Ms. McNaughton and Ms. Kraft’s 3rd Grade Class


3rd graders at Norfolk Collegiate studied the impact of invasive plants on the watershed. More specifically, they looked into how English Ivy could take down larger trees, decrease shade, and increase the temperatures of an area. After observing and clearing invasive species on both VWU and NC campuses, Norfolk Collegiate students learned about the negative impacts of invasive species through background research in the classroom. Then, informed by partners at Norfolk Botanical Gardens and Master Gardeners, students made a plan to clear invasive species and plant native plants in the area instead.  

MWEE Breakdown

Norfolk Collegiate’s (NC) 3rd graders teamed up with Virginia Wesleyan University (VWU) students to improve the health of their local watershed.  Michelle McNaughton and Lolita Kraft, Norfolk Collegiate teachers, focused their MWEE on how invasive plants negatively impact the watershed.

Invasive plants can take over native plants and force them out of their ecosystem.  In this case, English Ivy is killing trees that create shade.  If those trees die, a naturally shaded area will become a sunny environment.  This causes chemical changes in the water and different plants will start to grow in the water and in the surrounding soils that are now exposed to sunlight not shade.  A change in sunlight might not sound like a big deal for an environment, but for the local ecosystem, major chemical and vegetation changes will occur.

Issue Definition

Plants play an important role in the watershed ecosystem.  When an invasive species dominate an environment, there can be cascading effects.  Third graders at Norfolk, along with VWU, took a guided walk around NC and VWU’s campus to observe the invasive species on their campus. The students observed that English Ivy was overtaking many native trees around campus.  Many of those trees were noticeably dead or unhealthy and provided shade for several water bodies.  To provide the NC students with more background information on what they saw, VWU students led two lessons on seed dispersal techniques of plants and thermal pollution.

Outdoor Field Experience

In early spring, Norfolk third graders took a trip to VWU’s campus and toured their gardens. They spent their time identifying native, non-native, and invasive plants growing around campus. NC students recorded plants of interest by identifying them and then taking leaf rubbings.  The abundance of English Ivy around campus was such an obvious problem to the students that they even took part in clearing some of the Ivy they saw with the time they had left in their tour.  The third graders collected 3.97lbs of ivy, Honeysuckle, and English Ivy. Norfolk third graders continued to build upon what they were learning with a trip to VWU.  During their visit, students participated in preservice teacher-led learning stations. The stations included “Build A Buoy”, a food chain simulation, water quality analysis, and roof types.

Stations from the Outdoor Field Experience (Credit: Dr. McConnell)

Synthesis and Conclusion

 After McNaughton and Kraft’s student’s outdoor field experience, their qualitative data showed that invasive ivy, both Honeysuckle, and English Ivy was a major issue around campus. Most of the trees in the area were dead due to the ivy or dying.  Unfortunately, the trees that seemed to be experiencing the effects of the ivy were the trees providing shade for large areas of water and land.  Reflecting on their field experience, the students noted that the nearly 4lbs of ivy they cleared from the campus did not make much of an impact on the ivy population.  Similarly, the students are continuing to analyze the data from the water quality analysis and roof type station.  

Stewardship & Civic Action

After learning about invasive species and identifying them in their local watershed, the students planned to clear areas of English Ivy and plant native species.  Students decided on this plan after much advisement from the Norfolk Botanical Gardens horticulturist who works on VWU’s campus.  Through funding from NOAA, NC students will start planting native plants around their campus this spring.

Photo Gallery

Horticulturist Skyler Lattuca, showing Norfolk Collegiate students how milkweed disperses seeds by the wind on VWU campus. Later he discusses the importance of native plants to the health of the watershed. 

A group of people in a forest

Description automatically generated with low confidence3rd graders and VWU preservice teachers clear invasive ivy on the VWU campus. Students weighed the ivy, and college students helped them weigh and add up their totals.  

A picture containing person, floor, child, group

Description automatically generated

3rd graders preparing for a leaf rubbing. They identified the leaf as the invasive plant, English Ivy. 

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