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"Our Community and the Environment -

a Critical Inquiry"

for the 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

This 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, Air, Water, and 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:

  • Individual Assessment - these are assessments designed for each Unit Outcome which each student must do on an individual basis.

  • Group 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 manner.

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 Individuals.

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.

Unit Outcomes

Outcome #1 -  Create and defend a depiction of the relationships between three elements of the environment - air, land and water, including real life examples.

Outcome #2 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 future.

Outcome #3 Find real life problems related to land, air and/or water of your community.  Determine and justify the best possible solutions.

Outcome #4Analyze, 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 Ecoliteracy Page.


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