'Into the Wild': What students learn on a 53-mile, 3-day class trip

Yellow Springs Schools adopted project-based learning five years ago to help students develop life-long learning skills, such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

Seventh graders from McKinney Middle School just completed the district’s most ambitious project yet. It was a three-day project trip called “Into the Wild” along the Little Miami River from Yellow Springs to Loveland.

The trip involved riding bicycles on a 53-mile stretch of the Little Miami Scenic Trail with many stops along the way to learn about the Underground Railroad related to a recent reading assignment. It also included collecting water quality analysis, camp planning, documenting the trip, and doing physical training needed to build endurance needed for a long bike ride.

“Five years into our journey to make project-based learning our primary method of instruction, our teachers are still excited about the possibilities and are challenging themselves to develop lessons that will connect and engage students ,” said Superintendent Mario Basora.“’Into the Wild’ is one of our most ambitious projects to date. This is what project-based learning is all about: creating authentic opportunities for student learning, igniting a passion in our students, staff, and community, and giving our kids the opportunity to develop skills like teamwork and communication through their work.”

Students got first-person experience with water quality analysis by taking samples of the Little Miami River and testing the samples with a water ProDSS quality monitor loaned to the school from Yellow Springs based YSI Inc.

“While we were biking we stopped at seven different points along the way and collected water samples to analyze for temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and ph acidity with the ProDSS,” science teacher Becca Eastman, said.”We counted all of the bugs and insects in the stream to assess the quality of the water.”

All of the information will be used to assess the quality of the Little Miami water, Eastman said.

Rod King, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ stream quality monitoring coordinator, gave the students a Scenic Rivers Program lesson about the ecosystem of the Little Miami. Students then kicked around the riverbed to capture creatures living in the river.

“We’re learning how to identify the health of a stream, river or lake through what’s living in it,” said Bobby Wyatt, 12. “We are collecting fresh water animals. So far, we’ve collected quite a few things, a few water pennies, quite a lot of crawfish. They’re supposed to be quite rare but we’ve caught four. It’s been really exciting, I’ve been enjoying it.”

Said classmate Stella Lieff, 12: “We found giant crayfish,” adding, “It was crazy.”

The students connected to the water, Eastman said. “This is the stream that runs through their backyards, Eastman said. “So, they’ll really get a sense of what lives there and what sort of potential pollutants could be going in there, a much closer look at the water in their lives.”

Kate Lohmeyer, physical education and health teacher was also involved in the project. “Logistically, this has been a lot as far as the teachers and the students are concerned,” she said. “The work in the beginning has paid off on this trip. We’ve provided an opportunity for these students to develop a memory that is going to last a lifetime.”

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