Hitching education to a couple of wagons
Teaching students to answer the question, "Why am I learning this?" is the focus and impetus of a collaborative project that students from an elementary school, two high schools and the city of Prineville are working on together.
They are designing and building two covered wagons to transport students around the Barnes Butte property behind the elementary school. The project is part of a sequence of lessons that Barnes Butte Elementary first graders are engaged in. The wagons will also be used for many other purposes by the city, including the annual fair.
The project began with a meeting between city of Prineville Engineer and Public Works Director Eric Klann and the students at Barnes Butte Elementary. The property is owned by the city and poses many challenges, including noxious weeds and accessibility.
"All of the Barnes Butte first graders became junior planners of the Barnes Butte property," Klann said. "This occurred as part of a storyline, in which they immersed themselves into becoming planners of what the property should be."
A storyline is a coherent sequence of lessons, in which each step is driven by students' questions that arise from their interactions with phenomena. The student's goal should always be to explain a phenomenon or solve a problem. At each step, students make progress answering a set of questions using science or engineering to figure them out.
First grade instructor Marilee Smith said a storyline involving the Barnes Butte Property was perfect for her students.
"Storyline is magical," Smith said. "Each story takes a unique twist as students create their own model and construct their own meaning through action and experience. In this way, teachers and students join together in collaborative story-making to create the storyline."
She said that the students became invested and took ownership and pride in the project.
"During this storyline, we hiked once a week to study a point of interest or feature of the property. Students were researching, writing and doing art and science experiments correlating to the property," Smith said.
The students wanted to take care of the property, she said. The project concluded with a culminating event.
"They even wanted to clean up garbage before our families came to the culmination (event)," she added. "I believe this ownership and pride will carry over in how they feel connected to their community."
During their culmination event, they invited families to tour the property with their child as a guide.
"Parents might not have explored the property without this opportunity and excitement from their child," Smith said. "Storyline connects children with their learning like nothing else. This particular storyline connected nature, learning, families and community."
During the process, the students also encountered some difficulty getting all students into the wagons, which presented another challenge in disability accessibility.
"The kids spent a lot of time thinking about this," Smith said. "The class also thought about family members and elderly that would have a difficult time."
Klann said students used reading, writing and math through the entire process. "I met with them a few times and asked them to look into it, and asked them, 'What did they find, how were people using it, and how would they like to see the park developed or kept natural?'
"At the end of the day, their proposal was to keep the place as natural as we could, but to make the facility more ADA accessible," Klann said.
Klann initially contacted Prineville city councilman and welding instructor for Mountain View High School, Jeff Papke, and agriculture and welding instructor for Crook County High School, Dan McNary, about the potential project between the city and the students at BBE. The idea was to build two 24-foot wagon trailers that could be used for various activities around the county — particularly for the Barnes Butte storyline project.
The two wagons would each have an area for seating, stairs and a wheelchair lift. They would be covered eventually, as well, and take on the look of covered wagons. They would be used for multiple activities in and around the community.
"Each school was involved in the modification of Eric's (Klann) original design and helped come up with the final plans," McNary said. "Each school is now working to complete their wagon. Eric provided both programs with all materials, and our goal is to have the wagons completely welded up by the end of February. They will then go to powder coating. Upon their return to us, students will complete the work of putting in all-weather decks and seating on the floor and benches."
McNary added that the final completion is intended to be done by mid-April.
Papke has been very enthusiastic and supportive of the project. He likes the idea of using the wagons to transport the students over and around the property. He added that they learned a lot when they couldn't include all students in this part of their storyline.
"That really put the exclamation point on the need to have some of these that were accessible to all, whether it be at the fair, whether it be in the parades, or the school kids," he said. "I am really proud of Eric (Klann) for taking that project on and saying, 'So how do we do this? How do we build these to where anyone can access them, regardless of their ability and physical limitations?'"
Papke and McNary agreed that it was a great project for the community.
"I was just really happy that he asked us to be part of it," Papke exclaimed. "I think it's great for kids to be able to put their skills into practice. It also helps them to step up their game. They want to do a good job."
He concluded that from a community standpoint, it is a great way to highlight the skills and abilities that the students have, what they are learning and how they can apply it to a real world situation.
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