Photo credit to Jamie Scott
Have you ever taken one of those quizzes that determines your learning style? If so, you’ll know that there are three distinct result possibilities: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. In a traditional American classroom, designing lesson plans that constantly address each of these styles can be a struggle; there is typically a required curriculum which outlines essential knowledge and skills (that’s right, TEKS) that teachers have to cram into daily lectures and homework with little to no time left for reinforcement and exploration. When a course is designed without the anticipation of AP tests or End-of-Course exams, brilliant teachers are given the opportunity to cater their classroom to their students, and not to a standardized test. The results can be amazing, and as Carnegie begins to adopt more of these courses, it is important to examine the impact that they have on the student body.
This academic year has been the first in which Carnegie has offered students, specifically seniors, the possibility to enroll in Wildlife Studies, otherwise known as Scientific Research and Design. The course is not catered to any exam and it only counts as a 4-point class. Nevertheless, students signed up in droves to be admitted, and only a fraction of those interested made it in. Why would so many upperclassmen of such a competitive school opt-in for a freshly created, GPA-lowering science credit? The consensus has been that not only is the subject matter enticing –wildlife and ecosystems are a big draw for nature-lovers– but also the way that the subject is taught encourages student participation. Don’t be mistaken; there are still units, required reading, and course objectives. However, the exploration based curriculum combined with unending variety in daily activities far contrasts that of traditional classrooms and leaves the group contemplating countless connections that would have otherwise been left undiscovered.
Looking beyond subject matter, because the awesomeness of the natural world speaks for itself, the format of Wildlife Studies contributes immensely to its impact. With each unit spread across several weeks, students are able to receive traditional lectures, personal research assignments, group projects, community discussion sessions, speaker visits, and hands-on field work that all links smaller topics together in one giant web of diversified learning. Take the first unit as an example. While studying marine ecosystems, the class worked on various levels; individually they studied the characteristics and importance of specific marine plants and animals, in groups they researched the adaptations necessary for life in fresh, brackish and salt water, and as a whole they examined the state of water in Texas rivers and lakes, even delving into the politics and legality of distribution. Without the burden of stringent topic requirements, they could take the time to further examine one student’s findings on flounder, discovering that the sex of southern flounder is actually determined by the temperature of the water they live in. The magic of the class format was unveiled soon after when a guest speaker, Coleman Todd of the Coastal Conservation Association, connected global warming to temperature-dependent sex determination and revealed the relationship between students’ environmental impact and their studies. Finally, the class was able to address this discovered relationship by travelling south and constructing oyster beds with the Galveston Bay Foundation, taking their research full circle.
The openness of Wildlife’s curriculum moves beyond one class, and has come to benefit Carnegie’s entire campus. With so much time allotted for hands-on learning, the students have taken up three major projects across campus, working weekly to construct an innovative box turtle habitat, improved native sky prairie, and bountiful gardens. The student led endeavors serve to not only educate and enrich, but also prompt collaboration and especially school pride. One student, Bennett Johnson, can already tell that “when [he] looks back at this class, [he] won’t think about the grade he got. He will think about all that he has learned.” Isn’t that refreshing?