The eQuest Project draws from four exemplary environmental education programs:
- Harvard Forest Schoolyard Studies;
- Environment as Integrating Context for learning (EIC),
- Community-based School Environmental Education (CO-SEED) based at Antioch New England Institute;
- The Valley Quest project of Vermont Vital Communities; and educational technology research at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
We combined the Vital Communities Quest-making process with the latest in educational technology to make field-based digital Quests that serve the Athol community in 2009.
Following elements of EIC and the CO-SEED model, we seek to gather together “a partnership between a higher education institution (UMass, Harvard Forest), schools (ARRSD), diverse community organizations (several), and an environmental learning center (MREC)” (David Sobel, Place-based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities, p. 83).
Valley Quests typically focus on local social and natural history with works created with various analog writing tools and papers. We look forward to the challenge of making Quests that are equally interesting and personal using digital means. We also look forward to creating research science-based Quests by connecting to programs like the Harvard Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Schoolyard Program: Buds, Leaves, and Global Warming, cited above.
This project curriculum envisions students working with instructors, school staff, and community members as a community of learners. Partners are also learning and providing expertise as the curriculum evolves during project implementation. This is a cutting edge curriculum, piloting new technologies in the service of learning and place based studies.
The curriculum outline shows the themes or questions, timeline of implementation for each group (Tues/Thurs and Mon/Wed) as well as the community sites to visit and the lead technology introduced or used for that event.
The eQ Program Matrix (PDF) is a list of specific MA framework items in Arts, English, Science and Technology, and History for grades 6 to 8 and their referent in the eQuest framework. It is important to note that all the MA frameworks mention that skills acquired in earlier grades will be applied in the succeeding grades. In science and history, the most directly related subjects are covered in earlier years. Local and regional history is covered in grades 3 and 4. In science, grades 3 to 5 cover weather, water cycle, generate questions, investigate possible solutions, make predictions and evaluate conclusions. Much of the content of this program applies skills learned in earlier grades. These earlier grade framework items have not been included.
It is also important to note that the philosophies and guiding principles of each of the above subject frameworks are highly congruent with the approach adopted by the eQuest Productions approach. Our approach in this project is not so much to provide instruction in the nuts and bolts of content but to provide opportunities for students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to a real world set of problems.
This real-world set of problems is contained within our hypothetical production company, eQuest Productions. The mission of eQuest Productions is to design, produce, and distribute field-based, digital Quests that serve the Athol community. Our ultimate goal in the first year of this project was the creation of podQuests for the downtown Millers River area from Starrett’s to Rich Park. Students made many drafts or design studies that exercised their knowledge of maps and introduced new concepts. We emphasized the practice of design studies throughout the project, in the same way that a real design company would produce a myriad of studies before arriving at a final design.
We wanted students to apply their knowledge, to show what they know, to increase what they know and show that. Many times we shot first and asked questions later. That is, produce the work first, then discuss it, formulate criteria, revise in light of criteria, try again. Most project work was not aimed at producing finished works, but aimed in a kind of successive approximation toward arriving at our final goal. Most people can speak very understandably without having a clue about the rules of grammar. In the same way, we wanted students to produce first, then learn and apply rules, then work towards final pieces.
We began with a series of sessions on mapping. We introduced a definition of a map as a graphic statement that locates facts. We located a number of activities around this central concept. Students produced map studies including a floor map of the relative locations of their houses from east to west and north to south, created a photo mosaic map from photos produced of the floor map session, located their houses on a road map, created maps of imaginary places using graphic statements, locational elements, and various facts. We did rudimentary hide a penny and around the school Quests.
From Maps we moved to Story. Of the many ways to approach Story, we used two main elements, the Interview and the Story I Want to Hear. We learned how to conduct interviews and turn them into stories from guest reporters from the Athol Daily News. We developed a simple exercise, If you could hear a story from anyone living or dead, who would it be, what would it be, and why? Many of the responses were heartfelt. We visited the library to look for resources that might help tell the Story that I Want to Hear. We discussed other methods of tracking down the story and students were tasked with finding more about the Story that They Wanted to Hear on their own and worked toward recording these stories.
We applied the lessons we learned making interviews and tracking stories as we begin the third phase, Podcasting. A podcast is a recent technological medium. It is essentially a radio broadcast posted on the web. Once posted it may be downloaded to a computer or to a portable device like an ipod or compatible cell phone. Once downloaded, the podcast may be listened to anywhere, including the site it might describe. The audio for our podcasts will be recorded and edited by the students. We recorded interviews with people involved with the River Rat race—organizers, racers, boat builders, river keepers and fishermen. We begin a phenology study with Harvard Forest and visited their weather station as part of ongoing collection of site observations. We meet local people involved in fishing, hunting, and other outdoor pursuits and occupations. We recorded ambient sounds. We will make simple musical accompaniments from sampled sounds. We began making enhanced podcasts. An enhanced podcast displays photos and scanned images as well as audio. Students photographed the people and places they visited. We scanned students’ drawings and maps and include them as well. All these elements were rolled into the enhanced podcasts during the next phase of project implementation.
Finally, we combined our work with maps, story, and podcasts into podQuests. We aimed to make a new form Quest, a kind of guided treasure hunt that leads participants through points of interest in a given landscape. Whereas traditional Quests have been paper-based with all kinds of wonderful written and hand-drawn clues, we will be guiding people through the landscape using our enhanced podcasting techniques. Our podQuests will supplement the Tool Town Quest currently available in the Athol Public Library, a Quest that the participating students have taken. Our podQuest covers the area from Starrett’s to Rich Park, along the river and the back streets of downtown. It is hoped that podQuests will encourage members of the Athol community to explore the area, to start to produce their own Quests, and serve as a small engine of environmentally-based, locally-produced economic development.
Podcasts and podQuests will be free and available to the computer-using public. Participating students will become a resource for producing podcasts and podQuests.