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Moving Beyond Traditional Subjects Requires Teachers to Abandon Their 'Comfort Zones'
About a fifth of the seventh-graders at Radnor Middle School in Wayne, Pennsylvania, spend the entire year studying the local watershed. Except for foreign-language classes, their curriculum is centered exclusively on this project, incorporating activities that would normally be classified under English, science, social studies, art, and other traditional subjects.This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article. Click here to become a subscriber.
Students conduct laboratory tests on water and soil samples. They study the history of the people who have lived in the region since pre-Columbian times and compose diaries and newspaper stories depicting these people's lives. In a creative writing assignment, they imagine themselves as drops of water moving through various stages of the water cycle.
The Watershed program, as it is known, places a heavy emphasis on field work. Students spend between 40 and 60 school days outside the classroom, studying a water treatment plant, a power plant, and a local landfill. They visit Revolutionary War battle sites, go canoeing on the Schuylkill River, and study the art of area native Andrew Wyeth at the Brandywine River Museum.