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JENNIFER WILLIAMS
First Place

K-2 | Science & Tech | Real World Application or Field Study

Station WYES in Louisiana

My Classroom Innovation

Students in my third grade science classes carry out an in depth study of wetland ecosystems and their importance to Louisiana. As part of the unit, students view segments of the NOVA program called “A Storm That Drowned A City” to help them to understand the reasons why our city flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Upon completion of video the students discuss and read about storm surge and wetland buffers. Students use the NOVA website to look at the anatomy of a hurricane and to track the path of Hurricane Katrina over Louisiana and Mississippi. We discuss and write about how each child’s family was affected by the storm. We conduct a modified version of the NOVA activity called “Wetlands and Hurricanes,” so they can understand the how wetland loss causes our city to be more vulnerable to storms. From this activity we discuss ways citizens can help restore and rebuild wetlands along Louisiana’s coast. Through partnerships with Louisiana State University’s Coastal Roots Program and the University of New Orleans, my students raise and monitor native wetland trees and grasses including spartina alterniflora, spartina patens, bald cypress, and swamp red maple. Students collect data (growth rate, stem height, coloration, and leaf growth) on these plants and send their data to wetland scientists at these universities. After nine months of growth and monitoring, students plant these grasses and trees at degraded wetlands areas that surround New Orleans. Over three years, students have restored about seven acres of wetlands at Jean Lafitte National Park and have helped to restore marsh areas around Lake Pontchartrain. Upon completion of this unit of study, teams of students create video podcast that explain the importance of Louisiana wetlands and ways citizens can protect and restore this natural resource. Videos are shared with fellow students in an assembly.

How Students were Engaged

Upon completion of this unit on wetlands, students are able to understand and articulate to their peers and families the importance of this ecosystem. Students are pre-tested at the beginning of the unit to see their prior knowledge of wetlands and assessed throughout the unit. The pre-testing has shown that most students have little to no knowledge of this ecosystem and what wetlands offer to the people and creatures living in southern Louisiana. The PBS resources used in the unit are invaluable to helping to increase my students’ awareness of coastal issues. Not only did programs like as NOVA and PBS Need To Know present students with factual knowledge about wetland loss and wetland importance, students used the format of these programs to shape their videos and present their information. In addition, these programs showed the students that people outside of metropolitan New Orleans area had reasons to protect this fragile ecosystem, too. The greatest success of the unit has be our work with Louisiana State University and the University of New Orleans. Over three years, my students have restored approximately seven acres of swamps at Jean Lafitte National Park and have helped to restore marsh areas around Lake Pontchartrain. Partnering with these institutions has allowed my students the ability to go into the swamps and marshes to see firsthand the destruction caused by hurricanes and humans to our wetlands. Having students working in the field with the wetland scientists has empowered my students to be good stewards of their environment and recognize natural processes. Moreover, by growing and monitoring native plant species my students are helping in a small way to end coastal land loss and work toward solutions that will protect Louisiana from future storms.

PBS Program/Content Used

NOVA's "Storm That Drowned A City" video and website and PBS's Need to Know "The Disappearing Delta"