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Project Legacy:

Using publicly owned land to help incorporate cooperative group research skills into the science curriculum.

By George Anderson



Type of Entry:

  • project

Type of Activity:

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

Target Audience:

  • Environmental Studies
  • Biology
  • Advanced Biology
  • Integrated Science


Abstract

The project is designed to be a partnership between schools and land management agencies. The partnership provides management agencies with manpower to help monitor land resources, to provide data to support management practices, and to assist with opening of lands for passive public recreation. Students are provided opportunities to conduct scientific research under the auspices of mentors, to work as a research team, and to access opportunities for community service.


Background

This type of activity or project will provide students with opportunities to examine the ways organisms interact, learn techniques used to monitor the health of ecosystems, identify human impacts on ecosystems, understand rationale of management practices, and identify potential career paths. This project provides community service in the form of assistance to land managers, improvements to public parks, and educational outreach to the public, the users of the lands.

A recipe for initiating this type of project follows. Teachers must identify a parcel of land located near their school and must determine the agency or organization charged with the land's management. Upon securing the use of a site, they should contact local resource management agencies to solicit their assistance in planning. Planning should include student orientation to the site, identification of potential student research projects, and determination of community service projects that can be conducted to enhance public use of the land.

Teacher preparation includes time needed to contact organizations/agencies, site visits prior to students visiting, and planning project related curriculum. Students must understand and be able to apply research methods. A calendar of expected due dates should be supplied to students.

This is a project that becomes part of the routine curriculum and therefore should continue throughout the school year. Students should visit the site through school time field trips at least three times a month. Students are expected to visit the site more routinely once data collection begins.


Project

Project Legacy is a partnership with the local water management district. The partnership provides the management district with manpower to help monitor the lands, to provide data to support management practices and to open the lands for passive public recreation. The school district is provided with two remote field classrooms that include four different ecosystems and an opportunity for high school students to participate in community service.

The program has three facets. Students participate in an orientation program in which experts or research scientists involved in ecosystems management teach the students about their specialty. Specialties include soil science, forestry skills, botanical diversity, wetlands ecology, and animal behavior. Students are exposed to current research techniques, to management practices, and most importantly, to a number of potential careers.

The next phase of student participation is a team research project. Using the flexibility of the academy based approach to education allows for the development of teams that are multigrade. Seniors are charged with the responsibility of overseeing the research project and are required to recruit underclass persons to assist them with the various facets of their research projects. These include designing the project, data collection, background information collection, processing of data, and reporting of data.

Lastly, participants are encouraged to participate in community service activities. Students assist with trail clearing, trash removal, clearing of exotic plant species, construction of boardwalks, and planting of native species.

Project Legacy has been very successful due to the fact that it has encouraged the interest and participation of many local businesses, government agencies, environmental organizations, and laboratories. Some of these include the University of Florida's Medical Entomology Lab, Indian River Mosquito Control District, DEP's Aquatic Preserves Division, US Fish and Wildlife, Audubon Society, Native Plant Society and the Marine Resources Council to name a few. With this dedicated participation of agencies and adults as mentors, students have realized the special opportunities they have and are excited about school.

Students that have not been successful in the typical classroom setting have "come to life" in the field. Most of these students are from a rural area and spend much of their recreational time outdoors. They are not motivated by sitting in a desk and hearing someone lecture to them. This project has provided them with an opportunity to share or teach their personal knowledge of the outdoors with others. The "playing field" of education has been evened out which has allowed the "average" student to feel more comfortable in the educational setting.

Materials needed to become involved in a project of this type are specific to the land being used, the research projects being conducted, and the types of community service in which the students intend to participate.


Method of Assessment/Evaluation

Evaluation of the project's success requires evaluation of each component. The orientation portion may be evaluated by surveying student interest in environmental careers before and after the orientation. The Research portion is evaluated on the quality of the presentations that the students make and how well they address some part of the land management plan. Evaluation of the community service portion should be done by the public. This can be in the form of a comment box at the trail end or direct survey of the users of the public lands.

The resources you need in order to begin a "Legacy Project" can come from your local community. The items that you need to be able to fund are transportation of students, substitutes for teacher leave time, materials for construction, and equipment for research.

The management districts that oversee your targeted lands may have already designated money for improvements. You may be able to provide the labor force to build, clear trails, or write interpretive pamphlets. The scientific community may lend or give you materials and equipment to be used for research projects.

Grants may be written to environmental groups or service groups to help defray some costs. A Learn and Serve America Grant was secured for the two years of Legacy's operation.


Extension/Reinforcement/Additional Ideas

Extensions of this project may include high school students inviting middle school students to the site and teaching them about the site's value and the research they have conducted. The high school students may also provide tours for civic clubs or environmental groups.

You may want to start with one portion of the project the first year and build in the other parts over time. This can keep costs down and begin the transition into a more field based class.


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