Our state standards ask us to teach content in life, earth, and physical sciences and the nature of science. But science is more than just content. We also teach about scientific practices of scientists and engineers and the big ideas of science that cross-cut concepts across disciplines. We must plan scientific investigations and engineering design problems for our students to work on. We are all literacy and math teachers as we implement Common Core literacy standards and integrate the use of mathematics and technology into our science lessons.
In addition, we must build good relationships with our students and differentiate their learning. We also need to help our students become organized, work cooperatively with others and make academic progress.
How could I accomplish all these things in a project-based eighth grade classroom?
To stimulate brainstorming ideas, I read an article to my class about an endangered tree, the Ozark Chinquapin. One of my challenging students announced that we had one in our 15-acre outdoor classroom. Not remembering it, I asked him to take the class of 27 out and show us.
Sure enough, we had the endangered tree in our forest! All the kids decided right then to make the plight of this tree their project. After they researched what caused the trees to become endangered (chestnut blight), we traveled three hours to Hobbs State Park to hike to the last “stand” of trees. The group divided into committees based on their own talents and decided to increase public awareness by creating a labyrinth on our campus that would lead to an Ozark Chinquapin tree. One learning disabled student became the leader in building the labyrinth when he announced, “I ain’t never been good at readin’ them directions, but I know what to do.” He was right and gained the respect of our class and school.
To fund the project, I turned to community donations and DonorsChoose.org. Watch the video explaining this and showing how the project came to be can be viewed.
Kathy Rusert is a teacher at Acorn High School in Mena, AR. She’s had six DonorsChoose.org projects funded since 2008, including a $741 project for tools needed to create the labyrinth.