Friday, September 19, 2014

Middle school students tackle scientific tasks

Middle school students tackled the job of recording scientific data at a University of Alaska Fairbanks common garden Sept. 16.

Carefully observing birch trees, the students from Randy Smith Middle School noted the height of the trees, air temperature, soil temperature, bark color and oddities such as leaf damage and insects.

Randy Smith Middle School students take data on a birch tree while Zach Meyers, far left, observes.
Some served as recorders, some as data gatherers and others as artists, drawing colored pencil versions of each tree.

 "It's exciting to see science in action," said Chris Pastro, the teacher. "They get to see what a research project looks like."

Prior to the field trip, OneTree Alaska Director Janice Dawe visited Pastro's classroom to describe the birch plots and emphasize that when taking data, accuracy is paramount. Pastro has long worked with OneTree, sharing the ideas she has learned and taught in two STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) institutes hosted by UAF's School of Natural Resources.

Pastro emphasizes botany with her extended learning students. Each one is investigating a different species of tree and eventually the class will produce a book.

"This is hands-on science," Pastro said. "I hope the students learn to be keen observers forever."
Chris Pastro holds a birch leaf containing a bug.

Dawe told the students, "Today you are our scientists; you are helping us improve our protocols." She was impressed that the participants measured about one-third of the garden in less than an hour.

"You are the first group," Dawe said. "You represent the beginning, kicking off the next 40 to 50 years." She hopes the birch tree plots will be a long-term research project at UAF.

Instructional Designer Zachary Meyers said, "It went well. They did a really good job and they observed things that weren't even on the information sheets."

Students expressed delight that the university welcomes citizen scientists. "I didn't know about this project," one eighth grader said. "I've skied by it but thought they were randomly planting trees."

UAF student volunteer Kristine de Leon said she had a wonderful time working with the students. "They were teaching me stuff," she said. "It's important to do this. You can read books about this but you don't make the connection till you touch and see and smell what you are learning about. Field work helps make connections."

Volunteers interested in citizen science should contact Dawe.

Janice Dawe, right, checks soil temperature while a student looks on.

Kristine de Leon, UAF student volunteer, and Jan Dawe, right, measure a birch tree.

Birch tree leaves change colors for fall in the common garden.

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