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Posted February 22, 2013

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Fall 2012 Horizon Award Funds Inquiry-based Project for Roosevelt 6th Graders

The Sandia Mountain Bear Tracking Project fulfills the educational need to provide a challenging, real-world experience that brings excitement and engagement to the classroom while learning about wildlife conservation and scientific research.

Hannah Robbs, Lily Barrett, Carissa Summers, and Rebecca Tresise find some evidence of a bear on a recent field trip experience to the Sandia Mt. Natural History Center.

The Roosevelt MS 6th graders were lucky to have creative and innovative science teachers willing to put forth the effort to write a STEM application for a recent cycle of the Horizon Awards.  The project includes two field trips to the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center and several science enhancement activities like a presentation by a U.S. Forest Service Wildlife Biologist on “Bear Essentials.”   Students asked a variety of questions of the presenter, who spoke on topics like dens, hibernating, forest habitat, territory and home range, diet and adaptations.  The students all were required, through the scope of the grant, to keep interactive notebooks, which include data analysis charts/graphs, drawings and pictures, and notes from special speakers.  In addition, students are learning to use Cornell notes for use at the end of the project for their position paper.

The students are also learning reading strategies to help them comprehend higher level texts to enhance higher order thinking skills.  Equipment purchased through the Horizon Award includes a densiometer, the use of which one bright 6th grader was able to describe in great detail to a visiting observer.  The handheld device is able to measure the canopy of trees in the forest and predict probable bear habitat.  Students have also become familiar with the GPS system, altimeters, compasses and topographical maps.  Expanding vocabulary is another goal, as was demonstrated by students’ use of words like “omnivore” and “opportunistic” during the recent visit by the wildlife biologist.  The APS Education Foundation is proud to fund STEM projects like this that serve as a model for lessons that adhere to Common Core Standards yet provide a challenging, real-world experience for students.

Adding to the excitement and “hands-on” aspect of the project is the knowledge that the “Roosevelt” bear is hibernating high up on the western face of the Sandia Mountains.  When the bear, wearing a collar with a GPS, emerges this spring, students will be able to chart its movements as part of their data analysis.

The project, developed by teachers Lefty Folkman, Cyndie Foreman, Rebecca Gardner and Janine Sears, is also teaching students to form a position based upon evidence rather than opinion.  Another colleague, student teacher Hayden Cohenour, is developing this entire unit as part of his student teaching experience and is also working with the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center teaching 5th graders about ecology.   Says Instructional Coach Lefty Folkman, “Our Roosevelt 6th grade science teachers dreamed big and were able to incorporate a meaningful hands-on curriculum, high-tech equipment, with authentic learning  while benefiting from their own hands-on experience with the upcoming Common Core Standards.”

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