Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sparrow shares scientific research with K-12 teachers and students

"Science is not for just doing research," says Professor Elena Sparrow. "It is for everyday living; it's a useful tool that is not just for the elite. Everybody needs to be science-literate."

Sparrow, who explained her work with the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment program, to natural resources management graduate students Oct. 30, will present again at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in December in San Francisco. She is no stranger to public speaking, having shared her passion for science education in over 50 countries.
Elena Sparrow

Growing up in the Philippines, Sparrow wanted to be a medical doctor so she could help people but her family couldn't afford medical school. Eventually, she turned to agriculture, specifically soil science.

Her current role is connecting research to K-12 educators through the GLOBE program, engaging teachers and students in ecological science. She offers a University of Alaska Fairbanks course that emphasizes earth system science, scientific methods for conducting investigations and assessments and program implementation. Teachers can earn credit for the 500-level summer workshop.

GLOBE, an international science education program, was started in 1995 by Al Gore.. The worldwide hands-on primary and secondary school-based science and education program is active in 112 countries. Students study atmosphere and climate, phenology, hydrology, soil science and more.

"We get teachers of all kinds," Sparrow said. "It's amazing; the way you use it depends on the grade level."

Not only do students learn through the program, the data they gather and enter into the GLOBE website is used in scientific research. "Students contribute to new knowledge because they are contributing data," Sparrow said.

She encourages teachers to incorporate science in as many ways as possible, with interesting books about science included in the mix. "Some schools only have 45 minutes a week for science education," she said. "You can add more through reading."

Students conduct hands-on experiments with authentic purposes in mind, keep science notebooks and present their work in novel ways. Mapping is another key component.

Sparrow was especially pleased that in Alaska students are working with Native elders to learn indigenous knowledge and expertise. Citizen science is another area that excites her. "It is a tool for communities," she said.

But she is most proud of GLOBE students who continue their educations and contribute to society. "We have a new breed of scientists," she said.

Further reading:

Scientist of the Month, International Arctic Research Center, June 3, 2013

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