Concepts in Context

Year-Long Curriculum Allows Students to Explore Topics in Greater Depth
Concepts in Context

Year-Long Curriculum Allows Students to Explore Topics in Greater Depth

RiverXchange is a long-term program that provides an exciting new way for upper elementary teachers to explore major water resources topics over many months as part of the normal curriculum– instead of limiting the study of water to a single unit or a single subject (science). We do this by offering a fun and innovative approach to teaching and learning that incorporates social-networking technology to reinforce learning, brings guest speakers into the classroom and includes a field trip.  The full school year provides an ideal format for participants to network within the community, learn and internalize new concepts, and learn how to work with new technology.  The goal is to help participants understand and appreciate their local water resources so that they will take action to protect them.

The project kicks off in September with a local workshop for New Mexico teachers and online training for partner teachers.  Each New Mexico class is partnered with a class outside the state so that all students have a “high tech pen pal.”  Throughout the school year, pen pals write about what they are learning and comment on each other’s writing via a private wiki website. It is very motivating to have a new friend in a far away place who is studying the same topics!  The partnership component also provides teachers with a new professional networking opportunity.

All teachers are provided with training, curriculum materials, and ongoing technical support. We ask that teachers invite at least four water resources professionals into the classroom to do a presentation that includes a hands-on activity, and that classes go on a field trip to the local river, tributary or important watershed feature.  For New Mexico classes, we will coordinate all classroom guest speakers and field trips, and cover the cost of field trip bus transportation and substitute teachers for the teacher workshop.  At this time, our New Mexico-based funding does not enable us to cover such costs for partner classes — but we hope to secure funding in the future that enables us to do this.

Concepts in Context

By coordinating lessons on different water resources topics into a coherent whole, we’re giving students the “big picture” of our watershed and why every citizen has the responsibility to protect it. Our overarching goal for the program is that students understand and be able to formulate thoughtful answers to The Big Water Questions, such as How can I protect our water? and Who owns our water? Key concepts in water resources management are reinforced over and over from different angles, improving students’ retention of the information and promoting critical thinking. Because RiverXchange students study many aspects of their local watershed, they have a frame of reference to better understand your message.

Sandia Vista Elementary teacher John Turrietta says RiverXchange enables his class to participate in a program that encompasses resources that individual teachers cannot easily coordinate. He added, “While science is the primary objective of this program, I feel that there are many other benefits of the numerous guest speakers, the contact with students on the other side of the world via wiki, and the hands-on activities on the field trip….It provides our students with a variety of experiences that puts it all together in a real and lasting way.”

After each guest speaker visits the classroom, students are expected to synthesize their learning into an explanation for their pen pals. Presenters notice that RiverXchange students pay close attention because they know they’ll need to use the information later! The pen pal component of the program creates an “audience” which motivates students because they know their partners will be reading what they write, and they are eager to read and comment on their partners’ pages. Writing about the lessons requires students not only to recall but to make connections and think in-depth about the information presented.

Return to the top of this page