Is every organism important?
This year the students of class 4-307 completed a research project that involved in-depth nonfiction research to deepen their understanding of Science content and the natural world and grow their environmental literacy, to draw conclusions about their findings, communicate their research and findings to an international audience, and to develop a plan for how they can better care for the environment.
Students studied the natural world. They participated in hands-on learning experiences in the field (the parks and rivers of New York City). They consulted with naturalists, environmental educators and other experts in their research.
Students researched an organism of New York State (including ecosystems, food chains, structures, adaptations, and behavior). They compiled their research in a project journal. They found the evidence to answer the question for their organism, “Is every organism important?” by researching and studying their organism’s ecosystem, food chains, and adaptations. The then created then an iMovie featuring that organism. Once their research was well underway, they began to study human impact on the natural world and their organism. They shareed their findings on the importance of their organism and how their organism is affected by humans. It is hoped that this will help them consider more environmentally friendly choices in their lives whenever possible and become more attuned to environmental issues. They presented their work (iMovies, understandings, and proposals) at YouthCaN NYC 2011. This conference was held at the American Museum of Natural History on April 4, 2011. The audience included children from across the country and around the world. Students also became engaged in stewardship activities that helped to preserve the environment such as planting trees in Van Cortlandt Park.
80% of individual students will improve their collaborative skills and work creatively with other students in all subject areas.
Findings: 100% of students improved their ability to be productive within a group. Prior the project and the introduction of a "collaboration and productivity rubric" (attached below), students struggled to 1.) stay on task as a team, 2.) know what to do when planned work couldn't be done (e.g. internet down or a student absent), 3.) making a plan for the day, 4.) communicating with a partner. The rubric served to set work and behavior expectations for students. It defined how they should use their work time. (Many really didn't know the specific expectations before they were given the rubric). With practice they knew they'd be held accountable for their effort and productivity. At the end of their work time, they could tell in what areas they performed well, and where they needed to improve. This reflection proved valuable. Students hadn't experienced a project that demanded such intense focus before. They reported never having worked as hard. The fact that they were presenting their work at the American Museum of Natural History raised the bar in their minds. They were all willing to push forward and go through multiple rounds of research, revision, and editing until all aspects of the projects were finished. There were very few complaints about doing the work. Project work time became a productive buzz, not a cacophony of unrelated conversations. During a subsequent environmental research project, collaboration was more automatic. Students generally knew they needed to focus and finish their tasks. They became more productive knowing what was expected in the work time and that they were going to be held accountable.
80% of students will apply technology effectively to clearly convey thoughts for a range of communication purposes.
Findings: 95% of students were able to apply technology effectively to clearly convey thoughts using a variety of tools: iMovie, PowerPoints, blogs, Microsoft Publisher. The end product was an iMovie that was developed using PowerPoint for storyboards and Publisher for thinking maps (graphic organizers). Students blogged about the environment at several points during the project to extend their thinking. All groups were able to effectively use these tools. The average imovie rubric score for the 11 class movies produced (on a scale of 1 - 4) was 2.93. No partnership achieved a score of 4, as they needed more time and experience with the imovie application.
80% of students will demonstrate increased understanding of the content throughout the Life Science unit.
Findings: Students took two Life Sciences unit tests during the organism research project. The average score on the Plants Unit test was 60.18%. This test was first and students were just beginning to go into the field, but had had little time to conduct online research on the organism they had selected for their movies. (Of note, no students selected a plant for their organism project--only animals). The average score on the Animal Unit test was 71%. This was mid-way through the project. Students had had many project work periods to conduct online research on their organism, take notes, develop thinking maps, and begin storyboarding for their imovie. The project helped to reinforce and deepen their understandings of organisms and concepts such as life cycles, food chains, adaptations, and human impact. This reinforcement and repeated exposure to concepts may have accounted for the 10.82 percentage point increase in scores between the first and second tests.
80% of students will increase their environmental literacy.
Findings: Students had limited exposure to organisms of New York State before the project began. Some students had limited knowledge of ways to help the environment. A blog throughout the project showed students' increase in environmental literacy. Their final movies showed a depth of knowledge about one organism. The class showed increased knowledge on organisms in general and the human impact on them during class discussions and in asking questions and making connections. Furthermore, students took an interest in the air pollution they noticed out of their classroom window everyday. They collected data on it and even welcomed air engineers from the Department of Environmental Conservation to our class. They learned all about the problem and how they might get involved in doing something about it. They collected data on the pollution for 3 months. They are working collaboratively to better define the problem and possible solutions for local residents in an imovie.
80% of students will conduct sustained research by reading closely, comprehending texts, and integrating content presented in diverse media formats.
Findings: Students showed increased stamina reading nonfiction articles after several weeks of online research. Very few articles and resources were at their reading levels. They persisted with their partners and learned what they could from the resources available. They used the features of nonfiction to help them understand. The teacher met with the partners to research with them from time to time. Over time, they became familiar with the format of the articles and were able to gain information even if they did not understand the text in its entirety. They enjoyed the research and asked for more research time when they had finished other work. Some students who were less engaged during other parts of the day became more engaged during research time. The interest in the animals they chose coupled with the fact that they were making an imovie once the research was finished was a motivating factor for them to read closely and integrate needed content into their storyboards for the movie.
60% of students will demonstrate increased independence and self-direction.
Findings: Students demonstrated increased independence and self-direction by using their time wisely most of the time when given "self-directed learning time" when they had finished classwork. They used this time to research or to go to web links to further their understanding of content they were studying in class. In addition, as stated earlier, the collaboration and productivity rubric helped set their expectations of how to help themselves and be responsible for their assigned work.
20% of students will go beyond assigned work and explore related topics of interest for their research to expand his/her learning and expertise.
Findings: Students went to varying lengths to research their organisms. Some researched more deeply than others. Whatever the depth of their research, they all successfully integrated their findings into the imovie. If students had extra time, they did more research. There was really no time to go above and beyond on their own, because the students who were able to expand their learning, did so on the organism they were researching and kept editing and improving their work until it was finished.
The project was very ambitious. It was planned under the assumption that the teacher would be in the classroom for two periods a week with a technology teacher to work on the project. In reality the time initially allocated for the teacher to conduct this work with a target group of students was cut in half due to new requirements in the teachers’ attendance at grade level meetings. In addition, new students with high needs joined the class soon after the initiation of the project. The target group received less attention as more differentiation was needed by other students in an effort to meet all of their individual needs. Also, one member of the target group had issues with attendance and one was pulled out at a time the coincided with one project period each week. Then new curriculum initiatives were introduced, so there was no flexibility in timing during the day. The student work load overall increased such that there was no “finished work time”. Therefore, the project only got as far as research and some scriptwriting, although one team was able to produce a video. In the future I would not plan a long term project unless it could be fully integrated into my classroom teaching time.