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Cultivation of collaboration: IB Environmental Systems and Societies students team up with Grade 5

Andrea McDonald, Grade 5 Teacher and Boarding Assistant Houseparent, UWCSEA East
Kath Lane, Grade 5 Teacher, East Campus
Mireille Couture, Teacher of Environmental Systems and Societies, Tampines House Parent, East Campus

With a shaky voice the lesson began … the teachers seemed younger than usual. They were in fact the Grade 12 students from the IB Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) diploma course at East Campus and today they faced a new kind of challenge. They were tasked with teaching Grade 5 students different sampling methods to collect biological and ecological scientific data. “It was hard for me to speak and explain well … However, they seemed curious about the things we taught,” said one ESS student. “To go out of our comfort zone and take the role of a teacher, being the one having to explain the method to someone else, adjusting to the right level of understanding, was a challenge.”

Grade 12 IB Environmental Systems and Societies students team up with Grade 5 students for mutual benefit and learning

The Grade 5 students were in the midst of preparing to embark on their expedition to Taman Negara, the oldest rainforest in the world. What better place for students to observe, investigate and immerse themselves in the natural world? This expedition enables students to bond with their new class and also provides teachers with the ideal outdoor classroom. Here, lessons on biodiversity, adaptation, and interdependence spring to life. Kath Lane explains, “It is imperative for students to experience the awe and wonder of the natural world, if we are hoping they will protect our planet in the future. With our busy urban environment, some children are not afforded opportunities to feel this affinity with nature. Watching students float down a tropical river, step cautiously along the canopy walkway, and hearing their excited whispers as they observe a wild tapir, snake or scorpion is pretty magical.”

In addition to studying biodiversity, part of the Grade 5 curriculum involves introducing students to fair testing and the scientific process. Grade 12 students modeled the fieldwork sampling techniques that they would use on their own field trip to Tioman Island for their younger peers to conduct in the rainforest. Mireille Couture and Kath Lane thought this would be a perfect opportunity for a meaningful learning experience that would deepen the understanding of rainforest ecosystems and investigation skills for both grade levels. Reflecting on the success of this approach, one Grade 12 student said, “Teaching someone else skills that you have developed allows for your knowledge to expand and you are more likely to remember it.”

Grade 12 IB Environmental Systems and Societies students team up with Grade 5 students for mutual benefit and learning.

Essentially, the Grade 12 scientists were helping their Grade 5 buddies to understand that practical ecosystem investigations require a variety of methods, tools and technologies to collect reliable measurements and record observations. They were able to analyse and derive meaning from the connections that exist between living and non-living components of ecosystems such as: canopy cover, light intensity, plant population and tree circumference. One Grade 12 commented, “This type of team activity taught me how to work in a group in a more efficient way. It also taught me that we underestimated the Grade 5s and they knew more than we thought they knew. It helped me revise and think about the ways we will be collecting data.”

The Grade 5 students, for their part, were impressed by the expertise of the older students and willingly undertook a scientific study for their buddies in the high school. Once they returned to the classroom, they set about analysing the data they had collected and reflecting on their initial hypothesis. They were able to use reasoning skills to determine the veracity of their results and to consider why the experiment did not reflect their original hypothesis. One Grade 5 student noted, “The guides from the rainforest gave us additional information and we understood that different tree species and ages have different requirements. This might have impacted our results.” From this statement you can tell that the Grade 5 students were working with a sense of purpose and that through their fieldwork were able to draw important conclusions about the ecosystem of a rainforest for themselves.

While on Tioman Island, the Grade 12 environmentalists independently designed investigations for data collection to measure and compare primary and secondary rainforest. They collectively shared data from their seashore study on molluscs, sponges and padina algae species to increase sample sizes and reliability of the data. In the mangrove ecosystem students quantified different types of pneumatophores, measured conductivity and salinity levels and crab holes as indicators of population density. A snorkeling trip had them identifying fish species from published keys and applying underwater line transect techniques.

Post-trip analysis of data

In early October, after their trips, several groups of Grade 5 and Grade 12 students had the opportunity to meet again and share the results of their experiments. Both groups had new insights and a greater understanding of ecosystem dynamics. With the overwhelming success of the collaborative work, the High School and Junior School teachers are looking forward to repeating this partnership again next year.

This Grade 5 student sums up the collaboration, “Thanks to the Grade 12s, we now have the experience and know how to do experiments. We can think about how we can find out the answers to our questions. We might even study ecosystems ourselves when we go to Middle and High School because it’s all so interesting.”