Monies will fund interdisciplinary inquiry on the local environment
November 4, 2004 Geneva, N.Y. — Hobart and William Smith Colleges recently received a grant of $12,500 from the Independent College Fund of New York (ICFNY), in cooperation with the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, to fund “Exploring Environmental Issues in the Finger Lakes.” The project, a collaboration between Geneva Middle School, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) and the Finger Lakes Institute, will engage middle school students in sustained interdisciplinary inquiry on an environmental issue of significance in Finger Lakes watersheds. Jim MaKinster, assistant professor in education, and Eric Barnes, assistant professor in philosophy, will direct this program. The middle school teachers involved are English teacher Bunni Seidel and social studies teacher Alexe Norris.
“The Colleges have a variety of ongoing collaborations with Geneva and other school districts in the area and I have seen first-hand the value this type of project has—for all involved but especially for the students,” said MaKinster. “I’m delighted that the Independent College Fund of New York has yet again seen the benefits to be gained from this type of project and entrusted us to move forward with it.”
In its first year, the project will focus on the issue of hog farming in the Finger Lakes region. Students will prepare for and engage in a simulated Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hearing on the establishment of a fictitious hog farm in their area. In the recent past, hog farming in the region has received considerable public attention, and concerns have been voiced by a number of different community and other organizations about the environmental impact of such farms on the local watershed.
The participating classes will learn about the issues related to hog farming through a variety of means. In-class activities will help students to understand the environmental, social and political perspectives relevant to hog farming. The students will also be directly exposed to many of these issues through field trips to a working hog farm, the site of the fictitious proposed hog farm and other relevant destinations or institutions.
During the unit, groups of students will take on the role of different special interest groups under the guidance of their teacher and student leaders from HWS. Each group will be mentored by HWS students with relevant backgrounds to each special interest group, communicate with HWS students through computer technologies and present and defend their positions within a simulated DEC hearing.
Additionally, participating students will meet with and hear presentations from representatives of the actual special interest groups that they will be representing at the hearing. This will provide the students with direct access to scientific, economic and political information.
The long-term goals of this project are to expand this program by working with teams of middle school teachers (five-six classes at a time) and to develop a service learning course on the HWS campus to support the participating college students.
The young students benefit from the interdisciplinary experience and from working on something that can makes sense to them—the quality of the watershed in Seneca and the other Finger Lakes. And working in collaboration with the local school on projects of this nature give the Colleges’ students an opportunity to apply what they are learning on campus in the community.
“Projects such as this, which are both multi-disciplinary and community-based, are especially valuable because everyone wins,” said Barnes. “More and more people are realizing that students can learn better when we break down barriers between academic disciplines and institutions.”
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