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Berlin fifth-graders research, recommend environmental fixes - November 2, 2011

After nearly two months of researching potential causes of water pollution and a resulting die-off of freshwater mussels in a fictional community, recommendations and plans from fifth-grade students were presented.

With their theories and proposed solutions evaluated by a team of field experts with working experience, the students were confident and convincing.

The students' presentation skills were top-notch. The confidence with which students presented recommendations to the panel of experts and the ease with which they responded to questions come only from a deep understanding of the issues and a mastery of the subject area.

Jeanne Gwin is a teacher at Berlin Intermediate School. During that time, she's witnessed trends in instructional techniques, weathered the implementation of new standards and testing procedures, and is now seeing a resurgence in methods used in classrooms 20 years ago. With new core curriculum changes, an environmental literacy graduation requirement (the first of its kind in the nation) and the promise of problem-based testing on the near horizon, Gwin decided this was the perfect time to try out a new program.

As a teacher of Gifted and Talented students, Gwin has the flexibility necessary to facilitate student-directed learning and challenge the students in a way that is different from the typical classroom experience. Students address real-world problems, examine multiple stakeholder perspectives and work together to develop strategies to address complex issues. It fosters a deeper, broader understanding of issues and helps students hone critical-thinking skills.

This is the kind of thinking that is needed to solve complex environmental issues. Gwin, and other teachers like her, should be encouraged and supported as they continue on this exciting path. When students live up to challenges in the classroom, their confidence is bolstered. Congratulations to Berlin Intermediate School for creating an atmosphere in which our teachers and students can thrive.

To learn more about how to incorporate coastal bays-related issues in the classroom, email csamis@mdcoastalbays.org.

» Carrie Samis is the education coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


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