We love science! We are excited about asking questions and exploring the natural world, yet we have also found that scientific research can feel daunting and inaccessible. We decided to address this by giving students the opportunity to conduct scientific research with a focus on delving into personal interests, creating realistic and relevant experiments, and using hands-on science as a means of connecting with the natural world.
As two young educators with backgrounds in earth and environmental sciences, we were eager to share our enthusiasm for the scientific method and curiosity about our surroundings with our students. After speaking with Ted, our Natural Science teacher, about how we could fit more experiential learning into our science curriculum at The Outdoor Academy, we decided to plan a Lab Day on the scientific method. Using the six steps of the scientific method as a framework, we designed a morning of experimenting throughout the forests, lakes, and streams of our campus.
Before conducting their experiments, students asked a question about the relationship between two measurable factors in the natural world. Using these questions as a starting point, students designed experiments that ranged in topics from dissolved oxygen content in still versus moving water to the density of amphibious creatures on a transect of the swimming lake to the mineral content of different soil types. As students stomped through the muddy bottom of the drained swimming lake or collected soil samples from beneath rhododendron bushes, there was a sense of excitement surrounding each new discovery, despite the pouring rain.
Throughout the day, we emphasized the significance of communication in science. We discussed the importance of sharing data and conclusions so that scientific research is accessible and useful. Additionally, each group worked through their own challenges with dividing up group work and coming up with the best way to present their findings. While students navigated working as a group, we engaged in conversations about giving feedback and using leadership skills that students have practiced on campus and in the field.
After several hours of data collection and analysis, each group of students designed a poster to present their findings in a mini science fair held in the Sun Lodge. Students proudly shared their findings with their mentors as OA faculty members walked around and asked questions. Our goal for this Lab Day was to have students walk away feeling excited about the natural world and inspired to answer their own questions. While we do not expect or want all our students to become research scientists, we enjoyed watching them look at their surroundings in a different way, and hope that they walk away with enthusiasm for what science can be.
By Hannah Ryde and Madison Atterbury, Resident Wilderness Educators