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Life in a Vernal Pool Field Guide

School: Four Rivers Charter Public School

City/State: Greenfield, MA

Grade(s): 7

Format(s): Field guide: Natural science

Subject(s): Science and Technology

Project Overview

Seventh grade students at Four Rivers Charter Public School in Greenfield, Massachusetts created this field guide as part of an expedition on Vernal Pools.

The Life in a Vernal Pool learning expedition brought students outside of the school to conduct intensive scientific research at a local vernal pool. This vernal pool served as a case study for addressing state standards on ecology and taxonomy and included extensive skill building in species identification, nonfiction reading, scientific writing, and measurement. The students’ first major project was an application to the state of Massachusetts for official vernal pool certification. Further book research and instruction in watercolor technique and expository and creative writing gave students the tools they needed to complete the second major project of the expedition – the Life in a Vernal Pool field guide. Designed for young children, the field guide includes paintings, descriptions, and original folktales about animals that live in and around vernal pools. Sections for each animal include: description, habitat, diet, natural history, taxonomy, and life cycle. The book was donated to the local public library. Thanks to these seventh graders’ thorough research and advocacy, they achieved real change in their community.

The certification process required students to describe the location and distinctive features of the pool in detail, and to measure and map the pool throughout a season. They identified and documented vernal pool species, observed their lifecycles and reproductive activ­ities, and classified them as obligate or facultative ver­nal pool organisms. Students coordinated as a group to avoid counting the same organism twice as they worked to identify the egg masses, larvae, and juveniles of sev­eral amphibian species. They used scoop nets to look for fairy shrimp, aquatic insect larvae and nymphs, leeches, fingernail clams, and snails. Each find was documented with dates, counts, and photographs.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Models authentic scientific research for a real purpose
  • Models student leadership and contribution to community
  • Certification achieved for the vernal pool is an inspiring success story
  • Models repeated fieldwork research trips to a site for authentic purpose
  • Models integration of disciplines: science; math and data analysis; expository and creative writing; illustration, composition and layout
  • Unusual incorporation of fictional writing – original folktales – into a scientific product

Relevant Resources

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can write informative/explanatory texts that convey ideas and concepts using relevant information that is carefully selected and organized.
  • I can write narrative texts about real or imagined experiences using relevant details and event sequences that make sense.
  • I can produce clear and coherent writing that is appropriate to task, purpose and audience.
  • With support from peers and adults, I can use a writing process to ensure that purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • I can select evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection and research.
  • I can use correct grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  • I can express ideas with precision.
  • I can use resources to build my vocabulary.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
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