Fourth-graders – who had been learning about the energy flow through an ecosystem in their science classes and exploring how changes in an ecosystem can affect it and its organisms – took on the roles of scientists when they participated in a weeklong i2 Learning program from June 11-15.
Throughout the learning experience, which incorporated science, technology, engineering and math skills, the students collaborated with their peers to solve the mystery at Loon Lake – a fictional place where the populations of certain animals are declining for no obvious reason. They were challenged to determine what caused the changes in the ecosystem and figure out a way to prevent a catastrophe. While the location was fictional, the students gained real-world skills that environmental scientists use to solve such mysteries.
“The students were deeply invested in solving the mystery at Loon Lake,” fourth-grade teacher Lauren Wright said. “They were calling themselves ‘detective scientists,’ as they were finding clues to solve the problem and using their knowledge of science to help them. It was wonderful to collaborate with the science teachers on this program and it really enhanced the experience for the students to have both teachers in the room.”
During an engineering challenge, the students designed fishing nets that catch tuna but set smaller fish and dolphins free. Having learned about the structure and function of dams, they also built their own eco-friendly models of dams. In addition, they learned how biologists estimate populations in ecosystems before making their own conclusions about the current and past animal populations at Loon Lake. Afterwards, the students analyzed water samples for multiple characteristics, including pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and chemical contamination, and investigated what the water quality results could indicate is happening in the Loon Lake ecosystem.
“As a teacher, it is so important to know that my students are capable of collaboration, which is exactly what this project fostered within all of them,” fourth-grade teacher Derrick DiRienzo said. “Working together, with a common inquiry, helped students to research, hypothesize, test and retest in order to solve the mystery of Loon Lake. The hands-on approach of i2 Learning provides students with interactive experiences that promote innovative thinking and discovery.”
As a conclusion to their studies, the students participated in a simulation lab to help them understand how biomagnification affects animals in a food web. They also designed their own filter feeders and devices to collect zebra mussels from Loon Lake.
“By the end of the unit, Ecosystems: Mystery at Loon Lake, the students developed an understanding and appreciation for how interdependent all the organisms in an ecosystem really are, how much an ecosystem can suffer from even a small change, and how difficult it can be to remediate an ecosystem after it has been damaged,” science teacher Susan Monaco said. “It was an amazing experience to see the students so enthusiastic about learning and problem-solving. I think the immersion model is very effective and promoted a deep understanding of the content and empowered the students to solve the problem.”
i2 Learning, an organization that works with world-class scientific and academic institutions, introduces students to the engineering design process and challenges them to think critically and solve problems. The learning experience was made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Bronxville School Foundation.