Rivers Curriculum Project

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

to fourth-grade classes. "Talk slow." Boehm counsels. "Don't use so much jargon."

A student suggests, "We can ask if anyone knows what recycling means and let them guess until they get it right."

"And give them something for trying ... maybe a pencil," says another.

"Right," says Boehm. "These are little kids."

The nitrates team is studying some resource materials, and the pH team has gone to the chalkboard.

"Look, Coach," one calls to Boehm. "The pH results have gone up every hour."

Sure enough. Third period reported a pH of 7.0 By fourth period it was 7.5. By fifth it was 8.0

The students suggest reasons for the change. Maybe some classes ran tests differently than others. Maybe the water was colder in the earlier hour, or maybe it was warmer. Boehm tells them to write down all the possible reasons for differences, compare it to other tests, then go to the books and try to explain them.

There is a ripple of excitement as the students brainstorm about the varying test results. It's as if - and this is possible - the students might be able to teach the teacher something. "We're attacking this environmental study together," said Boehm. "I don't know all there is to know. I have to go to the books myself."

The Rivers Curriculum Project has given Boehm's class, in his words, "labs with meaning." Unlike the standard science lab, where students pursue age-old exercises, such as depriving a plant of light or crystalizing salts then dissolving them again, the students in the classroom are exploring new territory.

What they learn could have significance. The nine chemistry tests they run are not innovative, but the regularity of the testing results in a body of scientific data that has never been available. Seasonal variations, due to flooding or drought, are recorded. The effect of chemical changes on biological life are noted.

Water, as conservationists are aware, is the issue of the 1990s. Missourian have had the luxury of good, fresh water and expected it to always be available. Pollution is affecting this precious resource.

All environmental abuses - from pesticides in the cities to herbicides on fields - end up in the water eventually. Sewage treatment, irrigation, recreation, industrial processes and shipping all depend on, and damage, water.

Boehm sees the Rivers Curriculum Project as a way to encourage students to think about the future and to begin a lifetime of caring about resources. "You're going to be making some decisions as an adult," he tells them, "They've got big plans for your tax dollar. Will they provide a product we're going to like?"

Boehm has been teaching since 1968. He remembers his early classes, where students were told to sit up straight and pay attention. "Those days are past," he said, looking around his informally arranged classroom, the little groups bent busily over their projects. "This is not a dead-end, sterile way to study science. It has turned the kids on."

Boehm's students keep journals and a glance at one or two confirm what he has said. "I wish that we could have a class like this at least once a week," writes one student, "We collected many fish, tadpoles, spiders, etc., and specimens of water ..."

"We went on our river testing field trip today," another wrote, "First we went to the Missouri River. I was on a dissolved oxygen team. We took the dissolved oxygen four times. I loved the field trip! I actually felt like it was worthwhile. We were actually collecting data that was going to be used.

"I think that's what true education is all about. I'm excited for our next river test, to see if it changes any."

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