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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Learning Landscape: Kids Monitor Terrain with Tech

Students at this Minnesota elementary school use new technology to study the ancient ecology of a vast prairie wetland. Read the article.
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We found a dead mouse.

Did anybody get a picture?

Narrator: Four times a year, the Glacial Ridge Wildlife Refuge becomes a living classroom for students from J.A. Hughes Elementary School in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota.

Boy: Yeah, it's a burnt frog.

Woman: Let me see.

Narrator: Originally prairie wetlands, this 35,000-acre parcel once hosted hundreds of unique plant and animal species.

Man: It looks way different, doesn't it?

All: Yeah.

Narrator: But decades of crop production and cattle grazing have eliminated much of the biodiversity here.

Man: And what do you think it's going to look like in the spring when we come out?

Huge grasses, very tall.

Narrator: In 2004, The Nature Conservancy bought some of the land, turning it into the largest prairie and wetland restoration project in U.S. history.

When you get to the water!

Narrator: And they invited the school to help them study the area.

17 meters.

Mike: We're basically studying how a prairie emerges, so we're taking temperatures, water, air, pH readings, just a whole lot of data.

Woman: We know the road is to the north. What direction is the wind coming from?

South, that way.

Together: North, South, East.

Woman: So the wind is coming from the...

All: East.

Deberah: We had access to this wonderful learning site, and we wanted to be able to use it to its fullest. And we had very little, very little technology. And what we had was very outdated.

Deberah: Face it to the wind.

Narrator: With a technology grant, they got portable computers...

Mike: Try right now and see how to do it.

Narrator: ...temperature probes and other devices that improved the quality of their field data.

Ryan: We use the computer to take water and air temperature, and then some people have cameras just to help us in case our pictures get deleted on the paint cans.

We're collecting the air temperature for Celsius and Fahrenheit.

Mike: Are you still reading Celsius?


Mike: Okay, why don't you switch?

Let's switch it.

Mike: Our reading for Fahrenheit is what?


Mike: Okay, 43.8. Do we have that documented?

Deberah: Technology out at Glacial Ridge adds accuracy. Before, we were using manual thermometers and our data would be so varied, whereas now when we're using temp probes, it's on and we know it's on. We don't have to worry about the data being inaccurate.

Write down 6.57.

No, wasn't it six seven? Celsius.

Narrator: Each student is responsible for searching out and becoming an expert on a few specific plants and animals.

Zack: We all have certain organisms that we have to use and see to identify their tracks and what they look like and what they eat and what's their habitat and stuff like that.

Deberah: They know that they are the go-to person for their whole group on that organism.

Oh, look at them!

Deberah: So when they're researching their organisms, they do it with a purpose. They don't want to look silly to their peers, and so it has meaning.

Narrator: Fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders visit the Glacial Ridge together. They work in small teams with older students teaching younger ones how to collect the data.

Matthew did our water sample. Next, we are going to look at our plots.

Deberah: The sixth-graders are the lead, and they take that very seriously. In fact, one of this year's fifth-graders, he was so serious, and he was telling me so much that he had found and seen and observed. And I said, "Wow, what's going on?" And he said, "I had to get serious. I'm a leader next year."

Okay, Elidia, you can come and take your picture now.

Deberah: You know, every time we go out there, we come back with more questions.

Mike: In nature, how do the fires start? Anybody?

All: Lightning.

Mike: Very good. Now, do we know if we're absolutely right or wrong on these answers?

All: No.

Mike: How could we find out?

Web search.


Mike: Websites, Internet. Do we have some sources that are really close to us that we could contact, maybe using an e-mail?

The Glacial Ridge people.

Mike: Glacial Ridge people, right.

Narrator: Back in the classroom, students discuss their findings and write a report that is shared with scientists from The Nature Conservancy.

Deberah: So we can say the temperature--

6.2 to 7.5.

No, to 8.

Narrator: With their tablets connected to the Web, students can access the latest scientific information and participate in global projects.

Deberah: I don't use a science textbook. With sites like Science NetLinks and NASA's educational modules and Journey North and JASON, we have access to standard-based-caliber lessons that use best-practice methods. If we get a science textbook, it's outdated by the time we bring it home. So this stuff is always current, and it's usually Internet-interactive. It's got links to all over, and they learn a lot.

Chris: We brought our global-positioning system, and we're going to go track the outside perimeter of the flow that we measured yesterday.

Deberah: I think that the use of technology helps to create self-learners, and that's our goal. We want them to be independent lifelong learners, and the more they're able to do that, the more we like it.

Deberah: We need to talk about predictions. What are we going to expect to see when we go back to Glacial Ridge next time?

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to Edutopia.org.

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Video Credits

Produced and Directed by

  • Karena O’Riordan

Executive Producer:

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Loren Micalizio


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Mike Curtiss


  • Michael Pritchard

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

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