CyberFair Project ID: 6532

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International Schools CyberFair Project Narrative
Title: The River Rouge Watershed-Ours to Protect
Category: 7. Environmental Awareness

School: Birmingham Covington School
    Birmingham, Michigan, USA

54 students, ages 9-12 worked together to complete this CyberFair project on March 14, 2011. They have participated in CyberFair in the following year(s): 2011

Classes and Teachers: Pauline Roberts,Rick Joseph

E-Mail contact:

Our School's Web Site: http://

Project Overview

1. Description of Our Community

The River Rouge Watershed is located in South Eastern Michigan in the most populated and urbanized area in the whole state .The watershed is 467 miles square and the River itself is 127 miles long. The River Rouge and its four main branches travel through 48 municipalities, which approximately 1.5 million residents call home. Our school district, Birmingham, is one of those communities located in the River Rouge Watershed. Our watershed is very important because the Rouge drains into the Detroit River which drains into Lake Eerie, one of the Great Lakes. Less than one percent of the Earth’s water is fresh water available for human use. The Great Lakes watershed, of which the Rouge Watershed is a part, contains 20% of the world’s fresh, available water supply. That means that we have to take the responsibility of looking after the watershed very seriously. Despite the fact that our community is mainly urban we still have beautiful areas of temperature deciduous forest, wetland, ponds and lakes. At Birmingham Covington School we are learning to appreciate the air, land and hydrosphere and how to become better environmental stewards. We focus on learning on how to be successful in the 21st century and a major part of our future will involve solving the problems of the past. In class we learn about digital literacy, creative problem solving, productivity and team work. All of these skills helped us to be successful with this project and will help us to be responsible citizens, problem solvers and leaders in the future.

2. Summary of Our Project

We researched the history of our watershed and the impacts, both positive and negative, that humans have had on the land, water and air over time. In the 1980’s the River Rouge was labeled as one of the most polluted rivers in the Unites States. For over thirty years various volunteer groups have been working hard to rescue the Rouge and protect our urban river. Much progress has been made but with continued urbanization there remains a continued threat to the land, air and water quality within the watershed. We wanted to know how we could make a positive impact and support the work that has already been started by several organizations. Single family residences are the major land use in our watershed, making us, the residents, the biggest threat to the environment .We wanted to learn about what we could do as residents that could have a positive lasting impact. We broke into smaller groups to take action. Our projects included promoting trash-free lunches, recycling chip and drink packets, coats, shoes and paper. We organized and hosted a community electronic waste recycling event. We created public service announcements to encourage students to save energy at school. We recycled bottle caps to create public art, urged voters to vote to ban smoking on public beaches, and encouraged school superintendents to apply for Green school status. We decorated paper shopping bags to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags and created a movie about how to reduce carbon emissions. We documented all of our learning and projects on our wiki, which we hope will be a source of education and inspiration for our friends and neighbors in the River Rouge Watershed.

3. Our Computer and Internet Access

A. Percentage of students using the Internet at home:more than 50%

B. Number of workstations with Internet access in the classroom:more than 6

C. Connection speed used in the classroom:not sure

D. Number of years our classroom has been connected to the Internet:more than 6

E. Additional comments concerning your computer and/or Internet access (Optional):

We are fortunate to be a science and technology school so we have access to laptops, desktops, cameras and flip cameras. In order to be more productive we also used our own net books, I-pads and I-touches. Most of us have computers at home so we were able to continue to edit our wiki, email our experts and conduct research from home.

4. Problems We Had To Overcome

The biggest problem we had in completing this project was actually getting out to do field research. Travelling as a group of 54 is very expensive when it comes to paying for buses and entrance fees to museums etc. Our watershed covers a lot of land and we wanted to explore as much of it as possible. To overcome this problem we enlisted the help of parent volunteers and organized mini field trips. With parents driving us small groups went off on different trips to keep the cost down and then reported back to the whole class. “The power of 54” became our class motto and we learned from the experiences of each other. We also invited experts in our community to come into our classroom to share with us their knowledge and this was very successful since we had several visitors who taught us a lot within our own classroom. Another barrier we had to overcome was how to maximize our time when working in groups of four. Oftentimes, the tasks we faced required us to divide the labor accordingly. We overcame this obstacle by assigning specific roles: project manager, technology engineer, presenter, and communications manager. Having a set job with a clear purpose enabled us to be more productive. Some technical difficulties we encountered were when there was more than one person trying to edit the same wiki page at the same time. We discovered this early on in our project so organized it so that each group had their own page. We also had a few issues making our Google Earth tour so we included helpful tips on the page to assist the reader.

5. Our Project Sound Bite

We learned that throughout history people in our watershed did not consider the environmental consequences of their actions .The River Rouge watershed is ours to protect and if we unite and take action we can ensure a positive future for our community.

6. How did your activities and research for this CyberFair Project support standards, required coursework and curriculum standards?

Throughout the course of this project we took an interdisciplinary approach. We merged science, language arts and social studies objectives in a way that allowed our students to gain a much deeper understanding of human impact on the environment in the past, present and future. Social studies objectives focused upon how to prepare our students to become responsible citizens, displaying social understanding and civic efficacy. We studied the human condition, how it has changed over time, the variations that occur in different physical environments, and the emerging trends that appear likely to shape the future in an interdependent world and pluralistic, democratic society. Science objectives focused upon ecosystems: the interactions of organisms, the relationships of organisms, biotic and abiotic factors and environmental impact of organisms .We learned about science processes such as inquiry, inquiry analysis, communication, reflection and social implications. This project also complimented our school theme for the year which is “G.E.E.K.ed about learning” (Global Education Engaging Kids) Working collaboratively our students practiced reaching consensus, being politely critical, respecting and utilizing each other’s strengths and differences and fulfilling their roles to be a productive team. Instead of students learning to pass a test, this was an exercise in authentic learning with real meaning and purpose. Technology enabled our students to take charge of their own learning journey. They chose the most appropriate tools to acquire knowledge and then determined an action plan that would achieve something real with the knowledge that included service, leadership and global improvement.

Project Elements

1) What information tools & technologies did you used to complete your CyberFair project?

We used approximately 25 laptop and desktop computers between our 54 students that belonged to our school and our students themselves. The computers enabled us to conduct a wide variety of research, host our web-site (wiki) and upload photos, video, voice, and text. We also emailed experts to gather information about our topics .We used video and digital still cameras to document and share our site visits, and activities inside and outside of school. We called adult experts on the phone and conducted interviews to gather information about our topics. We borrowed books from our local public library to learn more about the River Rouge watershed. We used Google Earth to explore and make a virtual tour of our watershed. We embedded two useful widgets on our wiki to enable visitors the site to translate our pages into their native language and to enable us to track the number and location of visitors to our site. We used Wordle and Glogster to create visual representations of our learning. We visited museums, a university, a landfill, a city hall, and points on the Rouge River to conduct research, gather information from oral interviews and perform acts of service.

Our most valuable resources were the experts we contacted so the laptop computers were key tools in helping us locate them and learn their contact information. The cameras were an excellent tool for us to document and share our experiences and the wiki itself was a great vehicle for us to communicate our learning not only with each other but the wider community.

2) In what ways did you act as "ambassadors" and spokespersons for your CyberFair project both on-line and in person.

Our students made many phone calls and sent many emails to reach out to experts in our community who helped us learn about our topics. Adults were typically very surprised at the higher level of inquiry and understanding our students displayed. One woman, a scientist who works for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, when asked a question about water quality rates in the Rouge River, replied to a student in a phone call, “Wow, what a great question. I’m not really sure about that, I’ll have to get back to you.” A guest teacher left a note to say how impressed he was with the advanced work our students were doing, similar to projects he had only previously seen at the high school. Mr and Mrs Skorma, who helped with our E-Waste recycling and hard drive shredding event presented the students with $100 to help with their efforts. Every adult with whom the students interacted was surprised that students at the 5th and 6th grade level would be working on a project with this level of sophistication. The fact that they were out in our school building, the community, and online demonstrated the seriousness of this project and our authentic purpose to do something that truly mattered to the health of our environment. The students acted as ambassadors to other students not involved in the project, to teachers, administrators, and community members. Through our school’s video announcements, other students were actively drawn into projects such as collecting coats, shoes and bottle caps, as well as creating waste-free lunches. Through emails, flyers, the media and district wide communications, the students were able to involve members of the wider community who were all impressed and motivated by their commitment and determination to succeed.

3) What has been the impact of your project on your community?

Our project has made a difference in our community because it is so multi-faceted. People have expanded their awareness of the history, current status, and projected health of our watershed through visits to our website. Visitors from around the globe have been able to recognize commonalities in the issues that we in southeast Michigan have faced with the issues they are addressing in their own communities all over the world.

The people who have visited our website or been involved in any of the projects we completed have realized that we all need to work hard to keep trash out of landfills, to recycle, to make wise choices and reduce our negative impact on the environment. We kept 400 pairs of athletic shoes out of landfills, reached 600 consumers with the message to buy reusable bags, kept thousands of plastic caps out of the landfill stream and prevented toxic chemicals in old electronic devices from entering a landfill .Students in our school report that they are much more aware of the consequences of their actions and parents report that they are replicating positive practices at home. Our movie about reducing carbon emissions won second place in a state competition and was shown at a film festival in Ann Arbor. Through the contact page of our wiki we are receiving positive and supportive feedback about our project. We have forged strong links within the community with local businesses, volunteer organizations and educators and we hope to continue to strengthen those relationships as we continue to promote environmental awareness in the future. Fundamentally, our website and real-time advocacy has helped to shift the awareness of students, families, and community members about their daily living habits and the ways small changes can significantly impact the quality of life in our watershed.

4) How did your project involve other members of your community as helpers and volunteers?

We couldn’t have completed this project without the help of our teachers, parents and all the students at BCS. Our teachers helped us to build our wiki, learn how to use new technologies and pointed us in the right direction when we became a little lost on our learning journey. Without our parents we would not have been able to get out into the community to visit museums, landfills, local stores and planning offices. The adults we met and who helped us at these places were also extremely helpful in developing a deeper understanding of our community, it’s history and the important forces at work within it today. All of the students at BCS helped out with our action projects in some way. It could have been by packing a trash free lunch, donating coats or shoes to our collections, or by bringing in bottle caps for our collection. Our research and learning would not have been as thorough if it weren’t for the experts that we contacted for help and guidance. The experts who gave up their time to come into our classroom were very helpful for our understanding and knowledge of the River Rouge Watershed. They answered our questions carefully and thoughtfully and when they didn’t have the answer they pointed us in the direction of somebody who could. To everyone who helped us we offer a huge thank you for your time, support and encouragement.

5) Discoveries, Lessons and Surprises (Optional)

We discovered that living in a world where information is so abundant and accessible exposes students to the temptation to GCP (Google, Copy and Paste!) We discovered that this approach does not help us to learn as we do not thoroughly interact with the source and do not give ourselves the time to process and synthesize information. We were really proud to watch our students grow into educated consumers of information, able to be selective with sources, to extract relevant and reliable information and then use that knowledge to formulate their own ideas and opinions. This project also provided our students with the opportunity to learn a lot about character. Working collaboratively they gained a deeper understanding of trust, reliability, responsibility and accountability. In the pursuit of their action projects they learned about perseverance, integrity, patience and respect. One of the amazing lessons learned here is that the intelligence, capabilities and creativity of children should never be underestimated as a force for change. Our students developed products and action plans that enabled them to be “eco-warriors” and powerful agents of change within our community. Our students have surprised everyone, including themselves, with the high level of insight they acquired. They have set themselves on a lifelong path of reasoned analysis and advocacy.


View our CyberFair Project (Project ID: 6532)

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