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Research at the River Links Two Schools Technology

Two groups of New Jersey middle school students are using state-of-the art technology to study the water quality of the Hackensack River and to research a hypothetical environmental problem. Included: Description of the Research at the River project.

Students in two New Jersey towns are utilizing technology and real research to solve a hypothetical water quality problem in the Hackensack River. The Research at the River Project involves about 60 seventh graders from Emerson Junior/Senior High School and 28 students from Hackensack Middle School.

Hackensack Middle School is about ten miles downstream from Emerson. In the Research the River Project, students at the two schools compare their research to see whether water quality varies at different points in the river -- and, if it does, to determine how it varies. The students also test water from tributaries and reservoirs connected to the river.

The funds for the project -- used to purchase lab and video conferencing equipment as well as 50 hand-held computers -- were provided by a $125,000 Pairing and Sharing Instructional Resources Via Teleconferencing Round II grant from the New Jersey Department of Education Office of Educational Technology. "The technology aspect of the project is a big plus," says Robert DiAmbrosio, Hackensack Middle School's technology coordinator. "This is a great opportunity to research the river and link the activity to the curriculum."

In addition to their research project, students have formed a mock environmental engineering company that will develop solutions to a fictional -- although realistic -- environmental problem. In April, when the project is completed, students will present that report to the local scientists and environmental professionals who work with them. Scientists and representatives from United Water, the local water authority; the state Department of Environmental Protection; and Hackensack Riverkeeper, an environmental organization, are working with the students.


Work on the project began in October, says Christopher Steel, the Emerson seventh-grade science teacher overseeing the project. Students began testing the water in February.

The hand-held computers the school purchased have attachments to test water samples at the site. Results can be stored in the hand-helds, sent to other computers, or downloaded into Steel's laptop. In addition, scientists and other professionals lecture students through video conferencing, and students from the two schools communicate through e-mail and video conferencing. "Technology is the biggest thread," Steel tells Education World. "When the kids have hand-held computers in front of them, they're hooked."

The project involves more than science and technology, however. Students use math skills to chart and analyze data, language arts skills to write up the results of their research, and historical knowledge to investigate the history of the river and identify possible sources of pollution. "We're trying to create an authentic learning environment for science," says Steel.

Although only one class at Hackensack Middle School is involved in the project this year, the school hopes to expand that in the future. "This is a big step for us," DiAmbrosio says. "We're hoping to get other teachers involved in the next few years."


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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