Oct 07 2010

Students Fight Watershed Erosion

Online tools help students preserve the salmon population.

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Salmon are in peril: Populations are diminishing and yet, even with the best curriculum and teaching, student learning about their plight tends to stop at the classroom door. But with modern technologies, social media and other Web 2.0 tools, students can become agents of change, improving the watershed for salmon and making a lasting difference in their communities.

Lesson Description:

Mankind's poor water management and waste disposal habits are negatively affecting salmon and other indicator fish populations in watersheds at a global level. Especially problematic are community storm drains, which route unhealthy materials, unfiltered, to nearby water sources (rivers, oceans, ponds and lakes), compromising the integrity of the fresh water in which salmon reproduce.

True change of any kind begins locally. Students can help reverse the manmade threats to salmon's survival by learning about the situation (both inside and outside the classroom), educating others and facilitating solutions through social media websites such as YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook, as well as through school and project websites such as Watershed: A Geo-Literacy Project and other online resources. (Geo-literacy is defined as the use of visual learning and communication tools to build an in-depth understanding – or literacy – of geography, geology and local history.)

The goals of the Watershed project are threefold: 1) to teach students to collaborate in the creation of public awareness campaigns that educate local citizens about the problem and what they can do about it; 2) to assemble an online “digital kit” of resources for students all over the world to download and use in their efforts; and 3) to help students in communities that lack storm drain marking programs (“No Dumping” placards on drains, for example) create them. These goals are achieved by harnessing students' natural desire to make a difference and the power of 21st century technologies (such as video conferencing), social media and other Web 2.0 tools.

For this activity students will create content using desktop and notebook computers, Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera camcorders, Canon high-definition camcorders and digital cameras, and iPods. They will use Microsoft Word, Inspiration visual learning software and Adobe Buzzword to organize, plan and build their message; Animation-ish to transform their drawings into animations; Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro and Apple iMovie and iPhoto to edit their photos and videos; and Dropbox.com and Photoshop.com to share video, image and sound files with students in other parts of the world who are engaged in similar activities. (Be sure to have both PC and Mac software to facilitate collaboration with students who might not be using the same platform as your class.)

All of these efforts culminate in a final video project: a collaborative public service announcement (PSA) that can be shared on YouTube, Vimeo, the Geo-Literacy Project website and blogs. Students can further spread the word by e-mailing parents and friends links to the PSAs and through community presentations.

Subject Area:

The Watershed project is designed to extend existing quality curriculum into the real world, to breach the classroom doors with enthusiasm and to effect change. It was created for third- through 12th-grade students working to understand the environmental issues affecting the planet's valuable watershed through research and data collection.

Over the course of study, students learn about watersheds, water quality monitoring, riparian communities and other environmental issues. The lesson's project-based learning approach can be adapted to other subjects, however.

Curriculum Standards:

This project integrates core science, social sciences, language arts and mathematics standards established by the Oregon Department of Education, the California State Board of Education and by varying provincial governments throughout Canada. It also fulfills several National Educational Technology Standards for Students set forth by the International Society for Technology in Education.


Grading Rubric:

Students are evaluated on the overall quality of five components:

  • video conferencing with other students, including their use of print and online materials to have meaningful dialogues about the subject matter;
  • final video project's message (see below);
  • persuasive writing;
  • presentation of their PSA video to parents and community groups; and
  • end-of-project reflection.

The final video project is evaluated according to the “WATER” acronym:

  • W (Where): Did students correctly cite the watershed's exact location? Did they correctly identify the names of nearby bodies of water and cities, as well as those of any government organizations involved in the watershed's preservation?
  • A (Audience): To whom is the students' message aimed? Is the language used appropriate to this audience?
  • T (Terminology): Which watershed, fish anatomy, pollution and other scientific terms are important to include and explain so that someone who isn't familiar with them understands the overall message?
  • E (Evidence): What evidence suggests that a problem exists? Students must include relevant websites and other source information either in the PSA narrative itself or in the end credits.
  • R (Recommendations): What local and global solutions does the PSA recommend, and what's the reasoning behind those recommendations? Students must suggest specific changes that viewers can make to effect change in both small and big ways.


Teaching Tips

  • Be sure students have a good understanding of salmon lifecycle, salmon habitat and watershed systems vocabulary and concepts before they begin developing content for their public service announcement.
  • If your students are working with other classrooms to create the PSA, be sure to develop a clear planning guide and video storyboard prior to sharing clips. This will help keep editing and reshoots to a minimum.
  • Encourage creativity during the research and collaboration phases of the project. Allow for some narrowing of the PSA's focus if students express interest in a particular aspect of the overall topic being studied.

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