Many instructional activities can promote learning in more than one subject area. Connections made between two or more curriculum areas encourage students to make associations between the content covered in different subjects. These connections work to reenforce the subject matter in the minds of the students.
A biology lesson about the types of trees growing on a certain area of land does not have to be solely a science activity. Students can, for example, do a writing assignment about what they observed while studying the trees. A math lesson can be linked to the activity by asking students to create ratios comparing how many trees were observed from each identified species.
Jeanette Hopkins, a fifth-grade teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in Cherokee, Iowa, uses this instructional strategy with her students. Hopkins wanted to develop an activity that would combine the science curriculum with the language arts curriculum. The project she created with a team of teachers and community members is called A Sense of Place: The Red Tail Ridge Wetlands Project. For this project, the students go on four or five field trips to the Red Tail Ridge Nature Preserve near Cherokee to document the changes that have occurred in the environment over time. The students then use the information they learned and the observations they made to help them complete different science and language arts assignments during the course of the school year.
Other Roosevelt staff members helped Hopkins to develop the Sense of Place project. They included teachers Rebecca Phipps, Dina Ringo, and Jill Rapp, and principal Larry Weed. Mary Unsworth-Born and Amy Ahrends, two naturalists associated with the Cherokee County Conservation Department, also lent their expertise in ecological study. Other individuals working on the project team included parents, biologists, local museum employees, and Area Education Agency personnel.
On Red Tail Ridge, the students perform several different science experiments related to the environment. Under the supervision of Hopkins and other adults familiar with the nature preserve, the students collect water samples and search for aquatic life in a pond. They also walk through the woods and grasslands, identifying different trees and grasses and gathering leaf samples. Students are able to compare their information with the observations made by previous fifth-grade classes in order to understand how the wetland areas change over time.
collecting samples from the pond. [70k gif]
Along with these science components, the students also work on projects oriented towards their language arts classes. At Red Tail Ridge, students write in journals, describing their observations and feelings. They also hear a description of the lifestyle of Native Americans who once lived in the area.
When the students return to their classroom, they perform more activities that are based upon the knowledge and information they had gathered in the field. On one trip, for example, the students learned that not all the birds in the area migrate south for the winter. Keeping that fact in mind, the students, with the help of parents and several community members, constructed birdhouses like the ones they had observed near the nature preserve.
constructing birdhouses. [72k gif]
Some students catalogued and displayed the leaves they collected from different plants. Others wrote poems or stories based on their journal writings and observations.
The Sense of Place project continues to expand as a multifaceted educational program. One activity the students undertook in March of 1995 involved writing letters to a local committee in support of the Greenspace project. A number of houses on a local flood plain were scheduled to be moved, with the land then to be used as greenspace where construction and development is prohibited. Students wrote letters to the chairman of the Greenspace Project Committee in support of the idea.
In May of 1995, students from the fifth-grade class held a mock town meeting at the Sanford Museum. They debated whether houses should be built on a fictional marsh area. Students wrote papers and speeches, some arguing that the project would be beneficial to the community and others arguing that the project would be harmful and unnecessarily destructive to the wetlands.
Jeanette Hopkins, Rebecca Phipps, and Amy Ahrends have written a paper describing the Sense of Place project. They discuss their objectives, the procedures they followed, and the resources they used in developing the program.
The Sense of Place project has proved to be a good learning experience from both a science and language arts perspective. Going to the Red Tail Ridge Nature Preserve extends the science classroom into a natural environment where the biology lessons normally learned in the classroom take on a practical, hands-on significance. Students are given the opportunity to enhance their language arts skills as they work on observational note taking, research projects, and writing assignments. Because the activities are structured so that two different curriculum areas are emphasized, the educators involved in the Sense of Place project make it possible for students to use information normally isolated in one subject to support and accent student growth in other subjects and areas of learning.