High Quality Work - Claim 1
Complexity: Letters to our Representatives
The Experiential Learning Cycle Drives Complexity and Higher Order Thinking for All Students
Letters to Representatives re: Salmon in the Northwest
(by Eric Beck, 7th and 8th Grade Science Teacher)
What? So What? Now What? These three prompts are central to how I teach and drive the Experiential Learning Cycle at REALMS. In my 8th grade expedition on watershed science, I use these three questions to scaffold students towards the critical thinking skills necessary to meet the following long term learning target: I can evaluate and propose solutions for our use of water and energy that balance the needs of humans with the health and sustainability of our water and wildlife.
The Tumalo Creek learning expedition includes several "culminating products" however one that drives complexity especially well is our Letter to Representatives task. In this task, students must synthesize all they have learned about the needs of salmon, the dynamics of watersheds, and the sometimes conflicting viewpoints of the many different stakeholders. Students must bring together these multiple perspectives and find connections between the science and the politics of water and salmon in the Northwest. Below you can see evidence from the what, so what and now what stages of this project, or jump directly to the final letters to see evidence of our student's ability to consider multiple perspectives and apply their deep understanding of science to the world of policy and politics.
The "WHAT" and the "SO WHAT":
First, students develop a strong understanding of the “What” behind salmon and dams in the Columbia River Basin, including the environmental needs of salmon and trout, water quality science, the life history of salmon, the benefits of dams, and the history of the impacts of dams and hatcheries on salmon. This stage of the learning expedition includes multiple fieldwork excursions to our local watershed for data collection, conversations with local water experts, reading of various texts, analysis of videos, as well as research focused on building related scientific background knowledge. Next, students gain an appreciation of the “So What” by researching and reflecting on the environmental, cultural, economic, and social importance of both our local rivers, salmon, and dams within the larger Columbia River watershed.
Examples of some of the tasks and materials for the "What" and "So What" phases are below:
Background Readings with Text Dependent Questions
Initial background readings are chosen by the teacher to build scientific background knowledge and simultaneously build literacy skills. This specific article focuses on salmon and dams. Click on the image to the left to see a sample of the article and student responses.
Using Video to Build Background Knowledge
In addition to readings, students watched and analyzed a PBS documentary video called Running the Gauntlet in class as part of building their theoretical understanding of the topic. Click on the image to the left to see the student work related to this video below.
Using Fieldwork to Build Background Knowledge
Students spend significant time in the field learning first hand about fish biology, water quality parameters, and ecological functioning of riparian and river systems. Throughout the fieldwork experiences, students are interacting with professionals and being scientists themselves; they are collecting and analyzing data that is shared with the USFS and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, and they are developing a sense of service and an understanding of the importance and challenges that come with field science and with being stewards of public resources. All of this background information helps them build towards the higher level thinking needed to complete the NOW WHAT section of this project.
Students collect and categorize macroinvertebrates.
The "NOW WHAT" - Mastering Multiple Perspectives:
After students have demonstrated a thorough understanding of this background, we are ready to embark on the “Now What” - the higher order thinking required to tackle our long term learning target, which requires students to evaluate solutions, consider multiple perspectives, and propose their own solutions to the conflicts between salmon and dams. Each student needs to grapple with the following questions: Can we have dams and salmon? In what balance? What should be done to balance the needs of salmon and humans and to balance human needs now with the needs of the future?
To complete the final task, students organized their background information, engaged in multiple small and large group discussions, and eventually wrote and sent letters to their representatives. In their letters, students (1) educate their representatives about the value of salmon and dams and the issues that dams cause for salmon, and (2) propose evidence-based recommendations about how they would like their representatives to proceed on this issue.
Preparing for a Socratic Seminar
In order for students to further develop their understanding of "all sides" of the salmon and dams issue here in the Northwest, students prepared for and engaged in a "Socratic Seminar" in which they were able to debate different sides of the issue and practice using evidence to support their reasoning.
This discussion protocol is a critical step in helping students understand the multiple perspectives needed to take action in the final stage - the Letter to Representatives!
Readings increase in complexity and depth of content throughout the investigation. Where possible, they are drawn from or written by professionals in the field. Click on the images to the left to see a sample of the article and student responses.
"NOW WHAT": The Final Task - Letters to Representatives
Students are now ready with the knowledge and the passion to take action! The final phase of this project is to help students craft thoughtfully written and scientifically sound letters to their local, state, and federal representatives with their recommendations for balancing the needs of salmon and humans.
Task Description, Pre-Write and Rubric
Students used the task description, a pre-write form, and a rubric to work through several drafts, arriving at a final copy only after writing revisions based on careful self assessment and after receiving/incorporating peer and teacher feedback.
Samples of Student's Final Letters: