When 6th graders at Lakes Elementary School in Lacey, Washington, are performing tests on water samples they've obtained, even those who are not strong readers can become chemists if they have the directions read to them. In our inclusive classrooms, we may have five or six students who are struggling academically. But all our young students understand that they have merit even if they are not talented in the traditional school sense—that is, strong in logical-mathematical or linguistic abilities.
Our 6th graders learn about scientific processes and procedures. They accurately perform dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity tests, and take samples of aquatic organisms on the Deschutes River—a bodily-kinesthetic ability. And they consistently see patterns in nature and share their observations with others.
In Tune with Nature
The unit on water quality that our one hundred 6th graders are involved in is part of our integrated curriculum on watersheds. In crafting the curriculum, we have designed the learning experiences with two goals in mind: a focus on our state's essential learning requirements and the application of Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. In addition to considering Gardner's well-known seven intelligences, we put a particular emphasis on the eighth intelligence that he most recently added to his list—the naturalist.
Gardner defines the naturalist as the individual who "is able to recognize flora and fauna, to make other consequential distinctions in the natural world, and to use his ability productively [in hunting, in farming, in biological science]" (1995, p.206). He cites Charles Darwin as one illustrious example.
The teachers at Lakes have no doubt that the naturalist is a true intelligence. Given the opportunity to go outside and observe, some students see things and make connections that others completely overlook. These students seem much more in tune with nature and have an inherent focus; the outdoors is their most comfortable classroom. One 6th grade class, for example, had recently planted trees near the school. Some students noticed that the saplings near a fence were dying, while others planted throughout the grounds were thriving. They figured out the reason: a neighboring resident had clear-cut his property, leaving no shade and therefore too much sun by the fence.
Watershed in Learning
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are particularly well situated to nurture promising naturalists. We have a strong interest in natural resources and a healthy environment. And our integrated watershed curriculum is part of a larger national effort—the Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN). Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the organization began in the 1980s as a water quality monitoring project in the Great Lakes region. The network now stresses watershed stewardship across the United States and in 136 other countries.
In Washington state, approximately 1,300 students in the 4th through 10th grades are involved in ecological studies and water quality monitoring throughout the Budd/Deschutes Watershed in south Puget Sound. Since 1992, a consortium of public and private organizations has provided funding for an education coordinator for the watershed. The coordinator, Rochelle Rothaus, works with 34 teacher volunteers from five school districts, including ours. She is, to use Gardner's term, a true "school-community broker" (1993). Although individual teachers and teacher teams could replicate this project, Rothaus is the traffic director who connects community services and schools, allowing teaching and understanding to move forward efficiently.
Because we use multiple intelligences to tailor our watershed-based curriculum, our 6th graders are involved in a variety of learning experiences that reach them in ways they can all understand. We guide them through the imagery of the riparian zone—the forested area adjacent to most rivers (visual-spatial). They reflect on how it feels to do chemical monitoring tests or to plant a tree (intrapersonal). They walk through simulations of what happens to water when it goes down a storm drain (bodily-kinesthetic).
Students work in pairs or groups to present information to community forums (interpersonal). They design surveys and write responses as conversation. They write paragraphs and create illustrations that are printed on grocery bags distributed at the local Safeway supermarket (linguistic). Their reading skills are stretched when they work through the technical vocabulary in Mark Mitchell and Bill Stapp's Water Quality Monitoring Handbook (1992) (linguistic).
Whetting All Appetites
In order to find activities that address multiple intelligences and also meet our state's standards, our teachers pull their ideas from many curriculum resources. Of particular note is a national curriculum called Project WET. The Project Wet Curriculum and Activity Guide (1995), created by the Watercourse and Western Regional Environmental Education Council (located at Montana State University in Bozeman), is full of ideas for simulations, guided imagery, learning games, and other multiple intelligence strategies.
In one activity, our 6th graders conducted tests to determine the breathing rate of feeder fish in different water temperatures—an exercise designed to help the students understand that water temperature has a direct connection to the health of a river. Each student placed a fish in a plastic container. Students first filled their containers with cold water and counted the movement of the gills of the fish for one minute. They then repeated this with water at room temperature and with hot water. Finally, each student averaged everyone's results to determine a common respiration rate for each temperature (logical-mathematical).
This experiment led to discussions of scientific conditions, inaccuracies, and other problems involved in data collection. The students saw that when some species of fish are placed in hot water, they have a tolerance limit median (tlm) and can be stimulated and affected by thermal pollution. That helped them understand how fish take on the temperature of the water they live in and why temperature is therefore an important indicator of water quality.
The Outdoor Classroom
In "Succeeding With Multiple Intelligences" (New City School Faculty 1996), Tom Hoerr stresses that "Ideally we should provide a naturalistic setting for the Naturalist intelligence." At Lakes Elementary School, we use the school grounds as a classroom. For example, our 6th grade team works on observation skills outside when mentoring its 1st grade buddies, resulting in special learning relationships. The older students operate on the principle that if you understand something you can teach it to others. Together, the buddies go on hikes, recording the names of objects they see or hear that start with the different letters of the alphabet (interpersonal, linguistic).
For their own ecological studies, they create designated rectangular plots of land called quadrats by using 40-inch lengths of yarn to form a square with 10-inch sides. They then observe, list, and draw the contents of the 100-square-inch area they've outlined (visual-spatial, logical-mathematical).
Our 6th grade classes average 20 community expeditions a year. The class either goes to the community or the community comes to the classroom. We have made trips to McAllister Springs, the source of the area's water supply, toured the local landfill, and traveled to the water treatment plant at the mouth of the Deschutes River.
In the classroom, we have hosted land management professionals, fish and wildlife biologists, a wastewater management specialist, a parks and recreation director, a tree farmer, a logging consultant, a home owner with a desalination system, and the property owner who allows the 100 students to use his riverfront property for water quality tests.
Assessments of Choice
At the end of each curriculum unit—the units stretch through a flexible eight-week period—the students undertake evaluation projects that they present and explain to classmates. These projects enable the students to demonstrate their understanding of the material by directly applying what they have learned in the field and classroom. The projects also offer choices geared to the eight intelligences.
We might encourage a child to make a musical choice or a visual or spatial one if that is an area the child has little confidence in. All the students are familiar with Gardner's theory and they have determined their strengths as well as the abilities they need to shore up with more experience.
When kids are allowed to make choices and design their own assessments, they produce projects that they value and that often amaze us. This year the project list is varied: creative stories and poems; written research reports; a learning board game demonstrating where rainwater goes; a simple computer program that shows how water evaporates and other aspects of the water cycle; a rap song about the stages of the water cycle; and a puppet play to teach 1st graders about watersheds. One student made a video of his survey of adults in the neighborhood to determine how much they knew about the water supply. His findings revealed that many people from his parents' generation thought their drinking water came from Puget Sound, when in fact it comes from groundwater through wells.
Through all these projects, the teachers at Lakes have witnessed how the multiple intelligences approach provides all students with successful learning experiences—including kids who are not apt to be successful with traditional teaching methods.
Gardner defined intelligence as "the ability to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in at least one culture or community." In the south Puget Sound area, our communities place particular importance on the ability to solve ecological problems. Students are connected to the community and involved in relevant authentic learning in their own backyards.
In addition to explaining their projects to their classmates, our 6th graders share their information with community groups at local forums. The benefits are mutual: Sharing information empowers students and motivates them to learn more and to solve problems. Working in pairs or groups, students have made presentations to the Lacey City Council, a Trout Unlimited meeting, and our neighborhood Lakes Improvement Association. Our community agencies have, in fact, established educational divisions to reach out to adults and schools in the area.
Our 6th graders also share their information with the hundreds of students and teachers participating in the Global Rivers network. Their findings become part of the volunteer data in Thurston County's annual Water Resources Report—a compilation of water quality data that resource professionals use in their environmental management decisions.
On a more practical level, our students decided that one way they could personally help improve our watershed was to stencil the storm drains in the Safeway supermarket parking lot. Behind that parking lot is the well that is the source of the school's drinking water. When it rains, the oil and gas residue in the runoff in those drains goes to groundwater. The students borrowed stenciling kits from city and county offices. Using this equipment, they spray-painted messages on the blacktop near the storm drain to call attention to where runoff water goes when it enters the drain. The message reads, "Dump No Waste. Protect Your Groundwater."
"The Naturalist intelligence offers one more way to help students understand and learn," Tom Hoerr writes (New City School Faculty 1996). When children are given the opportunity to use their stronger intelligences and when they have fun doing so, they become much more engaged in the learning process. Thus, we all learn from one another.
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (November 1995). "Reflections on Multiple Intelligences: Myths and Messages." Phi Delta Kappan 77, 3: 200-203, 206-209.
New City School Faculty. (1996). Multiple Intelligences: Teaching Through the Personal Intelligences. St. Louis, Mo.: New City School, Inc.
Mitchell and Stapp. (1992). Field Manual for Water Quality Monitoring. Dexter, Mich.: Thomson-Shore Printers.
Watercourse and Western Regional Environmental Education Council. (1995). Project WET Curriculum and Activity Guide. Bozeman, Mont.: Author.
Maggie Meyer teaches at Lakes Elementary School, 6211 Mullen Rd., Lacey, WA 98503 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).