2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 17
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM-5:30 PM


WURSTNER, Signe K.1, HERR, Cheryl2, ANDREWS, Gregg L.3, FEASTER, Kathy A.4, ESTES, Jeffrey C.4, WILLCUTS, Peggy M.5 and ENNOR, Susan K.6, (1)Environmental Characterization and Risk Assessment, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PO Box 999, MS K9-36, Richland, WA 99352, (2)Pioneer Middle School, 450 Bridge St, Walla Walla, WA 99362, (3)Business Support Systems, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PO Box 999, MS K7-70, Richland, WA 99352, (4)Science Education Programs, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PO Box 999, MS K5-12, Richland, WA 99352, (5)Walla Walla School District, 421 S. 4th St, Walla Walla, WA 99362, (6)Writing Group, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PO Box 999, MS K1-01, Richland, WA 99352, signe.wurstner@pnl.gov

Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and a sixth-grade teacher at Pioneer Middle School in Walla Walla, Washington, partnered to develop a hands-on, inquiry-based research project related to flash floods in southeastern Washington State. This project was designed to complement “Catastrophic Events,” an earth science module published by the National Science Resources Center under the auspices of the National Academies and the Smithsonian Institution.

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.