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Creek Teach

By Debbie Alan

Type of Entry:

  • project

Type of Activity:

  • hands-on activity
  • group/cooperative learning
  • community outreach/off-site activity
  • review/reinforcement

Target Audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Advanced/AP biology
  • Environmental studies


The project we have developed in cooperation with a local elementary school involves using a local stream/park as a classroom. Students develop lessons which they teach to younger students in a type of outdoor education camp. Both schools are actively involved in restoring and maintaining this creek. Therefore lessons revolve around topics that pertain to creek/riparian health and preservation.


This project can easily be modified to suit individual curricula. It requires about 3-4 weeks of preparation time in class at the end of the year and 1-2 full school days to complete. It is a cumulative activity, based on the learning from the previous quarters or trimesters. This project allows small groups of 2-4 students to choose a topic of personal interest that was discussed during the year and develop a lesson around the topic for younger students.


Students are divided into groups of 2-4 and choose topics from those identified within the curriculum for that year. The students need help narrowing their topics as they discuss the possibilities. Our topics center around stream/riparian health, such as dissolved oxygen content, flow measurement, macroinvertebrate assessment, lowland forest tree identification, bird identification and so on. Students design a 30 minute lesson for a target audience. Our audience is a local 5th grade class from a public school that we have worked with before so the 5th grade teachers are familiar with the project. Each lesson must include presentation of content using an original visual aid, activity/lab for the students to reinforce the concept, and a summary worksheet/ homework assignment that the 5th grade teachers will use as reinforcement when back in the classroom. They are also responsible for writing a brief report with references on their topic for benefit. I often share these with the elementary teachers prior to the Creek Teach.

Each group of students practices their lesson/activity with their peers and evaluates each others lessons. They make modifications, arrange for enough copies of materials that they need, and apply for reimbursement if money is needed for supplies. They are completely responsible for their lesson and keep all materials, including a stake with the name of their lesson on it, in a box.

The teacher needs to inform students of how many total elementary kids they will teach over the course of the 1-2 days. We found that 6-8 elementary students per group worked well. That amounted to 11 groups of elementary students for our local grade school. We arranged to have 11 different lessons, so each elementary group began with a particular lesson and then proceeded to each succeeding lesson in order, completing 6 lessons the first day and 5 the second day. The older students label their signs with a letter from the alphabet as well as the name of the topic covered. They set up their "stations" around the creek in order from A-B-C-D etc. Make sure that if a group needs access to water (dissolved oxygen or flow, for example) that they're stationed close to the creek. Groups of elementary students travel from letter to letter until they have made a full circuit. For instance, if they start at letter C, they would proceed to D, then E etc. until they come back around to B, their last lesson. You need to coordinate a lunch break and allow time for impromptu games, etc. It is better to have more classes in the morning than in the afternoon. Make sure all students wear name tags and that each elementary group has a number. Remind the elementary students that if they left off at station D then they should begin at station E the following day.

The elementary teachers are responsible for providing one adult per elementary group as well as transporting their students to the site and having them organized in numbered groups with name tags. They also supply balls, Frisbees, etc. for activities during lunch break.

Method of Assessment/Evaluation

I evaluate the reports done by the older students on their topic; evaluation of the lesson plans is done by their peers. I have developed forms for both to help facilitate this. There is informal evaluation by the 5th grade teachers in the form of written comments. The 5th grade students usually write notes of thanks/suggestions as well.

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