Experiential Learning

Imagine a place where an Energy Specialist, trying to determine the amount of food needed to sustain a population of deer in an oak-hickory forest, calls for a discussion with her colleague, an expert in acorn production. Collaboration is imperative to complete her investigation. Now imagine that these environmental specialists are only nine years old. You have just arrived at EarthWorks.

The journey to EarthWorks for these student scientists begins long before the simulation experience. The EarthWorks program originates in the classroom as a hands-on learning adventure for third and fourth grader students guided by a knowledgeable, highly trained teacher. Children are given opportunities through the EarthWorks curriculum to engage in direct experiences with the natural world and to discuss these experiences with their peers. Students begin to construct, through their own investigations, interrelationships among the biosphere, and the physical components necessary to make a small area of the Earth work.

EarthWorks Step One: Teacher training and planning

Elementary teachers will attend a workshop to learn about EarthWorks theory and curriculum. During this workshop, the teachers receive support and training on how to implement a hands-on science program, advanced thematic learning theory and developmentally appropriate instructional practices. They will be coached on how to tailor their own curriculum, beyond the core lessons, to integrate math, writing, art, and reading into the EarthWorks program.

EarthWorks Step Two: Preparing the Students

Nine Core Lessons are provided as the required preparation for students before their trip to EarthWorks. This curriculum provides basic introductory information about the living things of the Earth interact with the physical components--the heliosphere (the primary source of energy), the hydrosphere (water), the atmosphere (air), the lithosphere (earth). The Eight Core Lessons focus on scientific methods of testing and investigation, working together, making decisions, and communicating information to others. The lessons begin with a survey performed by the students to develop a picture of their school as their habitat. Each component is then examined in depth for a greater understanding of why living things need a clean source of water, air, enough energy, and healthy soil. As a class team, students build a simple habitat in their classroom to demonstrate their new knowledge.

Taking on the Role of a Specialist: The EarthWorks' site is divided into five field stations, each connected to a representative habitat that might be found in this area. In teams of three, students will be perform a series of connected experiments as they travel from habitat to habitat. A team of students will complete Job Application Forms in which they choose their series of experiments. Teachers will assist in assigning students specialist roles based on the Job Application Forms.

Step Three: The EarthWorks Experience

The EarthWorks site, a large cave-like area created from mining limestone, will be transformed into an extraordinary educational center with five EarthWorks field stations with a regional habitat connected to each. The habitats will be a pond, a meadow, a prairie (focusing on the soil), a cave, and an oak-hickory forest. A large interactive globe will be in the center of the field stations/habitats. This will not only provide orientation for the students, but will respond to the students as they complete experiments.

Field Stations:
In the morning, working in teams of three, student specialists will conduct experiments integrating clues necessary to complete a habitat in the afternoon. For example, one team will be looking at the role of decomposers and scavengers. This team might explore earthworms in the prairie, crayfish in the cave, catfish in the pond, bacteria in the butterfly meadow, and acorn weevils in the oak-hickory forest.

In the morning, the habitats will be provide a 'stage setting' of what a student might see if s/he took a walk along a Missouri stream. The students will encounter a pond, a meadow, a cave, a prairie, and an oak-hickory forest.

After lunch, in larger teams, students will determine the carrying capacity of each habitat. They will determine the numbers and placement of the producers, consumers, and decomposers in each habitat. The physical components necessary to support the biological systems will be put in place.

These young scientists will begin to understand the complexity of our natural world and the importance of understanding conservation. As the young scientists work in the field stations, demonstrating a minds-on understanding of science through careful observation, thoughtful analysis, healthy skepticism, and a blending of logic and imagination, the development of sound and coherent predictions and explanations will allow the students to begin 'building' the habitats.

A large (16 foot diameter) globe will form the centerpiece for EarthWorks. The globe will be designed to visualize the relationships and dynamics between each Earth system. The students, through their experiences, will be slowly making the Earth work throughout the day. This lesson will be reinforced using this dramatic visualization. Students will meet at the end of the day to discuss the building of the habitats and through this process they will complete making the Earth Work by activating the rotation of the globe.

Step Four: Reflection

A successful program allows students to reflect upon what new knowledge they have obtained. Students also learn to take on the responsibility for their actions. EarthWorks will ask students to continue to develop strong conservation skills upon returning to the classroom in the reflection piece. The habitat teams of fifteen students will be given a mini-habitat that corresponds to the one they experienced at EarthWorks. For example, the prairie soil habitat will be given a worm garden. Students have to determine how much food, water, air, and land the worms need. Their logs will be maintained indicating the amounts needed of each component to sustain this habitat. In addition, students can choose further reflection studies such as how much soil can be produced by this amount of worms, what is the quality of soil, etc.

Supplemental Curriculum

Each of the lessons will be enriched by three multi-disciplinary lessons. The supplementary lessons offer learning activities that integrate environmental and conservation concepts into language arts, reading, math, social studies, drama, and art. During the training, teachers will developed a plan to use these supplementary lessons to integrate environmental science throughout the curriculum. These can be used before or after the EarthWorks experience.

Educators interested in EarthWorks are encouraged to contact Linda Segebrecht of EarthWorks via email at segelin@tyrell.net

Holly Hughes' part in EarthWorks will be the creation of the 16-foot globe.


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Last modified by LaRoe 16 April 1996.