Table 2. Riverscape Fall 2004 Schedule, which shows when and how the course intersections occur. At each class meeting the faculty engaged students in questions about objects, organisms, and environmental events which impact systems and change how the environment is studied or remediated. Students planned and conducted investigations in the field to gather evidence and explore possible K-6 student activities. Each field experience had a specific focus. The education staff from the Virginia Marine Science Museum focused on the introduction of marine science into reading activities. The placement of students in boats and on shore gave them a new perspective on the collection of specimens and what washed up on shore. The "trash to energy" and landfill
visits allowed the students to follow a cycle of energy flow. The James River trip exposed the students to the power of community policing and to the public use of data collection instruments and development of classroom activities. The Virginia Living Museum trip gave the students tips on keeping live specimens in the classroom.

Building on the student field experiences, the faculty present taxonomy and physical principles, which guide the pre-service teachers to new knowledge to construct initial questions and explanations for their students. All students elaborated on their past knowledge to apply new understandings to new problems. Faculty and students used formal and informal evaluations to assess new knowledge and skills.

Course Objectives - Education 608 Directed Practicum

Successful completion of this course requires students to:

  1. Demonstrate competency in writing and implementing clear, concise, and comprehensive lesson plans.
  2. Plan and implement a diverse set of learning activities and experiences to address one content area for a grade level of the Virginia Standards of Learning.
  3. Analyze instructional capabilities through a variety of data collection techniques, written directions, taped sessions, peer feedback, self-analysis, case study, and instructor feedback.
  4. Analyze case studies to explore alternative classroom scenarios.
  5. Develop a classroom management plan.
  6. Demonstrate strategies for developmentally appropriate practice.
  7. Demonstrate instructional technology in classroom presentations.
  8. Demonstrate awareness of the connection between educational theory and instructional practice.
  9. Participate in a professional organization appropriate to the content or grade level where the student expects to practice.

Course Objectives - English 218 Applied Communication

English 218 is an advanced composition course designed to further develop the writing strategies learned in English 101 and 102 and to provide instruction and practice in the most frequently used types of business and technical communication, including memoranda, business letters, resumes, instructions, proposals, and analytical reports. Includes basic principles of document design and elementary graphics.

Students will continue to refine their personal writing processes (including pre-writing, organizing, drafting, revising, and editing techniques) and will learn how to apply these processes to a variety of "real world" situations. Students will:

  1. Describe how technical communication differs from other forms of communication.
  2. Analyze and refine individual writing processes to adapt to various purposes, audiences, formats, and work settings.
  3. Describe and apply principles of collaboration, audience analysis, and corporate ethos.
  4. Write and edit a variety of print, oral, and electronic documents, including letters, memos, instructions, web pages, recommendation reports, and proposals.
  5. Describe, analyze, and apply inductive and deductive methods of logic and development.
  6. Demonstrate effective technical research strategies, evaluate print and electronic sources, and document sources using APA style.
  7. Apply principles of effective graphic design, including use of text, white space, and visuals.

Course Objectives - Environmental Science 203

Students should realize that our earth's living system is fragile; it has already felt the pressure of our growing numbers and desires. They should understand that they are part of the system and should work to preserve its natural operation. Applications of principles encountered in this course are numerous and immediate. Students should come to realize that the efforts of science and technology can be accomplished without disrupting ecological balances.

A long-range objective of this course is to arm students with knowledge about man and his environment that can be applied in later life. Acting and voting responsibly on issues involving the environment is necessary for our society to continue without destroying the quality of life around us.

A final objective of this course is to give students first-hand experience of environmental problems. Field trips are planned to a number of sites where man's actions are modifying natural systems: construction sites, where forest ecosystems are replaced with apartments and streams are put in pipes; coastal developments, where dunes are flattened and disappearing beaches must be replenished by dump trucks; marsh filling, where natural, highly productive systems are replaced with asphalt and Bermuda grass. On the positive side, trips are planned to: a sewage treatment plant; the Virginia Marine Resources Commission; the Army Corps of Engineers; and chemical plants that are discharging wastes properly. Finally, a weekend camping trip to the Skyline Drive area of the Blue Ridge Mountains is planned to observe ecosystems that have thus far escaped direct modifications by man.



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