Community-based science

Click on the cover for the Table of Contents

If you’re looking for ideas for authentic projects for Earth Day in April or for an end-of-the-year summary project, this issue has some great examples of getting students involved in community-based science. And SciLinks can provide ideas for additional activities or background information.
Environmental issues lend themselves to research on perceptions and attitudes. But creating a survey that will provide “analyzable” data requires careful planning. The authors of Investigating Green: Creating Surveys to Answer Questions outline the process, from establishing the research question to determining the participants, constructing the items, and reporting the results. They include examples to illustrate their suggestions, which could be applied to survey research in other topics. Paper-and-pencil surveys are common, but have you looked at online tools such as Survey Monkey or the “forms” feature in Google Docs? These tools enable participants to respond to items online, and you’ll get the results in a spreadsheet format.
Several projects in this issue describe student investigations of aquatic habitats. A Study of the St. Lawrence River Ecological Habitat includes an anticipation guide, examples of graphic organizers, and a rubric for the project on invasive species. Keep reading for more ideas!

We’ve all done activities on food webs. But in Disrupted food webs: Exploring the relationship between overfishing and dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay, the students compared current data with  historical data and photographs to examine problems of interest related to human impact on food webs. The article describes how the teacher modeled how to graph the data. Bringing scientific inquiry alive using real grass shrimp research reports on how students used real situations to learn about the research process. (Grass shrimp are found in the estuaries of the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.)
OK, so you don’t live near the St. Lawrence, the Chesapeake Bay, or a grass shrimp habitat. SciLinks has keywords for more background information and activities that could be relevant to the aquatic habitats in your community. Just type in “water” and you’ll get lists of websites on watersheds, water pollution, water quality, and more. Also look at the sites in rivers and streams. I recently looked at Surf Your Watershed from EPA. Click on your state and finetune for your exact location to find out information about the watersheds in your area.
Do you need expensive materials and supplies to engage in inquiry? Not according to the author of Simple Machine Junk Cars. This is the culminating activity for a unit on simple machines. The teacher provides “junk” such as empty boxes, spools, plastic containers, straws, wooden dowels, masking tape. The students are given minimal directions and a rubric: Build a car that includes three simple machines. That’s it! The photographs show the creativity of the students in how they applied what they learned about machines.
Speaking of photographs, two articles in this issue described the use of photography as a tool in science investigations, which has become much easier in the digital age! Picture This: Taking Human Impact Seriously references on the work of Ansel Adams. It includes some helpful tips for taking photographs and a rubric for a photojournal project. You might as well model your work on the best! Photovoice: A Community-Based Socioscientific Pedagogical Tool has a long title also includes suggestions for engaging students in documenting  issues that are important to them, using an example of a water-quality study.
You may also be interested in these other March articles in NSTA journals. Community-Based Inquiry Lessons in the The Science Teacher shows how students created a scientific community in their classroom, investigating real-life situations. In Trash Pie: Is Your School Serving? (from Science and Children), students studied the amount of trash generated in the cafeteria. As a result of their data analysis, the school has embarked on a recycling and waste-reduction program.
Doing projects about the rain forest or other far-away places can certainly be worthwhile, but having students study environmental issues in their own communities will make a lasting impression. Just look at the results of students’ using a variety of resources to create a presentation on local issues in Project Citizen: Students practice democratic principles while conducting community projects.

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2 Responses to Community-based science

  1. Hughes Miles says:

    The science of preserving the environment requires a lot of devotion and passion. Especially dealing with junk cars that are improperly dumped in the streets or alleys. It may be good to rebuild the cars from its incapacitated state but I think its better that these cars be towed properly and recycled properly with the supervision of the professionals. You can read more about how to deal with these junk cars in this site.

  2. Robert Wooden says:

    Great informative information here. Community is incredibly important to building a environmentally conscious community. Unfortunately most cities don’t have the necessary budgets or people to spearhead this kind of movement! Applauds on your work!!

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