Dig This! Erosion Investigation
At first I was skeptical about trying this inquiry because too often students are presented environmental information in a manner that leaves them feeling guilty and unempowered. This activity empowered my students to make a positive and manageable change in their world. A wonderful addition to my earth science curriculum.
I chose to conduct this inquiry in my classroom because of its tight alignment with our Earth science curriculum. The inquiry offered my classes a great chance to look beyond the basics of erosion and consider some more obscure topics. It fit in quite well with where the students were and their unusual interest level in the area.
There were many things that I liked about Dig This! First, allow me to share that erosion is not often a subject that elicits a positive response from students. However, this year the kids seemed very intrigued with the idea. I had a couple of kids who had recently traveled to areas where erosion is very active and others who had examples from their own backyards. This led me to choose this inquiry to use in class. I liked the flexibility of the activities. I had a limited amount of time due to upcoming breaks and other requirements for the students. I was able to easily isolate a perfect portion of this investigation without too much sorting or cutting. It is very user friendly in that regard. The Becoming an Erosion Expert activity really afforded the students some autonomy in that they were able to choose some of the concepts they investigated. They loved it! Hand shot up all over the room as they were just dying to tell me what they had discovered or show me an impressive picture. It really was a great activity! In addition the demonstrations were wonderfully explained and easily carried out in the classroom. They really made the concepts clear to the students. Unfortunately, I could not commit the time needed to mapping an area around school. However, it certainly sounded cool! I also had to shorten the solving erosion problems to a class discussion type of activity were several groups proposed solutions to a problem and debated over which would best attack the problem. They really came up with some clever ideas.
The only real need I saw in terms of adjusting this inquiry would be in regard to vocabulary. The inquiry used terms that seemed a bit more complicated (i.e. fluvial) than the ones we used in class discussion. I would probably change those terms on the Becoming an Erosion Expert activity to fit my students' vocabulary. I also adjusted some of the demonstrations to fit with materials that were more readily available to us, but still demonstrated the same concepts.
I did not use any resources that were not listed in your related resources. I have made some notes about things I would do differently before conducting the inquiry again. First, I would make some adjustments to the worksheets as mentioned above. Second, I would make sure to incorporate the time needed for mapping into my schedule. It really sounds like a great activity for the kids to be hands on. I also would like to explore the idea of locating a local civil engineer who has addressed real erosion problems to present to the students.
I chose this lesson because one of my old standards was on the water cycle, rivers and erosion. When I chose this lesson it was in the dead of winter and with the amount of snow this year we didn't get to go outdoors. Teaching the eighth grade you always think your students are going to think, "Oh, no, here goes our crazy teacher again." My students and I were so tired of snow that we decided to bring in the outdoors. Several of my gifted students came up with the idea to borrow the sand and art table from the kindergarten teacher. The table was long and somewhat narrow and we decided to integrate many concepts into this unit. The students filled up the sand table and they created a river and the habitat for the river animals. The students started to become very excited as we brought in the river water and plastic animals.
Well, the rain came and our river began to flow. Each day the students would come to class excited to see what the rain had done to the river and all animals around. As the students came to class each day they would journal what they observed. The river began to erode and the different habitat began to wash away and tributaries began to form and the students became very excited. (Believe me, sometimes the easiest things even interest higher level students. I think as teachers we forget that even the simplest lessons can turn into a well rounded unit.)
As we completed What Are the Different Kinds of Erosion? my students continued with the sand and water table. In small groups students took their information sheets on the different kinds of erosion and they had to make the three types of erosion take place in the table. As we continued each lesson my students became more excited to do the next lesson. Then, each group filled in the information sheet and explained the difference between the three types of erosion as they watched it happen in the sand table. My students were excited to fill out the sheet because they made the different types of erosion happen. My students had a much better idea of exactly what each type of erosion looked like. I think my students got more out of this lesson from the sand and water table than they did going outside and finding erosion.
As we began Becoming an Erosion Expert my students began to tell me they were now erosion experts. At this point my students were able to see how erosion affects the environment. Each group was given the Scavenger Hunt sheet and they went on a different kind of scavenger hunt that I made up. First, each group had to find 2-3 items on earth that could have a negative affect on erosion, then the students put it into the sand table and made it rain and observed the items to see if they had a negative effect on the environment. (ex. rocks, different habitats from animals, rain, etc.) Second, the students used the Becoming an Erosion Expert Scavenger Hunt sheet and researched about erosion, sedimentation and soil. I brought a collection of different levels of children's literature books on these topics and students went through the books and used technology as well to complete the scavenger hunt.
After two or so days my students went right into, How Can We Solve Erosion Problems? My students didn't realize how erosion plays such a huge role on our Earth. Several times my students came into the classroom after a day or so had gone by and their plastic animals were dead in the mouth of the river, or the rain had had washed away many of the animals' habitat. As they began to see what a problem we had they began to brainstorm ideas to correct the erosion problems. Here again is another reason my students were able to come up with some very good hypotheses because they were able to look at it right in front of their faces and were able to relate better to the problem. Each day they came up with better ideas and began plotting out more solutions.
We did something a little different with Taking Action on Erosion. After each group came up with their solutions to help erosion, they began to correct the problem in the sand and water table. They had to become a naturalist and had to make these corrections by building buildings etc. Students were able to build and began to try out their ideas and were able to see if they really did work. To evaluate my students, I again did something a little different. I created a fold that looked like the layers of the river. The headwaters, the tributary etc. The students had to label the parts of the river and then tell about the component parts. Each group then used the ideas they had to help solve the erosion problem. They drew it on their river fold and then had to explain how this would help erosion.