South-Central Section - 51st Annual Meeting - 2017

Paper No. 28-2
Presentation Time: 1:55 PM


WHEATCRAFT, Jeff, Alamo Heights Junior School, 7607 North New Braunfels, San Antonio, TX 78209, TURNER, David R., Department of Physics and Environmental Sciences, St. Mary's University, One Camino Santa Maria, San Antonio, TX 78228 and MCCUE, Marshall, Department of Biological Sciences, St. Mary's University, One Camino Santa Maria, San Antonio, TX 78228,

In the Texas public school system, earth science is a part of the 8th grade science curriculum. Unfortunately, because geology is not a part of the required high school curriculum, this may be the last time that many of these students will encounter earth science in a formal school setting. Therefore, to enhance their 8th grade students’ earth science experience, Alamo Heights Junior School in north-central San Antonio has collaborated with the Department of Physics and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Biological Sciences at St. Mary’s University (also in San Antonio) to develop a year-long STEM science program that meets Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards for science, and is centered on a geoscience-based curriculum. The program features a project-based learning assessment approach that provides students with the hands-on opportunity to design their own experiments to examine global geological processes at the scale of the classroom.

One activity has been an experiment to examine the effects of iron fertilization on marine diatom growth and CO2 uptake. The class teacher and St. Mary’s faculty collaborated to develop a basic experimental framework for the purposes of ordering equipment, materials and supplies. The implementation and refinement of specific experiments, however, were largely driven by the students. Students worked in small, collaborative groups to design the experiment, often coming up with innovative solutions to unexpected logistical challenges. One example of the students’ ingenuity in the first year was to use commercially available robotics toys to develop an oscillator to keep the test reactors well-mixed. Unfortunately, in the first year of the course, the experiment ended prematurely when the only sampling syringe was accidentally dropped before the students could collect significant data.

The students in the second year offering of the class have benefitted from the learning experience of the previous students. They are now preparing their diatom cultures and test reactors to begin the experiment. While the effect of iron fertilization has been examined in large-scale ocean experiments, we are not aware of a similar bench-top scale experiment, especially one designed predominantly by 8th grade boys and girls.