By MARINA WATERS
The creek behind Sulphur Springs Baptist Church isn’t always full of water, but lately, it’s been filled with Sulphur Springs Elementary School students.
Seventh and eighth grade students made their way to the body of water for a project-based learning opportunity on Thursday, Sept. 28. Sulphur Springs science teacher Diana O’Neal brought the kids to explore the creek and to experience a hands-on project that also revolved around the students’ theme for the year.
“Our project is focused on water,” O’Neal said. “We’re trying to see how healthy this creek is and we’re taking other measurements: they’re getting a profile of the creek, they’re looking at the micro invertebrates. Some of this is about the water, but it’s also connecting to what we do throughout the year.”
Project-based learning is a teaching method that allows students to learn through investigative, engaging and challenging learning opportunities. After learning more about project-based learning from the school system’s professional development sessions over the summer, the “creek team” of teachers decided to bring their lesson plans to life by trekking down to the water for an in-depth field trip.
“We actually did this as teachers this summer. This is the first time we implemented it into our curriculum,” Sulphur Springs English and Language Arts teacher Tim Anderson said. “It actually has increased student engagement tremendously from last year to this year. And it all comes together for them to learn about water.”
While O’Neal included science stations to investigate the sorts of organisms found in the water, the math portion included measurements within the creek while Anderson’s English-focused station involved listening and looking through the water, allowing students to work on descriptions and imagery.
“It all comes together for them to learn about water,” Anderson explained. “In ELA, I’ve based my novel studies and informational articles on water. In science they’re studying pH levels of water and turbidity of water. In math they’ve been studying velocity to be able to measure how fast the water is moving; it gives them a chance to combine everything they’re learning into one central goal.”
The students weren’t just there to take an educational opportunity from the creek, however; the students also studied the health of the creek while a team from ETSU will also be putting together pamphlets on how to keep the creek clean. After a vote is casted, the group with the top-voted pamphlets will be printed and distributed throughout the community.
Parts of the creek study will even continue throughout the rest of the year for the students.
“They’re doing even some leaf rubbings because the eighth grade will be doing tree identification. So they’ll have that to take back and look at when we study that later,” O’Neal explained. “Meanwhile, seventh grade is getting sediments out of the bottom so they can actually talk about rocks and minerals later on as the year progresses.”