Many teachers, especially those in the edtech world, praise the idea of moving beyond the four walls of the classroom to strengthen learning. But how often do we actually do this? I’d like to review a week’s worth of field trips tied directly to our current unit of inquiry and discuss some of the learning that took place.
Firstly, the unit of inquiry was focusing on ecosystems and the connections present within them. It was hoped that the students were able to draw connections between things, living and non-living, within ecosystems that affect one another.
We began the week in a mangrove environment by simply exploring and journaling the features of it.Students were asked to open their senses and take in everything around them. We followed this with a great discussions on the many living and non-living things that make up the mangrove ecosystem… crabs, mudskippers, special looking trees, only a handful of plant types, water at times of the day, no water at others. Each of these aspects of course led to more discussion… why are there so few types of plants, why are the crabs on the trunks of the trees when the water is in, where does the water come from and go to???
Our next understanding was to learn about the water environment within and alongside the mangrove. How warm is the water, is it fresh or salt, what’s the pH level? So out came the scientific equipment for some meaningful testing.
“Hey look at that!” exclaims one student as she sees a crane flying into it’s nest perched high at the top of a tree. And then another student sees a budgerigar, escaped from its cage, but surviving well in the environment.
Day 1 down and the kids leave exhausted but excited for another day out tomorrow. Students have gained a sense of the plant and animal life that exists within the mangrove ecosystem as well as some of the non-living features such as that it has salt water that rises and falls with the ocean’s tides.
Day 2 involves moving down to the beach to explore the concept of biodiversity. Students were asked to collect any non-living items that used to be living. Along with leaves, sticks and coconuts, comes a lot of shells. Shells of various varieties, shapes, sizes and from many different animals. Welcome to the idea of biodiversity. Amongst the class we must have had at least 2 dozen types of shells. So now it’s time for the kids to explore why on earth there would be so many types of shells in one place.
We finished this day by looking at yet another ecosystem that is a marvellous part of the tropics. A tree here can be an ecosystem all in itself with vines, plants, mosses, ants, birds, spiders and more all living within it. Again we looked at its features and aspects and tried to find the connections and relationships that existed within it.
Day 3 and 4 involved an in depth look at the rainforest ecosystem. After observing the huge variety of plant and animal life we made use of a variety of scientific equipment to learn about the soil type, temperature, moisture level, pH level, light level as well as the same water testing as we did at the mangrove, this time conducted in the stream within the rainforest. Another great discovery was made by one of the kids… a freshwater crab that the workers in the park were very interested to hear about. What a unique and exciting learning experience!
So over the 4 days, students were able to use real scientific equipment, within real environments to learn about the plant and animal life within the ecosystem as well as how non-living aspects such as light, water, soil, temperature, salinity, etc can all affect how the ecosystem functions. With this knowledge in hand, we set to task with the assessment for the unit. Students were in charge of working out through scientific testing, whether a crab from the mangrove and a crab and plant from the rainforest were able to be successfully moved to a third location. Off we set with our tools and knowledge to our third location. The students clearly had a strong understanding of the aspects that affected the various life forms we were testing for. They set to work testing the water for pH level, temperature and salinity levels. “I think the crab from the rainforest could live here!” exclaims on student. “Yeah, it’s freshwater here, just like in the rainforest” adds another. Next up was the testing of the soil and atmosphere for light levels, soil pH, temperature and moisture levels. And to add the icing to the cake, as we were walking back to the bus we discovered this wonderful creature… which we later found out was a Malayan Flying Lemur – which doesn’t actually fly and isn’t really a lemur!
Without a doubt, the big ideas and knowledge gained along the way will stick with these kids. Genuine learning with a genuine context makes all the difference!