Building New Curriculum

At Headwaters one of our favorite jobs is building curriculum. With this blog post we thought we would give you some insight into how we build curriculum and share a new idea we have in the works. Writing curriculum for our Student Driven Research can be scarily open ended. We come up with an engaging topic for students, pull together some background information, and spend the rest of the time running through scenarios of how to turn even the zaniest student questions in to rigorous research projects.

For example, forest fires play a huge role in the ecology of the Sierra Nevada, where we’re located and we have been trying to build some curriculum around this phenomenon for a while now. Forest fires have the ingredients for a fun student research project: they are all over the news, often deadly, but also reasonably accessible and intuitive to students without huge amounts of background information.

Once we have an exciting topic, like forest fires, we try to come up with some hands-on ways to introduce students to the subject at hand. The key is to still leaving enough intellectual room for students to brainstorm and come up with ideas of their own. One way we have considered doing this is by bringing student to recent and historic burn sites in the area to look at the forest in different stages of regrowth. Another option could be to visit recent burn sites where students take measures of soil and water chemistry.

From here, who knows where our students’ research projects will go. Maybe they will test how forest succession progresses relative to changes in soil chemistry or maybe they will try to measure how much carbon was in a tree that burned and how big a diamond that would correspond to. The latter has actually happened in a program we did recently and students had to use a considerable amount of math and chemistry to get an answer to it.

Our overall goal in planning fun curriculum to use with our Student Driven Research framework is to try to prepare for whatever direction students’ ideas may take them so we can help them develop and push their own knowledge.

We hope you enjoyed this insight into some of the work we do,

-Headwaters Science Institute

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