"Our Community and the
a Critical Inquiry"
4th-5th grade class of Madison Elementary, Port Lavaca, Texas
Madison Elementary was located on the Gulf Coast in Port Lavaca, Texas. This
unit is excellent for teaching
six-week, interdisciplinary unit is based on Science, particularly,
the environment. Although the unit is focused mainly on science, it is designed
in such a way that all the disciplines are addressed through the implementation
of the unit. This provides cohesion and connections between disciplines, adding
meaning to the students' learning processes.
The class is divided into four Expert Groups; this is done through a
drawing. The Expert Groups are: Land,
Man’s Impact on the Environment.
Each expert group studies a unique set of materials. Students are allowed to
exchange groups if someone will trade with them.
The groups allow for
Glasser’s stated needs for belonging, fun, freedom, and power;
students being allowed to trade allows power and freedom as well.
Experts create a
Jigsaw Group consisting of at least one person from each of the Expert
Groups, then students teach each other what they have learned, and work together
to achieve the unit outcomes.
Demonstration/Assessment: the unit outcomes are demonstrated in two ways,
Group and Individual:
Assessment - these are assessments designed for each Unit Outcome which
each student must do on an individual basis.
Assessment - the Jigsaw Group creates an presents the required
Demonstration/Assessment product or performance.
In order to do the
tasks required for meeting the Unit Outcome, students first learn the
Enabling Outcomes and Strategies. These outcomes are designed to
enable the students to work independently, interdependently, in a self-directed
Then students begin work on the higher level outcomes. The unit is designed
down from the unit outcomes, and then taught back up to them.
Synopsis: Students learn about how
the air, land and water in their community are impacted by business, industry
and everyday life. They also learn about how the economy and environment are
interconnected, not only in what it costs environmentally but how the incomes of
the families in the community as well as those outside of the community are
impacted. In addition, they compare the
quality of the cleanliness of the environment and the impact of industry on the
environment to that in another city. Then they draw conclusions and make
recommendations based on what they have learned.
The entire unit - all the strategies and methods - are designed to allow for the
maximum amount of power, freedom, fun and belonging. Although the
Demonstration/Assessments required are extremely high level and are outlined
clearly for the students, you will note that there is a high degree of
flexibility in how the students create and present them, both as Groups and as
This unit was extremely meaningful to the students because it involved them
directly with their community, homes, industries and businesses. This created a
high level of student motivation which resulted in a high level of learning. For
this particular unit and this particular class, the unit was very high power
because it took place in a small port town, population about 10,000. The world’s
largest Formosa plant was there as well as Alcoa, Dupont, Union Carbide, and
several other major plants.
In addition to that,
the community was also a major shrimping community. This creates an immediate
problem for the quality of the water as well as economic impact which these
students actually experienced in their lives. Most of their parents worked for
either one of the plants or on a shrimping boat. Students designed and conducted
surveys in the community, interviewing business leaders as well as customers and
consumers. They also wrote letters to the industries requesting information and
materials which they were very excited to receive. In order to accomplish these
tasks, students were involved in intense levels of research, reading, writing,
analyzing, and were forced to develop and use a wide variety of communication
skills. These included negotiation and collaboration in designing the survey
which the entire class would utilize, conducting the survey by approaching
strangers for interviews, being videotaped, analyzing and sharing with each
other in whole-group situations what they learned in their interviews, drawing
conclusions which they then (in Jigsaw Groups) had to negotiate and collaborate
on the design of their presentations.
These 4th and 5th
graders did not shirk from the challenges which this unit presented. It
increased the levels of self-esteem and confidence as well as increasing
everyone’s levels of reading, writing, speaking, thinking, and their knowledge
of science, math, etc.
- Create and defend a depiction of the relationships between three elements of
the environment - air, land and water, including real life examples.
Analyze the impact of technology on your community environment,
compare and contrast it to the impact of technology on other communities, then,
based upon an analysis of the past, make predictions and recommendations for the
- Find real life problems
related to land, air and/or water of your community. Determine and justify the
best possible solutions.
- Analyze, interpret and evaluate the
components of a well-designed community, reflecting protection of the
environment, especially control of pollution.
To plan your
Environmental Unit for your classroom and community, please see our