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Back to the Gallery index. Overview A Detailed Look: The TfU Framework A Detailed Look: Standards A Detailed Look: Timeline A Detailed Look: How the Unit Worked A Detailed Look: What New Technology Adds A Detailed Look: Materials & Resources A Detailed Look: What Students had to say A Detailed Look: What Parents had to say Conclusion & Acknowledgements The Water Habitat Project:
Local to Global Environmental Education
Sunnyside School, Pullman, Washington USA

OVERVIEW OF THE UNIT AND ITS CONTEXT

OVERVIEW OF THE UNIT

The "Water Habitat Project: Local to Global Environmental Education" is an ongoing curricular unit in which the primary children in Kristi Rennebohm Franz's class at Sunnyside Elementary School in Pullman, Washington do a longitudinal study of a local pond water habitat. The students document their scientific observations with a narrative in their PhotoJournals. The substance of the photojournals are then used to to collaborate with peers around the world on understandings and issues of water habitats. The unit's integrated lessons are designed to meet state and National Standards in Environmental Science, Math, Literacy, Geography, Arts, Education Technology, Behavior Studies, and Civics/Government. The Water Habitat unit has been in development since 1993 when her classes first began doing observations at a nearby city park pond and used telecommunications in partnership with an I*EARN project to collaborate with peers around the world on understandings and issues of water habitats.

THE CONTEXT OF THE UNIT

Sunnyside Elementary School is located within a ten-minute walk of a nearby city park which has two ponds. Many of the children at the school visit the park with their friends and families. It is a familiar and favorite community location. Since 1993, Kristi Rennebohm Franz's primary classes have made regular field trips to the ponds to make water habitat observations. The purpose of these field trips was to provide outdoor environmental experiences from which the class could develop not only science understandings but also have a meaningful and purposeful curricular topic through which they could develop math, literacy, communication, arts, and service learning skills and knowledge.

During the 1993-94 school year, Kristi's classroom was connected to the Internet by modem as a pilot effort to learn how the Internet could be integrated into education. As part of this pilot, Sunnyside School joined the International Education and Resource Network (I*EARN). I*EARN is a K-12 network with a vision of having students use telecommunications to do meaningful curricular projects that make positive contributions in local to global communities. Kristi immediately had her students using I*EARN to exchange e-mail about water habitats with peers in other I*EARN schools around the country and the world. Initially, they communicated with schools in Costa Rica, China, Russia, Netherlands, and Argentina. And her class developed an ongoing collaboration with another primary class being taught by Jane McLane in Seattle Washington. Being in close proximity to one another, Jane and Kristi met in person as well as online to develop the water habitat project. As their students communicated across the state and around the world about their local fresh and salt water habitats, Kristi and Jane realized that telecommunications was a powerful tool that was transforming the teaching and learning in their classrooms.

In 1995, Sunnyside School's technology was upgraded to include computers with T1 Internet connections in each classroom and a computer lab with Internet connections. Kristi became the school technology coordinator in addition to her fulltime classroom teaching. Her responsibilities were to develop meaningful uses of technology across the curriculum with which she mentored colleagues towards integrating new technologies into the curricula. The Water Habitat project became one of several curricular units designed as models for meaningful uses of technology. Today, her classroom uses writing, video editing, digital imaging, e-mail, website, and videoconferencing tools of technology for their water habitat project.

Three major factors have contributed to the development of the "Water Habitat Project: Local to Global Environmental Education Unit:

  1. The unit has evolved with the accumulation of longitudinal data that dramatically informs not only understandings of this dynamic habitat but also informs further needs for adding additional teaching and learning components to the project;
  2. The implementation of new technologies continually provides new opportunities for ways that meaningful uses of technology tools can unencumber the challenges children face in reaching the understanding goals of this unit;
  3. The Teaching for Understanding Framework has provided a curriculum design process that enhances the generative development of this unit. As a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education in 1997, Kristi began to collaborate with Dr. Martha Stone Wiske on Technology in Education. Now that collaboration is focusing on using the Teaching for Understanding Framework to develop and share the Water Habitat Project. The Teaching for Understanding Framework has been immensely helpful in more clearly connecting the Water Habitat project to Standards as well as being better able to understand and then articulate the pedagogy and practice of the Water Habitat Project within the concepts of Throughlines/Overarching Goals Generative Curricular Topics, Goals of Understanding, Performances of Understanding, and Assessments.

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