In the spring of 2005, teachers at Beauvoir Elementary in Biloxi, Mississippi, received a technology grant from Hewlett Packard. Rebecca Lucas, K-6 computer teacher, and fourth grade teacher Pat Crawford were set to embark on a school-wide wetlands unit in the fall. That August, however, Hurricane Katrina intervened.
Visits from park rangers provide opportunities for students to get close to wetland creatures.
"We were starting our school-wide wetland study when Katrina hit," recalls Lucas. "We had a project committee of five teachers; three of us had major damage to our homes from Katrina. We had to put the project on hold for that school year. We did, however, continue to take pictures of the local habitats. There were so many compelling sights, it was impossible not to."
Even though they weren't formally working on the wetlands study or their Mississippi Gulf Coast Wetlands Web site, Lucas and the other teachers talked about the wetlands and how they were impacted by the hurricane. Those lessons and the images gathered during the year by teachers and students became the foundation of their online resource to teach others about the local environment.
"The students are very curious about the animals; they want to know who lives where -- particularly the alligators!" Lucas explains. "They pass over marshes and drive past beaches everyday, and they really want to know all about those areas. Especially after the storm, their curiosity was infectious. Many students wanted to know what had happened to the birds and raccoons that they didn't see as much as they had before."
Students at all grade levels participate in the project.
Lucas's students have contributed original photos to the ongoing project and Web site, and the sixth graders have added their own Web pages with photos and information. Fourth graders designed "wetland animal riddles" by choosing a wetland creature and writing clues to its identity, and those riddles have been used as a teaching activity in the lower grades. The entire wetlands project has included classroom activities, field trips, visits from park rangers, and more.
While preparing for the project, "our principal enabled us to have plenty of field experience as a faculty," Lucas reported. "We took several in-service days to go to the National Seashore Park and work with experts at the University of Southern Mississippi Research Lab. That created an abundance of enthusiasm for the project among the faculty."
Sadly, however, the hurricane wiped out those resources, so the students were never able to take full advantage of them. Instead, teachers and their classes explored a beach that is in walking distance and a wetland area across the street from the school.
"I would advise anyone taking on a project such as this to partner with local experts," Lucas noted. "The people from the university and from the National Seashore Park have been of invaluable assistance to us."
Article by Cara Bafile
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