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Snakes of the Pioneer Valley

School: Amherst Middle School

City/State: Amherst, MA

Grade(s): 7

Format(s): Field guide: Natural science

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Science and Technology

Project Overview

Snakes of the Pioneer Valley is an unusual student product. Unlike most - produced as part of a classroom Learning Expedition or project - this book was created by a single student who did most of his work outside of the school day, as an independent project. While the creation process was not typical of the classroom projects in this archive, and therefore not a model of process that can be duplicated, the final product is a fine model of professional-quality research, writing, layout and production done by a student. As a product, the size and quality of work and production are an excellent model for secondary school field guides.

It also models a useful strategy that can be employed in a range of student projects: the use of professional photographs from online sources, used with permission of the photographer and proper citation. Because the project is a service project – all profits benefit the Hitchcock Nature Center in Amherst, MA (copies may be purchased from the center) - photographers were generous in giving permission for free use of their work.

This field guide to snakes was created by a 7th grade student from Amherst, Massachusetts. It filled a void in the field guides that were available in this part of Massachusetts – none existed on snakes. The student did all of the research and writing for this book, while acknowledging the different sources he used in his introduction. Most of the digital photographs were found through a web-search and are not his own. However, this student contacted each photographer whose photos he wanted to use and gained permission to use them and to alter them with the addition of explanatory captions.

The student had support from his family which allowed for the professional printing.

The finished product is a 4 by 6 inch pocket field guide.

A fun feature of this book is the author’s request to readers, on page 9, to contact him if they see a snake while in the Pioneer Valley, with information about the species and where it was seen.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Demonstrates professional-quality work, indistinguishable from adult work, possible by a middle school student
  • Highlights in-depth study of a topic by one student who had a personal fascination and deep interest in the topic
  • Although this product does not serve as model for a whole class, if done under the proper circumstances, could aptly serve as a means for an individual student deeply pursuing interests of her or his own
  • Shows an example of using online, professional photographs and establishing permission via online communication with photographers
  • Size of this pocket field guide is appealing – truly fits in your pocket

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can analyze how the sections of a text contribute to the overall meaning.
  • I can synthesize visual information with other information in a scientific or technical text.
  • 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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