The Science Teacher - John C. Fremont High School

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The National Science Education Standards call for science teachers ... York’s Wildlife Conservation Park—the Bronx Zoo. ... summary cards to me for review and ...
The Science Teacher January 2006, p. 36-41 Feature Building Science Process Skills Anthony V. DeFina |[pic] | |Photos courtesy of the | |author |

A well-designed and executed field trip experience serves not only to enrich and supplement course content, but also creates opportunities to build basic science process skills. The National Science Education Standards call for science teachers “to design and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science” (NRC 1996, p. 43). Teachers recognize that the classroom presents a limited learning setting, and that they should identify and take advantage of accessible and appropriate community educational resources. Teachers also recognize the importance of teaching process skills that fall into five basic categories: acquisitive, organizational, creative, manipulative, and communicative (Trowbridge, Bybee, and Powell 2000). (For a summary of the categories of science process skills, see Figure 1.) What could be more opportune than a field trip to a local museum or zoo to engage students outside of the school and to develop important process skills? [pic] A little over two years ago I took my high school students to the Jungle World Exhibit at New York’s Wildlife Conservation Park—the Bronx Zoo. The onsite trip allowed collaborating students to develop acquisitive and organizational skills while exploring rain forest habitat characteristics and species diversity. Post-trip classroom extension activities allocated time for students to practice creative, manipulative, and communicative skills as they built technology-based crossword puzzle reviews and designed photo essay presentations. Both the field trip and classroom activities provided students with satisfying learning opportunities to put science process skills into operation. [Editor’s note: When actual field trips are impossible, a visit to the free “online zoo” at can be a valuable experience in itself. For schools with high-speed internet connections, The Bronx Zoo even offers (for a fee) distance learning expeditions using two-way videoconferencing technology, allowing students to take a trip to the zoo without setting foot outside their own classroom.] Before the trip As pointed out, one interesting way for teachers to use a field trip is to provide an educational site for students to practice and build science process skills. A field trip can provide a valuable learning experience and serve as an effective teaching tool when it is well planned, organized, and supervised. Prior to the scheduled class trip, a teacher visit to the site is constructive for the organization and success of the trip. A pre-trip acquaints the teacher with the layout of the displays and the “particulars” of the exhibit area; this prior knowledge outfits the teacher to serve more efficiently and professionally as facilitator, guide, and evaluator. In addition, knowing about the exhibit’s themes and information resources helps the teacher develop objectives for the trip. The goal for the Bronx Zoo trip, for instance, was to provide students with opportunities to augment their acquisitive, organizational, creative, manipulative, and communication process skills through the exploration of rain forest habitats, biodiversity, and environmental issues. Objectives to achieve this goal involved onsite tasks and reinforcing post-trip classroom activities. For example, students conducted research, made observations, and recorded data at the various zoo displays to describe characteristics of different rain forest types. The teacher should acquaint students prior to the actual trip with guidelines, procedures, and the working organization (a gameplan or best approach to achieve the objectives of the trip). Student preparation may also include some internet research; in our case, students visited the Bronx Zoo website ( to preview the Jungle World exhibit. Trip activities Rain forest characteristics and species surveys. For our trip to the zoo, students were assigned to groups of three or four individuals (based on their birthdays). Armed with clipboards, index cards, digital or disposable cameras (students were given the option of bringing their own equipment, purchasing a disposable camera, or using school-supplied sketch pads), sketching pads, and guiding outline questions, the teams were set to tackle the rain forest “trails.” When my class arrived at the zoo, the groups first checked out the full exhibit area, an indoor recreation of an Asian rain forest habitat that includes scrub, mangrove, lowland, and montane rain forest sections. The authenticity of the environs impressed students, who actually felt like they were in a rain forest. An initial walkthrough from entrance to exit developed an awareness of the overall landscape and design for students, and better prepared the groups to get down to work. For the first activity—rain forest characteristics and species surveys—each student group was assigned the following questions: • What are characteristics of the scrub forest? • What are characteristics of the mangrove forest? • What are characteristics of the lowland and montane rain forests? • How are mangrove forests important ecologically? • How are rain forests in general important ecologically? • Why are rain forests in general important economically? • What representative species and their respective niches are found in the scrub and mangrove rain forests? • What representative species and their respective niches are found in the lowland and montane rain forests? Group members planned ahead to design and develop a strategy to answer the questions. Students worked in partnership to produce one summary (index) card (Figure 2) for each of the questions (each group produced a summary card for each of the questions, so each group produced eight total summary cards). The guided questions provided by the teacher ensured that students included the common and scientific names as well as niche descriptive phrases that might include diet preferences such as insectivore, foliovore, and frugivore; activity preferences such as nocturnal and crepuscular; and habitat preferences to incorporate arboreal, terrestrial, or aquatic. Although the Jungle World exhibit houses more than 700 animals, which represent approximately 99 species, students had to describe only a minimum of 25 species to satisfy this first activity. Some groups elected to observe the colony of Ebony Langurs (Trachypithecus auratus) on display in the mangrove forest, while others caught a special nature moment as a White- cheeked Gibbon (Hylobates concolor) playfully interacted with a Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus) in the lowland rain forest (see photo, below). Exposure to unique-looking species such as Matschie’s Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei) in the scrub forest added to the quality of the field trip event. Because students were free to choose which animals to observe when answering their questions, they felt a greater sense of ownership over the experience. |[pic] | |A white-cheeked Gibbon | |playfully interacts with | |a | |Malayan Tapir. |

Students journeyed around the displays and became attentive and alert for species as animals interacted in these “natural” settings. As students located sources of information on placards and exhibit signs, they read background information and determined its relevance or significance to the assigned questions. Members of the group were asked to converse, agree, and correctly apply details about their findings and observations to the topic areas, and then summarize particulars on their respective summary cards. During the work time, individuals described features to their fellow classmates as they noted similarities and differences among the forest types, and consolidated their efforts to determine the niche of a particular species. As students worked through the habitat sections, I monitored their progress and clarified fine points and procedures for the class as needed. In these sorts of cases the instructor has opportunities to observe how efficiently and cooperatively individuals of the group work together as a team. After approximately two hours of observation, reading, and summarizing, the “players” submitted their completed summary cards to me for review and comments. Submitting a group product on location raises the levels of both student accountability and motivation; the group then proceeded with the next piece of the trip’s assignment, which dealt with environmental themes. Environmental theme. For the second activity, groups revisited the exhibit areas for at least an hour. Each group selected one of the following themes: endangered species, habitat alteration, species conservation, or habitat conservation. Students documented how the selected theme was represented or portrayed at the Jungle World exhibit through photographic images or sketches of species or habitat scenes. This task segment supports the National Science Education Standards, which advocate student involvement in activities that allow them to develop understanding of natural resources and environmental issues (NRC 1996, p. 193). The group members conferred to formulate an approach to interpret the habitat information with new insights relative to the selected theme, relate causes and effects (such as deforestation and the loss of potential medicinal plants), and photograph and sketch relevant examples; these photographs and illustrations became an integral part of a photo essay presentation that was part of a classroom extension activity. Students also interviewed zoo personnel onsite to help in their task. Students found the activity of correlating observations and scenes to a theme more taxing and demanding than the first activity, as they had to employ higher-level cognitive skills to be successful. Despite the work expectations, the trip proved to be a worthwhile and enjoyable adventure for the class members, who then extended their field trip experience with follow-up classroom technology-based projects. Classroom extension Post-trip classroom sessions allowed students to further develop organizational, communicative, and creative skills. The summary cards from the first activity served as an information reservoir from which group members made new associations. For example, by using software and online technology, some students reworked their gathered data into “clues” to generate crossword puzzles, which helped students review the gathered information from the onsite field trip. Another extension activity allowed the groups to incorporate their previously collected environmental theme information and supporting photographs and sketches—from the second activity—into a photo essay presentation (students had previous school experience using PowerPoint and scanning hardware). During allotted classroom time, students had occasions to practice and build more advanced creative skills as groups assembled their slide show while using equipment such as a flatbed scanner. Students were required to limit their presentation to an introductory or theme slide; supporting visual slides; and a concluding or final commentary slide. The field trip finale came in a final class period during which students demonstrated their groups’ communication skills. Individuals in each group had assigned tasks: Some operated the software program; others presented the group photo essay; and others addressed questions from their peers. Student assessment In this field trip and classroom extensions, the submitted summary cards, crossword puzzles, and the photo essay presentation reflected student achievement. Although use of multiple process skills overlapped throughout the tasks at both the zoo and in the classroom, the success of acquisitive and organizational skills was evident in the students’ summary card product. I considered the following questions: Was there an accurate and systematic arrangement of gathered data for the habitat characteristics and species niches? Do the cards reflect an exhaustive search of the available resources at the zoo? Was the information used effectively for the photo essay? I was also able to review the use of students’ carrying creative and communication skills through the design and delivery of the environmental theme photo essay. For instance, were visual effects and imaginative efforts evident and employed effectively in the presentation? How acceptably and competently did the group members present the program to the class? Teachers may apply a simple scoring rubric (Figure 3) so that each group, and subsequently each student in the group, receives an assessment or point value out of a possible maximum number of points. [pic] After the field trip and follow-up classroom activities, my students had a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. There is professional fulfillment for a teacher in knowing that an educational event outside the classroom, such as this trip to the Jungle World exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, coupled with post-trip class activities, offers students opportunities to practice and develop acquisitive, organizational, creative, manipulative, and communicative science process skills. Anthony V. DeFina ([email protected]) is science department chairperson at Wayne Hills High School, 272 Berdan Avenue, Wayne, New Jersey 07470. References Bronx Zoo. 2004. National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Trowbridge, L., R. Bybee, and J. Powell. 2000. Teaching secondary school science: Strategies for developing scientific literacy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.