From "Fading Footprints" to "Life in a Vernal Pool" finding audience; serving the common good

This expedition exemplifies both HQW claim 1:

Student work at Four Rivers has demonstrated increased artistry and craftsmanship, products that use complex texts and evidence-bases writing and an increased diversity of product formats.

and HQW claim 2:

Students apply what they are learning about events and issues happening in the world beyond the classroom to create products that serve to educate others and advocate for the common good.

The Four Rivers schoolwide learning targets that this expedition addresses are:

In 7th grade, students studied endangered or extinct species and created a presentation they called Fading Footprints. For the project, each student was assigned an animal to study, and they developed extensive profiles about their animals in which they described features, habits and habitat. They diagrammed food webs to show what their animals ate, and learned the scientific terminology they needed to describe their animal's physiology. Student also created watercolor illustrations of their animals.

For many students, the illustration was especially challenging. They had to make it as accurate and lifelike as possible and for many, this also meant learning a new medium. Students found photographs of their animals; they learned a method to accurately reproduce the photograph as a drawing, practiced painting on lower quality drawing paper and then did a final draft on high quality watercolor paper.

This student began his painting of his wolf, but got feedback that what he had painted didn’t look like the fur on a wolf.
So, he tried adding texture that he thought was fur-like. His fellow students offered further feedback: better, but not looking like fur yet!
And for his final draft, he got it! He also tried adding shading that made his wolf look less flat and more lifelike.

The first year 7th graders did this project, they simply compiled their illustrations and animal facts. For both of the next two years, they created a DVD that was more interactive and could be shared with others. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an immediate audience for the DVD, and that product didn’t feel authentic. When it was time to do the Fading Footprints project again, the team took it in a new direction. The students learned about vernal pools as part of their study of habitats. With their teachers, they hiked about in a local woodland area where there were vernal pools to be found. All the animals they studied had some connection to vernal pools, and instead of making a DVD, they created a publication: Life in a Vernal Pool.

They did all of the work previous 7th graders had done, and they added two steps: they learned all the characteristics of vernal pools in order to be able to identify one and they applied their study of creative writing to write fables to accompany the scientific facts about their animals. The book took a LOT of teamwork and attention to accuracy and detail. The real-world format of the book meant that they had to do a lot of editing and revision to get their written pieces to publishable quality. They finished the book, but the 7th grade wasn’t done yet! They discovered that the vernal pool where they had done their field work was not certified by the state of Massachusetts, and therefore was not a protected habitat. The students learned what it would take to get their vernal pool certified, did the documentation required and they succeeded! This was the highest quality version of the Fading Footprints project the 7th grade had ever done, both in artistry, in the authenticity of the audience for their product and in student learning resulting in service to the community. Note: this project was highlighted in “Visible Learners”, a book published by researchers at Harvard University’s Project Zero.


Here are some sample pages from the book:

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