To some, the freshwater eel is a slippery, slimy, river and stream dweller, which can be more than a little frightening. But as Year 3 students in the Junior Syndicate have discovered, these unique creatures are fascinating, rather than fearsome.
The students began a learning inquiry into the broad topic of water, which led to them studying the health of Strowan Stream and undertake a detailed study of the life cycle of the eel. The results of their research were presented to parents in individual folders at a special Sharing Afternoon in September, which also included a recreation of how Strowan Stream could be improved with riparian planning and the addition of ‘eel hotels’ built into its banks to protect the eels. A film, art works, an ‘eel dance’ choreographed by Dance and Drama teacher, Ginnie Thorner, a musical item written by Preparatory School Music teacher, Ros Emeleus, and an animated PowerPoint presentation created by Head of Information and Innovation, Wilj Dekkers, were other highlights of the afternoon. “The students did a wonderful job of presenting their research from this wide ranging study to their parents and caregivers, and were particularly excited to share their understanding of the life cycle of the eel,” says Year 3 teacher, Jane Radford.
The inquiry began with a visit from Jocelyn Papprill, Youth Engagement Advisor at Environment Canterbury. She sampled Strowan Stream with the students, assessing things like water clarity, erosion, sediment, stream flow and stream cover, then helped them to identify the factors needed to create a healthier stream environment. To gather more information, the children wrote some open questions and skyped an expert scientist for the answers. Dr Colin Meurk (OC 1965), Research Associate with Landcare Research, and several parents, who worked in fields such as environmental science and water engineering, also spoke to the children. A highlight of the inquiry was a visit to The Terrace, alongside the Avon River, with Shelley McMurtrie, a Principal Aquatic Ecology Scientist with EOS Ecology, who talked about what makes the river healthy, then gave the students a hands-on experience with some eels, says Jane. “Each child was able to feed the eels in the Avon, and there was lots of excitement when Shelley caught an eel and they all were able to touch it. A visit to Travis Wetland was another example of education outside the classroom, which enabled the children to contrast a different natural environment with Strowan Stream.”
Jane says one of the wonderful things about inquiry learning is that it integrates all aspects of the curriculum into a topic which is of interest to the children. “Their reading, writing, mathematics and creative skills were all utilised throughout their research.”
Meeting key competencies, such as being a team player, is another important aspect of the study, she says. “The students undertook various projects in the inquiry with a ‘buddy’. All of the teachers at Year 3 level are committed to inquiry learning and modelling a team approach to the students. We also love to see them so engaged in everything they do during this type of learning.”