This is my third year of teaching our water pollution expedition. Teaching an expedition again and again has obvious benefits. Questions are refined. Final products become stronger. Fieldwork logistics get tighter. But designing an expedition from scratch is stimulating, challenging, and rewarding. There is excitement in the sense of possibility that grows when teachers come together to plan an expedition.”What if we…” or “This might sound crazy but we could…”Project-based learning nourishes both student and teacher curiosity.
We celebrated the closing of our fall expedition (another expedition repeat) the same December week that I visited the reopening of the Renwick Gallery. I was already thinking about how to reignite energy around our expeditions when I entered the gallery. Mouth agape, I walked through the rooms of the Wonder exhibit taking in redesigned beetles, repurposed tires, and reimagined index cards.
And when I stepped into the Maya Lin exhibit, “Folding the Chesapeake,” my heart jumped. A fellow teacher elbowed me, “Are you thinking of your spring expedition?” Of course. This exhibit did for me what I hope our expedition would do for our students: it provoked a sense of wonder and possibility.This spring, we’ve launched our expedition on pollution in Rock Creek, the Potomac River, and the Anacostia River just as we have in the past. We’ve found observation and contemplation spots near Rock Creek at Peirce Mill; we’ve built background knowledge about stormwater pollution, acid rain, and oil spills; we’ve conducted experiments to determine the properties of water. And just as before, we will continue to partner with local experts like the Rock Creek Conservancy and to conduct fieldwork at these three bodies of water. Soon, friends will become water advocates–writing an informational book to educate others about water pollution in D.C.’s bodies of water. And this is where we will try something new.
Maya Lin’s piece encourages visitors to consider the entire Chesapeake watershed and its interconnectedness. She uses art to encourage conservation. We will try that, too. This year, instead of door knocking and storm drain mural painting, we will create an art installation at Capital City to compel others to consider the effects of pollution on D.C.’s waterways. We will use art for advocacy.
To inspire this work, we visited Lin’s exhibit last week at the Renwick. And, of course, the rest of the Wonder exhibit. “I think I’m going to cry,” Jerry whispered, stepping into a room. “How do they do this?”
In the coming months, we will collect bottle caps, milk tops, fishing line, and more to begin to build our own piece of provocative art, with the hopes that others too, will stop, take a breath, and whisper, “How did they do this?”
Off we go.