Project analysis: Urban Ecology

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Hampstead Heath was the chosen location for our joint Biology/Geography expedition.  The project has huge potential for next year, this blog post reflects on some of the positives and issues of what we hope will be many more learning expeditions.

Hampstead Heath is a stunning area of natural beauty situated in London and a short local bus (or 45 min walk) from our school.  We want students to engage with their local area with the aim of them becoming citizens that care for their local ecosytems. We want them to be able to enjoy their local parks and also to love them.  Hampstead Heath offers a rich environment for learning.  Although the project was primarily focused on ecology, we also wanted students to have an element of choice and opportunitiy to learn some of the rich history of the area too.  Keats house in nearby as is Kenwood House, a stately home dating back to the 17th century.  There are also sculptures from Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

The driving questions were as follows;

How do the organisms that inhabit Hampstead Heath relate to one another and their unique environments?
How can we be better environmental stewards for the unique urban ecosystem in which we live?

Students collaborated as a learning set of 6 to produce a ‘guide to Hampstead Heath’.  I’d like to review this outcome next year.  We decided to have a minimal approach using technology for this project, with basics provided for internet research.  Next year we would like to do the learning expedition over two days rather than 3 hours to really improve the quality of the learning set product.  The school timetable changing half way through the project was also not ideal.

Students split into 3 groups while at the Heath.  Group 1 worked with Hampstead Heath ponds project to learn about the freshwater ecology within the ponds.  Sampling the ponds for freshwater wildlife by kick sampling was highly enjoyable.  Group 2 looked at the Heath meadows and conducted some sampling by using quadrats.  Group 3 did a walking tour of the Heath, taking photographs and discussing the human impacts they could see.

When back in school students completed the project in various stages. They received masterclasses from Science teachers on food pyramids, webs and chains and energy transfers.  They were also directed how to input data from quadratting.  The geography teachers focused on skills such as data collection and analysis.

The project had various rubrics to support the outcome.  The points system we developed worked really well.  This gave an element of competition to the task between learning sets and a clear picture of what students needed to produce.  Thanks to Loni Bergqvist for this idea!  The checklist could allow students to use their imagination and carefully plan together using roles.

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The project is still very ‘project oriented’ and we would aim to make it ‘project based’ by having an authentic outcome.  Ways to display the student work in the Hampstead Locality such as a notice board would be one option.  Working closely with the Hampstead pond project team would also be a good idea.

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