n early July 2006, Alaskan teachers joined the ASWC teacher leader, Sondra Porter, and the Murie Science and Learning Center's Jessica Brillhart for an exploration of science and writing in Denali National Park. The original seminar was called "Science and Writing in the Heart of Denali." The teachers engaged in a field-based course that focused upon the natural history of Denali including the large mammals, birds, and plants of the tundra and taiga ecosystems, as well as current scientific research in the park. The teachers learned about the literacy of science by keeping scientific journals and writing procedures, rules, guidelines, essays, charts, and questions that can be expanded into both fiction and non-fiction writing.
Over the years, this course has evolved, but the focus remains on developing teachers' skills in observing and identifying the plants and animals of Denali National Park while integrating science and writing. We now include exploration of means to connect students to place and ways to deal with what has been labeled "nature deficit disorder."
2012 dates are June 18-21. For more information, check the official site at Alaska Georgraphic for specifics on how to register at http://www.murieslc.org/
As a direct result of taking this course, Kristin Hathhorn and Mark Battalon, teachers from the Lake and Peninsula School District on the Alaska Peninsula prepared a lesson plan that engaged their students in both descriptive and artistic writing. Their students would like to share their work with you.
By Kristin Hathorn and Mark Battalon
Mark and I were inspired by a course we took over the summer (Science Writing in the Heart of Denali, sponsored by ASWC and the Murie Science and Learning Center led by Sondra Porter and Jessica Brillhart) to create a nature-based writing unit for Igiugig School. During the first week of school, we set aside a couple of hours each afternoon to take our students outside, observe their natural surroundings through scientific eyes, and then complete short writing assignments. Most activities were adapted from Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature with Children, and for most assignments, older students were paired with those younger. Here is a smattering of their accomplishments:
In twenty years I believe Igiugig will have grown to the size of Iliamna and will have paved roads. There will be more houses and fewer trees because they will need more space for construction. There will also be fewer animals because more people will hunt for food which might cause some animals to become extinct. Also, the mine will offer lots of jobs, attract more people to Alaska, and will destroy a big chunk of nature. The air will become polluted from all the vehicles driving around.
By Jeremy Salmon, age 14
I think Igiugig will either grow in population or become a ghost town. If it grows, we will have a bigger school, probably a dock near the lake and river, more roads, and a bigger town. Maybe people who live here now might come back – who knows? There may be a bridge across the river.
By April Hostetter, age 14
In 20 years Igiugig will be bigger. The school will also be bigger. There will be more hunters and fishermen. The animal and fish population will be smaller. There will be more trees. Igiugig will have a baseball field and the gym will be bigger.
By Shaun Andrew, age 9
The rock was speckled like a deer. It was filthy and dusty. It weighed about 10 ounces. It had some rain drops on it, but it was mostly dry. The peppered rock was bumpy and rough. The rock was a boulder to the mouse we saw and was heavy to Fewina.
By Tess Hostetter, age 10; and Fewina Zharoff, age 6
From six feet, the birch wood looked like a forest and had the colors of grey, orange, brown, and red. It looked like a rainbow when it is raining. The birch trees were kind of moldy and old looking. Then Gregory and I moved up closer to the tree. It looked skinny with black spots, and a little wet from this distance.
By Jackie Woods, age 17; and Gregory Zackar, age 8
Our mushroom had white spots, and some others that were red, yellow and orange. The stem of the mushroom was white and had little lines on it. There was a bug on the top that looked like an umbrella. To the bug, the mushroom looked like the sun. There were water droplets on the mushroom. It smelled nasty and it was a gilled mushroom. That was our mushroom!
By Alicia Zackar, age 14; and Camille Andrew, age 6
I pushed and ate my way through the luscious, moist and extremely root-filled moss I call home. Mushroom roots barricaded my pathway while I breathed the fresh, wet soil scent the moss held like a sponge. Finally, I reached my destination and could see the tiny forest of mushrooms and miniature trees. I crawled through the tiny, but to me, life-size trees, only to find myself crowded by pine needles. A being from above would say my fluffy, soft home looked like a green hedge hog. This microscopic wet land proves to be home not only to colorful plants and mushrooms, but also slimy and slippery worms like me.
By Mary Hostetter, age 16, and Dolly Ann Zharoff, age7
Our first observation was from six feet; we quickly realized the rock was dirty and bumpy. The rock varied in colors, about fifty percent was black and the other half was brown. The large rock was chipped and cracked in several places. The rock was kind of dry, but mostly wet. Preston thought the irregular shape looked like a head or a shoe. Preston advanced four feet towards the rock where he noticed it looked like a Hershey’s kiss with the top bit off. Its immense size looked heavy. We also noticed that the surface was porous and wet. From this distance, it became apparent that it was black inside the chipped rock and light-brown outside. We whipped out our magnifying glasses and found that the light brown was striped and black. We also noticed the rock was layered and had mashed grass in the cracks. Through the magnifying glass, the raindrops appeared to be large puddles. Preston thought the rock looked rough and brittle.
By Jonathan Salmon, age 17; and Preston Chukwak, age 11
From far away the moss looked like a hill covered in furry grass, but under the magnifying glass, the moss was like a miniature forest with grassy green trees and spiked bushes that looked like sea urchins.
By April Hostetter, age 14; and Sharolynn Zackar, age 11
I am one of the many species that live around me in my watery home, I glide gracefully through the murky, cloudy water to find my meals. I swim hurriedly away from larger animals pecking at me from above. Size doesn’t matter to what I am; we can be less than an inch or up to two inches or bigger. I have neutral colors that decorate my back like a butteryfly’s. My shell, if you can call it that, is shiny and hard. My cousins on land take horrendous bites that are painful and itchy. Older species of my kind grow wings and are able to leave our water-logged world. Some, not from Alaska, are more decorated and can grow very large, not just in height.
By Mary Hostetter, age 16
Fast swimming up the river
By Jackie Woods, age 17
Meandering down the trail, I looked
By Mary Hostetter, age 16
Whispering quietly in your ear
By Jeremy Salmon, age 14
By Alicia Zackar, age 14
By April Hostetter, age 14
Target group: Igiugig Students: 14 students, grades 1-12 Lake and Pen School District
SC 1.13 Asks questions about nature and the environment
WR 2.1, 2.11 Uses letters to write simple words, sentences, and begins to
To engage students in outdoor activities to enhance scientific observation and writing skills
Students will improve scientific observation, descriptive writing, and narrative writing skills
Lessons will be completed in four sessions of two hours, fifteen minutes each
This lesson is planned for Igiugig School, made up of fourteen students grades 1-12. Older students will be paired with younger students with older students being responsible for their younger partners. Two teachers will lead the activities.
Explain students will choose one item to observe closely and write about. They will return to the place where they found their chosen item to complete this assignment. Go over descriptive vocabulary, simile, metaphor, etc. (They may have to return the item to its spot if another item does not exist or they may go to another place where an identical item exists.) Make sure each pair has a watch and magnifying glass -older students lead this activity and keep track of time.
Student work will be assessed as advanced, proficient, developing, or emerging using LPSD standards listed above.
Follow-up: Exemplary student work will be displayed on school bulletin boards and in the monthly Igiugig village newsletter.