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  • Tandi Churchill

Ogden River Becomes the Classroom

​My co-workers and I designed an expedition entitled, "A River Runs Through It" to help our 3rd-5th grade students explore, connect with, and become stewards of the Ogden River. What better way to launch an expedition on the Ogden River than to take our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students out kayaking on Causey reservoir, an important part of the Ogden River Watershed. The goal for this fieldwork was to allow the students a chance to connect with the river, to experience it first-hand, and develop a love and appreciation for it. Most of the students had never been kayaking before but their adventurous spirits urged them onward.​

Our overarching guiding question for this expedition was, "How can I be a steward of the Ogden River?" The 3 case studies were 1) Flow of the River, 2) Life of the River, and 3) Power of the River. During the first case study, the students created relief maps of the Ogden River Watershed from rill to mouth. During the second case study, each class focused on different life forms supported by the river from plants, to fish, to macroinvertebrates. During the third case study, the focus was on the power of the river to change the face of the landscape as well as harnessing the power of the water flow to make energy.

We invited the students to engage in an informal "I Notice, I Wonder" protocol while kayaking along the reservoir. It was such a neat experience for me as an educator to engage in discussions with my students about their observations as we kayaked side by side through such picturesque natural surroundings. It felt like the way teaching was meant to be: adventurous, engaging, authentic, and meaningful. It was also the perfect way to build background knowledge.

The students later rotated to different stations along the river to complete their formal Ogden River Life Fieldwork Journals. Fieldwork Journals are data collection tools that serve several important purposes in the learning process. Not only do they serve as models for what true researchers do out in the field, but they keep students focused on the purpose of the fieldwork experience.

Fieldwork Journals include open-ended discovery-based questions, note-catchers, and spaces for reflection. They allow students to record their learning, observations, and questions in one location for future reference.

The students selected their own special spots along the river bank to add final touches to their Fieldwork Journals. It was incredible how focused and engaged they were in these natural surroundings. Some students preferred the solitude of working alone and others teamed up with buddies to discuss their findings.

At the last rotation, the students couldn't help wading into the river itself to get a first-hand look at the many different life forms that the river supported. They turned over rocks to discover the macroinvertebrate eggs attached beneath, they scooped up waterstriders in their hands, and allowed the soft sediment to squish between their toes. All in all, they truly experienced the river. It was a most successful and memorable outdoor learning experience that launched us into a 3-month long, in-depth study, of the life-giving force of the Ogden River.

The culminating projects for this expedition were informational pamphlets designed to educate the local community about the importance of the Ogden River in the hopes that community members would become better stewards of it. These pamphlets would be placed along the river trail for visitors to enjoy. My 3rd-5th graders were responsible for educating people about the different species of fish that could be found in the river. They were divided into 6 expert groups and invited to research the unique adaptations that allowed their fish to survive in the local river.

Within each expert group, the students were given the freedom to select one of the following areas of focus: Habitat, diet, prey/predators, physical attributes, life-cycle, or unique behaviors. In this way, they could be assessed both individually and as a group for their finished products. They drafted paragraphs and illustrated scientific drawings to share their expertise.

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