Sample Middle School Project

At the Middle School level, project-based learning (PBL) allows students to tackle an interdisciplinary problem in their community and engage in meaningful, experiential learning that directly leads them to their own solutions. To achieve higher impact, students must hone 21st century skills of collaboration (i.e. with each other, local environmental groups, scientists, local governments) and communication (speech, writing, presentations), all while developing the relevant content knowledge to support each part of the project. In this project, MS students undertook a study of steelhead trout in the Malibu Creek Watershed as well as the impact the Rindge Dam has had on that species' historical habitat. Once they had determined that impact, the students next worked to propose and communicate a viable solution to the degraded local environment.

First, the student team had to inventory and map both the current distribution and historical range of steelhead trout in the watershed. That process involved doing scientific research and engaging local scientists about the work they have recently undertaken in the target area. To further understand the health of the Malibu Creek environment, students performed ecological surveys both above and below the Rindge Dam, measuring the chemical makeup of the water and its ability to support macro-invertebrates. 

Once they had established the dam's negative impact on the stream environment, leaving it unsuitable for spawning steelhead, the group next researched the possibility of removing the dam to restore the watershed. They found examples where similar dams had been taken out and steelhead trout populations restored to historical levels. Using those models, the students then engaged in the process of building a realistic cost estimate for removing the Rindge Dam, complete with plans for the associated sediment removal. 

Finally, the students developed a multi-pronged approach for communicating their findings and making an impact in the local community. This approach included developing an instructional curriculum for sharing the story with Lower School students, writing numerous newspaper articles for the local press, engaging citizens at farmers' markets, and attending city council hearings.