Riverscape

Anne L. Pierce, Assistant Professor of Education, George Burbanck, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental and Marine Science, Barbara Abraham, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology, and Judith Davis, Assistant Professor of English, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia

Riverscape is an innovative science curriculum designed for potential (undergraduate) and declared (graduate student) pre-service teachers that involves a series of timed interactions among five courses. The civic challenge organizing the interactions is the overall health and sustainability of riparian biology and wetlands ecology at the intersection of three local water systems in Virginia: the Hampton, James, and Elizabeth rivers. The science covered includes sampling and measurement techniques, soil and water chemistry, weather systems, and insect and plant biology.

In Riverscape graduate education students in a Science Methods course (EDU 630) and a Directed Practicum (EDU 608) collaborate with undergraduate students in an upper-level in Biology research course (BIO 408), an introductory Environmental Science course (ESC 203) and a course in technical communication for Computer Science majors (ENG 218). The Biology, Environmental Science, and Computer Science majors serve as subject experts helping the education students both learn basic science content and design curriculum for k-6 students. The undergraduate students, in turn, become familiar with the civic context of elementary and middle-school education including state-wide standards and the mandates of school boards, city councils and the Virginia Department of Education.

Both the Biology and Environmental Science courses involve laboratory work, field research and, community-based learning. This allows the education students to refresh their basic science knowledge of chemistry, geology, and biology, while developing engaging experiments and inquiry-based curricula that they can use in their own teaching. For these students the “civic” component of the course revolves not only around general questions of environmental policy, water quality and safety, but also around the educational implications of these environmental contexts: How does the proximity of the school to the waterway (with its insect populations and waterborne diseases) impact student health and absenteeism? What percentage of parents derive their livelihood from the fishing industry, shipbuilding, or other enterprise linked to the river systems? Are the schools prepared for storms and environmental emergencies resulting from their location at the intersection of three rivers? Is the proximity of the public schools to rivers taken full advantage of in developing instructional materials and classroom activities?

Upon completing the course, the education students in EDU 608 produce an electronic exit portfolio that documents that the Riverscape program addresses six out of the ten Virginia state science standards (INTASC) for pre-service teachers.

Learning Goals and Objectives

The learning objectives below benefit from “lessons learned” in our previous participation in ThinkQuest, a PT3 project, which did not focus on the learning community aspects of project operation, but did focus on the development of technology integration strategies in our courses. Our learning objectives were to:

  • Model student-centered instructional strategies in the learning of science;
  • Institute project-based activities for both college students and the pre-college students they will teach by not simply requiring lesson plans, but by operationalizing those plans;
  • Require hands-on collection of biological field data (students later learned that they could order specimens from a catalog but agreed that the field experience was critical to teaching);
  • Introduce collaborative strategies for classroom activities; it is particularly important that the collaboration be across majors that model the actual school faculty that the pre-service teachers will be joining.

EDU 608, Directed Practicum is an observation course and students are interested in these questions: “How often do you see science taught over a 90 hour period?” and “Since the school you are observing in is within one mile of the Hampton or James Rivers, how often do you see an opportunity to build material pertaining to the river into classroom activities?” For example almost every month the local media cite the problems of the Chesapeake Bay due to river based pollutants. How is this addressed in your observation? EDU 630 is Science Methods for Elementary Schools. EDU 630 students are interested in these questions: What science concepts are specified by the Virginia Standards of Learning for grades K-6? Can I develop a lesson plan that promotes an inquiry approach to the standards by linking it to something the community values such as: “Why are James River beaches closed?” for the study of microbial concepts; “How do we know when a hurricane is coming?” for the study of weather; and “Where does the trash from our school go?” to set the stage for a trip to the landfill and trash to energy steam plant.

Each course has a textbook as indicated in the syllabus. This acts as a student touchstone for factual material. However, all faculty have adopted the 5-E model of instruction (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, 1989) as demonstrated in Table 2. Riverscape Fall 2004 Schedule, which shows when and how the course intersections occur. At each class meeting the faculty engaged students in questions about objects, organisms, and environmental events which impact systems and change how the environment is studied or remediated. Students planned and conducted investigations in the field to gather evidence and explore possible K-6 student activities. Each field experience had a specific focus. The education staff from the Virginia Marine Science Museum focused on the introduction of marine science into reading activities. The placement of students in boats and on shore gave them a new perspective on the collection of specimens and what washed up on shore. The “trash to energy” and landfill
visits allowed the students to follow a cycle of energy flow. The James River trip exposed the students to the power of community policing and to the public use of data collection instruments and development of classroom activities. The Virginia Living Museum trip gave the students tips on keeping live specimens in the classroom.

Building on the student field experiences, the faculty present taxonomy and physical principles, which guide the pre-service teachers to new knowledge to construct initial questions and explanations for their students. All students elaborated on their past knowledge to apply new understandings to new problems. Faculty and students used formal and informal evaluations to assess new knowledge and skills.

Course Objectives – Education 608 Directed Practicum

Successful completion of this course requires students to:

  1. Demonstrate competency in writing and implementing clear, concise, and comprehensive lesson plans.
  2. Plan and implement a diverse set of learning activities and experiences to address one content area for a grade level of the Virginia Standards of Learning.
  3. Analyze instructional capabilities through a variety of data collection techniques, written directions, taped sessions, peer feedback, self-analysis, case study, and instructor feedback.
  4. Analyze case studies to explore alternative classroom scenarios.
  5. Develop a classroom management plan.
  6. Demonstrate strategies for developmentally appropriate practice.
  7. Demonstrate instructional technology in classroom presentations.
  8. Demonstrate awareness of the connection between educational theory and instructional practice.
  9. Participate in a professional organization appropriate to the content or grade level where the student expects to practice.

Course Objectives – English 218 Applied Communication

English 218 is an advanced composition course designed to further develop the writing strategies learned in English 101 and 102 and to provide instruction and practice in the most frequently used types of business and technical communication, including memoranda, business letters, resumes, instructions, proposals, and analytical reports. Includes basic principles of document design and elementary graphics.

Students will continue to refine their personal writing processes (including pre-writing, organizing, drafting, revising, and editing techniques) and will learn how to apply these processes to a variety of “real world” situations. Students will:

  1. Describe how technical communication differs from other forms of communication.
  2. Analyze and refine individual writing processes to adapt to various purposes, audiences, formats, and work settings.
  3. Describe and apply principles of collaboration, audience analysis, and corporate ethos.
  4. Write and edit a variety of print, oral, and electronic documents, including letters, memos, instructions, web pages, recommendation reports, and proposals.
  5. Describe, analyze, and apply inductive and deductive methods of logic and development.
  6. Demonstrate effective technical research strategies, evaluate print and electronic sources, and document sources using APA style.
  7. Apply principles of effective graphic design, including use of text, white space, and visuals.

Course Objectives – Environmental Science 203

Students should realize that our earth’s living system is fragile; it has already felt the pressure of our growing numbers and desires. They should understand that they are part of the system and should work to preserve its natural operation. Applications of principles encountered in this course are numerous and immediate. Students should come to realize that the efforts of science and technology can be accomplished without disrupting ecological balances.

A long-range objective of this course is to arm students with knowledge about man and his environment that can be applied in later life. Acting and voting responsibly on issues involving the environment is necessary for our society to continue without destroying the quality of life around us.

A final objective of this course is to give students first-hand experience of environmental problems. Field trips are planned to a number of sites where man’s actions are modifying natural systems: construction sites, where forest ecosystems are replaced with apartments and streams are put in pipes; coastal developments, where dunes are flattened and disappearing beaches must be replenished by dump trucks; marsh filling, where natural, highly productive systems are replaced with asphalt and Bermuda grass. On the positive side, trips are planned to: a sewage treatment plant; the Virginia Marine Resources Commission; the Army Corps of Engineers; and chemical plants that are discharging wastes properly. Finally, a weekend camping trip to the Skyline Drive area of the Blue Ridge Mountains is planned to observe ecosystems that have thus far escaped direct modifications by man.

Linking Science and Social Issues

This project is a series of timed interactions among five courses that aims to increase awareness among potential teachers (undergraduates) and declared pre-service teachers (graduate education students) of their roles as civic agents in the classroom, particularly in Hampton Roads. Through collaboration with biology majors, environmental and marine science majors and computer science majors, pre-service teachers discover that science learning is more satisfying for their students when it centers around issues of value to their community and society at large. The Hampton team first proposed participation in SENCER because the pre-service teacher preparation curriculum did not have an integrated approach to science education. We began with the question:

With the emphasis in Virginia on teaching topics prescribed in the Virginia Standards of Learning, how successful will Hampton University pre-service teachers be in delivery of science content?

Conservation of riparian species and wetlands ecology is a content area that is 1) addressed by the Virginia K-12 science standards, 2) included in the biological science course undergraduates take in their first two years of study, and 3) of interest to students who live and work at the confluence of three rivers: the Hampton, James, and Elizabeth rivers. By using Riverscape as the unifying theme, students develop an awareness of how citizens address civic questions pertaining to the area near the Hampton River where they live, where they teach in clinical field placements, and where the impact of hurricanes, transportation on land and sea, and population growth pose civic and policy challenges for local residents. Over three years the course has explored specifically:

  • What environmental impact has human population growth had on the other populations common to the area? For example, has the mobility of the school age population due to the occupations of parents in the military, fishing industry, and shipbuilding, created a susceptibility to waterborne diseases?
  • What environmental safety issues do elementary school age children face? Two problems were identified: First, hazards due to recent hurricanes that caused loss of life, damaged property, and food spoilage. Second, pollution from landfill, highway runoff, and construction in residential areas close to schools limit recreational opportunities.
  • Finally, how do cities spend their revenues on environmental remediation or reclamation projects and how does this affect the school system budget? The students became more aware of the difficulty of resolving civic questions when what appear to be reasonable scientific solutions require the appropriation of limited financial resources.

In Riverscape, the biological, environmental and marine science majors and computer science majors are the core subject experts. Through the questions posed by the education majors, they see that the usefulness of their contributions will depend on their knowledge of basic science and their knowledge of how to apply that knowledge in an authentic setting. The education majors consider the curriculum choices they must make to teach science content that helps their K-6 students learn to interpret data that is integrated into their daily activities. The college students become aware of the responsibility that teachers have to comply with the policies dictated by their school boards, city councils, and the Virginia Department of Education.

The basic science is covered and connected to policy questions in strands through the participating courses, and those strands are brought together in the final website product created in ENG 218, Technical Communication.

The same graduate students are enrolled in EDU 608 and EDU 630. Before these students can begin to answer their guiding questions (see previous page) they must work with undergraduate students enrolled in BIO 408 a senior level research course, and ESC 203, Introduction to Environmental Science. ESC203, Introduction to Environmental Science (required for environmental science majors), addresses basic local ecology, investigating in the field and laboratory the interaction between organisms and their biotic and abiotic environment and focusing on human populations and their effects on the natural environment. BIO 408, Marsh Food Web Research (elective for biology majors), requires students to conduct hands-on ecological research in the field and laboratory; search the scientific literature for information related to the project; report results in acceptable CBE/CSE format; and make a collection of arthropods from the Hampton River study site for use in a K-6 classroom.

Interacting with students in the ESC 203 and BIO 408 courses allows education majors to refresh their basic science knowledge (acquired in their freshman or sophomore year) while practicing demonstrations and the practical consequences of working in the field to investigate impacts on the environment rather than in the classroom where so often students just hear about the environment. For example, using a kayak to take water samples for chemistry analysis means you might get wet! To study mosquitoes means you must have a successful capturing strategy.

What strategies do the courses use to both advance science education and foster civic engagement?

To introduce students and faculty to the SENCER approach, it was helpful to identify student characteristics of “agents of civic engagement”. Determining student/faculty expertise with the policy issues impacting the riparian environment introduced us to community leaders not previously invited into education department classrooms and led us to identify potential collaborators in Hampton’s School of Science. Having both of the chairs of Departments of Biological, Environmental and Marine Science as part of the team greatly increased our ability to connect learning to previous coursework, schedule field experiences, conduct lab experiences, and identify policy issues that could be addressed in one semester.

Table 1. The connections made among the courses.

Linking Science and Social Issues

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The Course

A major priority in the design of this course is the engagement of students as scientists and citizens. This is accomplished through the variety of techniques described below.

*Note – This “course” is actually composed of five courses: ENG 218, Technical Communication; EDU 608, Directed Practicum; EDU 630, Science Methods for Elementary Schools; ESC 203, Introduction to Environmental Science; and BIO 408, Biological Research. Of these five, only three syllabi are present. They are listed separately below*

EDU 608 – Directed Practicum

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ENG 218 – Applied Communication

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Classroom Management

The “glue” that makes this project work well is that each faculty member has taught their course for at least eight semesters so they know the timing of each activity, where students are likely to have problems, and the community resources that may have new opportunities available to enrich the class. Two of the faculty team live in Hampton so they stay abreast of changes in land use, construction, changes in town personnel or other issues that may impact the course. The faculty team also communicates weekly either in person or by email and all offices, labs, and classrooms are within a few hundred yards of each other so we all know where we are in each others syllabus at all times and can slow up or speed up as necessary. Additionally, two of the faculty team are untenured and two of the tenured members have not yet made full Professor so the goals of publishing, presenting, and promoting the SENCER ideals through Riverscape are priorities for the team. Finally, Anne Pierce and Judith Davis had previous experience with inquiry based problem centered student instruction through a PT3 project called Thinkquest. Therefore it was not a great leap for them to create a project that would attract a real audience. Integrating the idea of civic responsibility was the only really new component.

Pedagogical Methodologies

Field Trips

Field Trips to Areas of Interaction Between Man and the Natural Environment

  • Hampton Road Sewage treatment plant
  • MAIDA – production and handing of potentially hazardous wastes
  • Amory Seafood – production and handling of organic wastes
  • Harwood Mills water treatment plant
  • Newport News Park – natural functioning of a lake/forest ecosystem

Weekend Trips

  • Day trip – Nuclear power plant
  • Overnight trip – camping in Blue Ridge Mountains

Evaluating Learning

Formal Course Evaluations

Students were also asked to complete the SALG (Student Assessment of learning Gains) however, they complained that it was too long and therefore refused to complete it.

Each course receives a course evaluation from the University. There were no student comments on four of the courses so it is difficult to tell if students felt that this was better than a textbook driven class. Quantitative course evaluations in ENG 218 routinely reflect high levels of satisfaction with the course. In their reflective self-evaluations of their work on the Riverscape website, the students generally express high levels of satisfaction with the project and the process, but a surprisingly high number of students-even those in groups that will eventually earn top grades on the project- often express the desire to have more material, more time, and more opportunity to add advanced features to their sites. Since virtually all of the students in English 218 have previously completed basic courses in biology, physical science, and physics, they not only understand the science in the material that they are given to work into the sites, but also they often are able to envision ways to enhance and expand that material with additional information, images, and links to external research materials. The fact that even the most successful students can see further possibilities for improving the site indicates high levels of student engagement with the project and its outcomes. The following comments are typical of the students’ self-evaluations:

Overall I think our group project is well organized and creative. Our site information is concise and informative. The only I thing I would do differently if allowed would be to use extra research other than that which was given to us.

I think that we did a good job on the site considering that we had people in the group that had very little experience with creating websites. I am most proud of efficiently my group worked together. I wish that we had more time to think of other creative things to do with the site.

My overall assessment is that we worked very well together. I’m most proud of the fact that everyone did there job. I wish we had a little more time to add more features to it.

I believe that my group did an exceptional job overall. Even though our web page was simple and to the point, we believe that for web pages “the simpler, the better”. I was most proud to see the finish product. After just typing html, to see the web page actually work was exciting for me. If anything, I wish I had more time to be of more help to my group. I had so much other work on my hands that I don’t think I was asset to my group like I wanted to be.

Informal Reflective Exit Portfolio

The students in EDU608 produce a reflective electronic exit portfolio to show their supervising teacher in the student teaching clinical practicum that they know and can do the skills delineated by the INTASC (Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium) Standards for Preservice Teachers. Evidence from the Riverscape experience that coincide with these standards include:

Standard 1. Knowledge of Subject Matter.

Standard 3. Adapting Instruction for Individual Needs.

Standard 4. Uses Multiple Instructional Strategies.

Standard 6. Communication Skills.

Standard 8. Assessment of Student Learning.

Standard 10. Partnerships – Students saw faculty working as partners and community organizations providing formal and informal science opportunities to K-6 students and their parents.

Background and Context

EDU 608, ENG 218, EDU 630, ESC 203, BIO 408 five course interactions that meet at Hampton University, Tyler Street, Phenix 302, Hampton, Virginia 23668.

Anne L. Pierce, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Education, Email: anne.pierce@hamptonu.edu, Phone: (757)728-6751,

George Burbanck, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental and Marine Science, Email: george.burbanck@hamptonu,edu, Phone: (757)727-5752,

Barbara Abraham, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair Department of Biology, Email: barbara.abraham@hamptonu.edu, Phone: (757)727-5283, and

Judith Davis, Assistant Professor of English, Email: judith.davis@hamptonu.edu, Phone: (757)727-5943.

Place in the Curriculum

Since this project involves the timing of five courses, the basic information about each course is provided in Table 3. Students across courses connect with community groups involved with river restoration, study the natural history of the river, and stewardship of place through mapping exercises. All course products become part of the Riverscape website which reinforces the campus technology requirements.

Table 3 – Basic Course Information

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Internal and External Funding Sources

Since the focus at Hampton University is on exemplary teaching, we committed 10% of classroom time to this project, approximately $18,000. As one of our outcomes for the second year of our SENCER funding we wrote a proposal to the NSF Curriculum adaptation program to institutionalize Riverscape as a field course involving Howard University and Prince George’s Community College who are interested in documenting data for the Anacostia River as a comparison to the Hampton River.

Related Resources

Understanding Faculty Needs: An Institutional Imperative by Leonard F. O’Hara. New Directions for Community Colleges. Number 93, edited by Michael H. Parsons and C. David Lisman. Spring 1996.

The Engaged Campus by C. David Lisman. New Directions for Community Colleges. Number 93, edited by Michael H. Parsons and C. David Lisman. Spring 1996.

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