In this lesson, students are given an opportunity to creatively present content knowledge regarding a specific biome.
While perusing a lot of the environmental science syllabi (both AP and younger levels), a common project seemed to be some variation of a "Biome Report", whether that be a powerpoint, a poster, a research paper, a diorama, or some other format. While many of these projects surely have educational value, I wanted to offer my students a chance to meet the same learning objectives while doing something a bit more creative. Additionally, this project as conceived here provides opportunities to practice some real-world skills that many of my students will employ later in their adult lives (such as graphic design, planning a vacation on a budget, and professional sales skills).
This project is essentially the summative assessment for the biomes unit, asking them to take the information learned throughout the unit to create a travel brochure for a biome that describes its climate, geographic distribution, flora and fauna, and interesting things a tourist could do if they chose to visit the biome.
Incidentally, much of the work for the project has already been done since I asked groups to use the same biome they researched for the Biomes Cooperative Presentation lesson. This project then asks them to represent that information in a more creative, more engaging manner, and hopefully learn something and have fun in the process.
Please Note: Unless your students can easily get together outside of school with consistent access to technology, this project does require some significant class time set aside to complete. All told, I spent about 3 two hour class periods on the project (2 periods for making the brochures and 1 period for the "travel convention"). If you don't have computers in your classroom, you might want to make sure to reserve a computer cart or a block of time in the computer lab sufficient to complete the assignment. If you did not precede this lesson with the Biomes Cooperative Presentation, then you may want to factor in even more time for students to complete more research into their chosen biome.
Also, since biomes are by definition a paper-based medium, your students work will have to be printed. Since this can be expensive, you might want to do some kind of fundraising to cover the printing costs. Since I have a relatively small class and teach only one section of Environmental Science, I took it upon myself to just pay to print two copies of each brochure myself. With larger classes or multiple sections, this would be prohibitively expensive, so plan accordingly.
It should also be noted that printing the brochures takes time, so I established a firm deadline for students to submit their brochures via email. It wasn't the same as the project being due though, I simply explained that if they wanted me to pay for the printing, I needed their finished project ahead of time. While most groups took me up on the offer, the group that created my personal favorite project handled their own printing and wound up shattering my expectations.
Connection to Standards:
In this lesson, students will conduct research, gather and synthesize information from multiple sources, utilize technology to produce their work, and present information clearly to an authentic audience.
To begin this project, I distribute several brochures around the classroom. Although most students know what a brochure is, I felt it was useful to have them have the tangible experience of seeing a professionally designed brochure as an introduction to making their own. You could distribute several copies of the same brochure, but I preferred to show my students a variety of styles and design choices. You might then want to do as I did and keep this project in mind and collect random brochures in the days and weeks before this assignment (or just go to the lobby of the nearest mid-level hotel, they always seem to have tons of brochures advertising the local tourist attractions).
I then explain to students that they and their group members are about to take on the role of employees of a travel agency. I explain that they are going to first create a brochure for a particular biome (again, this works best if this is the same biome they researched for the cooperative presentation lesson), and that we will be holding a mock "travel convention" where they will try and sell their biome as a travel destination to an authentic audience of adults and their peers.
I explain that when the day of the convention comes, the adults at the convention will vote on the best destination and that the winning travel agency will receive an "awesome prize".
Once I've introduced the basic outlines of the project, I distribute the project description and requirements worksheet and ask students to read it over and ask any clarification questions. Again, much of the information required has already been collected by the students in the Biomes Cooperative Presentation lesson and they all have experience making a climatograph from our Los Angeles Climatograph lesson.
Once any questions have been addressed, students can begin working.
Once students begin working on the project, I move around the room helping groups as necessary. Most of the help they needed was much the same as on other projects (e.g., what should be typed into search engines, troubleshooting the computer itself, problems with formatting fonts, borders, etc.). While I make myself available for these types of questions, I prefer to let students work it out for themselves.
There are several approaches to making a brochure, Microsoft Word and Powerpoint have simple to use brochure templates and several other templates exist online and can be easily found with a bit of searching. Some students used Photoshop to layout a more unique design, although it's undoubtedly a more complex route to go and I didn't recommend it to any groups without familiarity with the program.
While there didn't seem to be too much of a problem finding information to meet the requirements of the project, there seemed to be a little trouble deciding how to organize the information in the brochure itself. To that end, I sketched a rough organizing template onto the board about halfway through the first day of working on the project. Not every group wound up following this format, but it definitely helped some groups make sense of how to fit a lot of information into just six panels.
Once the initial problems were out of the way, I really just spent the time enjoying going from group to group to see how they were going about creating their brochure. Since one of the requirements of the brochure was that it include roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles to a city located in or near the biome, it was very interesting to see the choices students made.
Preparing for the Convention
As I mentioned in the introduction, since many students turned in their work digitally, I took it upon myself to handle the printing. On the day of the convention before the audience arrives, I distribute their printed brochures to them. Since this was the first time they saw their work printed on professional looking glossy paper, they all oohed and ahhed over it. With good reason too, even when some of the information in some brochures wasn't perfect, the finished products at least looked uniformly great.
Once the excitement of seeing their brochures had died down, I told students that they needed to prepare for the travel convention to begin. I let them know that adults would soon be coming to the class to view their brochures, but that it wasn't enough to just have them look at the brochures. Sure, a travel brochure is a great way to communicate facts about an interesting destination, but nothing substitutes for an informed travel agent that can answer questions and unequivocally explain why a particular destination is the best choice for a traveler's hard earned dollars and limited vacation time.
I told students that they'd not only have to "sell" their biome to adult travelers, they'd also have to convince their peers too. I explained that once the adults had visited the convention, they'd cast votes on the best destination, but that the students would be able to vote as well. I explained that once the convention began, they should make it a point to not only present their brochures but to also walk around the room to see the work of the other groups. Once this explanation was out of the way, I let students set up their brochure and their "booth" somewhere in the classroom and discuss their sales strategy as they awaited the adults.
The authentic audience of adults turned out to be teachers, counselors, office workers, and other staff that had either a conference period or some time to spare. It definitely helps to lay the groundwork for this by mentioning this at faculty meetings ahead of time, getting commitments from your workplace buddies, and sending out plenty of email reminders. However, you might also want to consider inviting parents or other stakeholders to the event as well. The bigger the convention is, the more work students are likely to put into making the brochures and preparing their pitches.
As they were visiting the "convention" during work hours, the adults did not all come and go at the same time, so interludes provided opportunities for students to peruse each others work.
During the convention, I more or less spent my time greeting the adults and letting them know the basic requirements of the project (it helps to have a few copies of the project description printed for them). I also let them know that they would end up having to cast a vote on the best destination (the one they'd like to spend their money on) and that the students were expected to "sell" them on their particular biome, so questions and pressing the students for detail were encouraged.
When time allowed, I also walked around the room asking students to give me their sales pitch too. It was quite interesting because some of the stronger brochures weren't always accompanied by the best sales pitches.
When adults were ready to leave, I asked them to cast a vote for the best biome destination. To make this as easy as I could, I arranged one copy of each brochure on a table so that they could peruse them one last time if necessary. Once they cast their vote on a small piece of paper, I recorded it on my "adult vote list" just a sheet of paper I kept to differentiate the adult votes from the student votes) and thanked them for their time.
Once 90 minutes had passed and all adults had left, I distributed tiny pieces of paper and let the students know that they could now vote for the best biome. However, I insisted that they could NOT vote for their own biome. To ensure this, when I walked to a table to collect votes, I quickly looked at them to make sure that they hadn't voted for their own group.
Once I had collected all student votes, I tallied the votes while students eagerly awaited the results and the unveiling of the "awesome" prize promised since the first day of the project.
To tally the votes, each adult vote was worth 2 points and each student vote was worth 1 point.
Once the votes were tallied, I dramatically announced the 3rd place winner, the Runner-Up, and finally... the WINNER.
The winning group turned out to be the rainforest group, and I suspect that their victory had as much to do with their excellent brochure as their contagious enthusiasm when describing their own dream vacation. Perseverance also played a role, as one student in the rainforest group expressed newfound respect for anyone working in a situation where they have to say the same thing over and over again, yet communicate excitement and enthusiasm for each new listener hearing their pitch for the first time.
The "awesome" prize turned out to be a gift certificate for an extra large pizza at a gourmet pizzeria two blocks from the school. I thought this was a good prize because it's something the whole group could easily share after school and it was something that almost any American high schooler would want. Use your discretion for your own prize, but I think making the actual prize something authentically desirable elevates the entire project to a higher level.