USING A SCIENTIST/TEACHER PARTNERSHIP TO ENHANCE MIDDLE SCHOOL CURRICULUM AND STUDENT LEARNING
The goal of the pilot project was to create an activity that would mimic how a scientist conducts research; motivate students; be repeatable; engage all students at the appropriate cognitive and skill levels; and encourage team work. We identified a fictional research scenario in which student teams would analyze the risk of flash floods at four sites near Walla Walla using geological, hydrological, and meteorological data. The use of real-life settings and local flash flood history was an important design element that helped capture student interest. The teams were asked to rank the sites from best (lowest flash flood risk) to worst (highest flash flood risk) and recommend, in a technical report, the best site at which to build a year-round camp for students.
The scenario was introduced via an invitation letter and presentation by Take-A-Hike, Inc., a fictional company owned by the scientists. Student teams then spent the next three weeks compiling and analyzing data. They kept scientific notebooks and provided weekly reports via email to the client (i.e., the scientists). Their final product was a technical report presented to the client and a poster presented in a community poster session held at the school.
The pilot project was considered a success and was expanded to all of the sixth grade classes and three additional teachers the next year. It was clear that involving third-party experts (scientists) added to the reality of the scenario and heightened student interest. The partnership provided an enriched experience that enhanced student understanding of concepts within the existing curriculum, sharpened their math, science, and writing skills, and taught teamwork and critical thinking. This serves as a model for developing inquiry-based earth science projects and creating meaningful partnerships between schools and scientists.