Monday, March 31, 2014

Salcha children study science of birch trees

Salcha Elementary School students conducted scientific research alongside University of Alaska Fairbanks professors March 27.

Assistant Research Professor Janice Dawe welcomed the enthusiastic students. "Thanks for helping us take scientific data," she said. "You're going to do research today by taking data points for us."

Working in the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology greenhouse, the budding scientists measured birch seedlings for the OneTree Alaska program.

"This is fun and interesting and you can learn new things," said third grader Ella Marchesseault. The children measured tree heights, sketched seedlings and toured the tropical room. Some wrote poetry about the field trip.

Teacher Ronda Schlumbohm said she wants her students to see what they are doing in class is real science. "I hope they see the connections and see that real scientists at the university and our students are doing the same thing," she said. "The data is similar."

Ella Marchesseault takes seedling measurements in the IAB greenhouse.
This is Schlumbohm's third year working with OneTree Alaska. She is so swept up in the project that her students wrote a book about birch trees and entered it in the Scholastic "Kids Are Authors" competition.

"I believe children should learn backyard science and learn about this place so they take care of it and appreciate it," Schlumbohm said. "They should know they are in the boreal forest and everything is connected."

Zachary Meyers, OneTree Alaska's instructional designer, has been visiting Salcha every two weeks for the past three years. He and Dawe customize OneTree activities to the students' interests. One year, the focus was seed germination; this year it's plant communication.

Ronda Schlumbohm is a champion for children learning about the boreal forest.
Schlumbohm's class is in a peer teaching relationship with another OneTree partner, Tanana Middle School. Seventh graders from Carri Forbes' service learners' life science class visited Salcha to help students set up a "family matters" experiment. "This is a really collaborative experiment with students at Tanana Middle, Salcha Elementary and the university setting up parallel investigations," Dawe said. "We're learning a lot and comparing what's working well and what needs to be tweaked before we repeat the experiment next year.

Janice Dawe explains the methods the children should use.
Studying birch trees is one small window onto the world, Dawe said. "But anything that's part of their natural world could serve the same purpose, salmon or blueberries in rural Alaska, Sitka spruce in southeast Alaska, bird migrations anywhere," she said.

"The point is to pay close attention to something accessible in their home environment. If they like working with birch trees, they could become natural resource managers or any kind of field scientist. If they like working in greenhouses they could specialize in plant production. But no matter what career path they take, we're hoping this work helps them become lifelong learners, critical thinkers and good stewards of the environment."
Aubrey Johnson enjoyed visiting the greenhouse's tropical room.

She praised the young scientists for their careful approach in taking consistent measurements and documenting their observations on data sheets. "One girl made a great comment about the two seedlings she was observing," Dawe said. "She wondered why one plant has so many more leaves than the other plant in the pot.She's taking the first step in turning observations into testable questions, the first steps in the scientific process. She's coming to this naturally, through her own powers of observation, and hands-on learning opportunities.

"The students demonstrated a firm grasp of science inquiry process skills in the greenhouse."
Mark Wright of the IAB greenhouse, showed the tropical plant collection to Salcha students.

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