The fifth and sixth grade science curriculum at my school has traditionally been taught on a four quarter basis, one quarter dedicated to meeting the standards for life science, earth science, physical science, and health, respectively. While health is tacked on at the end with a separate book, our science textbook is neatly divided into those categories: life, earth and physical science.
I can’t exactly say why, and I am certainly not prepared to debate their merits or lack of, but I really don’t like textbooks. I think they are boring, and I don’t like how they are written. They use a lot of words to say very little, and I think my students can handle a lot more information than they give. And they’re just boring.
So, determined to make a lot of extra work for myself, I decided I would arrange my curriculum differently. Instead of working our way topic to topic like they aren’t completely and totally interrelated, my fifth and sixth graders are following an environmental theme that (the goal is) will tie all of these interrelated concepts together.
My sixth graders’ theme is watersheds, and I am using a study of our local watershed to look at everything from how the land was formed to stream macroinvertebrates. But I wanted them to do more than just learn about watersheds – I wanted them to do something or somehow contribute to our community. Authentic learning experiences and the idea that you are making a difference, that what you are doing matters — that’s important to adolescents. To reach this goal, I teamed up with Allegheny College’s Creek Connections program to engage my kids in a year-long watershed monitoring project.
First, students from Allegheny College came to our school and taught my students the water chemistry tests they would use to evaluate watershed quality.
Then, we took our first trip to the creek to look at the physical characteristics of the stream and see what macroinvertebrates we could dig up!
We are wrapping up our first unit, which looked at the water cycle and watersheds, and then we will be moving on to looking at the geological processes that created our watershed! We will continue to collect data about our creek throughout the year, and students will be starting small group research projects on watershed topics after the Thanksgiving holiday.
So far, the kids seem happy with science class this year. I am just hoping I cover the standards in our curriculum enough to keep everyone satisfied… Wish me luck!