GRAPEVINE -- West Nile virus has been in the news and on the minds of North Texans all summer, and now it weighs heavily in Grapevine classrooms -- especially the one outdoors.
Armed with microscopes, plastic ice trays and turkey basters, 195 students from Grapevine High School and Timberline Elementary School teamed up at the GHS Ecology Center on Monday for some hands-on field studies related to the mosquito-borne illness.
"The whole question today is the water," said Dianne Showalter, a science teacher at Grapevine High School whose 7-acre ecosystem contains three distinct sources: a natural pond, an enclosed pond within an aviary, and water dishes from which a goat, pig, ducks and chickens drink.
"We'll bring that all back and test to see if it's good, healthy water," she explained.
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The project is an example of the district's quest to integrate students' areas of study and strengthen their abilities to apply academic skills to real-world situations. Fifth-grade Life Science classes from Timberline were paired with senior science classes on the West Nile project.
"We launched the project on the third day of school," said Julee Vorachard, a fifth-grade science teacher at Timberline. "It's a very current event, and we talked about it, and how to control it and what solutions might prevent it."
Experts talked to the students about West Nile, including Timberline teacher Michele Colebrook, who survived her own bout with the virus.
A TCU researcher talked about the difference between a virus and bacteria, and how mosquitoes give people West Nile.
"We were looking at water samples today," said Ariana DeCross, 10, a Timberline fifth-grader. "My team found a water scorpion. We thought at first it was a mosquito."
Ariana's classmate, Albert Maldonado, 10, said he enjoyed working with a group instead of by himself. "It makes me smarter," he said. "I like to communicate and collaborate, and science is my favorite subject."
The senior students benefit as much as the elementary ones, their instructors say.
"This is taking seniors to a much deeper level of learning," said Showalter, who holds classes in the Ecology Center as often as she can. "They deal with case studies and what all those numbers of cases really mean."
They began by conducting labs and investigating, looking at environments and conditions, and have expanded into working with mathematical line graphs, data tables, coordinate grids and bar graphs.
"It's hands-on, current and up-to-date," Showalter said. "They're not bored, and it's they who are asking the questions. That's how intense all this is."
The six-week study will culminate in a comprehensive "infomercial" presentation of the students' findings and collected data, said Showalter.
The presentation will be designed to build awareness of West Nile virus, provide preventative steps and introduce solutions to the problem. Students will be using their language arts and social studies skills to create the presentation, Vorachard said.
"You learn a lot more this way," said Grapevine senior Matt Warren, 18, who spent the morning outside Monday in both aquatics and ecology science classes. "Before, you'd learn a math problem, but you don't really know how to apply it to anything."
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657