Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 3:35 PM
DESIGNING SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES: AN INQUIRY BASED APPROACH TO TEACHING EARTH SYSTEMS SCIENCE
We describe improvements to an existing end of year small-group jigsaw project for 8th grade science at an independent school for girls. Three years ago, in an effort to emphasize natural resources and environmental stewardship throughout the middle school science curriculum, and to tie in a previous unit on Astronomy, students were challenged to design a sustainable community for approximately 500 colonists on a fictitious, recently discovered, Earth-like planet. While the girls were enthusiastic about the project, we recognized revisions were needed to deepen the science content and improve the pedagogy. Four major revisions to the trimester-long assignment have significantly improved the project as a summative experience, and have helped us to reinvent a previously traditional Earth Science course. A specific emphasis on four content areas -- clean water, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and waste management – support an integrated systems approach to teaching Earth Science. A month-long period of formal learning prior to the formation of design teams has increased the depth of student understanding in each content area and has better prepared them to identify the connections among the four content areas (e.g., agriculture generates waste products that can harm drinking water but also supply a source of renewable energy) and to collaborate more effectively on the research and design of their sustainable communities. Design teams were assigned one of two “locations”, very similar to regions in the Unites States, in which to site their communities. Teams were provided with an introductory set of information about the climate, soil type, water sources, and topography of their location to jump-start their independent research. Finally, 3-D models of their communities were required to be constructed solely from recycled materials to help students stay focused on issues of sustainability. Anecdotal evidence gleaned from our observations of group work, student self-reflections and assessments (tests, 3-D models and oral presentations) strongly suggest that the revised project helped students learn concepts and better retain them, and increased their interest in sustainable living. We believe that this project can be adapted for use in a variety of educational settings.