Weekly work in the field using the latest technological tools highlights the revamped Class IV (Grade 9) science course, Methods in Scientific Research (MSR). Last summer, science faculty members Michael Edgar, Matt Bingham and Ned Bean redesigned the course.
As in the past, the science faculty wanted students taking the MSR course to experience a yearlong hands-on tutorial on techniques of scientific inquiry. The difference is that the theme of ecology now drives the course, and introduces students to many of the fundamental concepts of science, while also teaching them the fundamentals of sound scientific investigation. Content and process are woven together to create a curriculum in which students gain an understanding of ecological systems while also developing the skills to design and execute their own investigations of these topics.
Investigations involve laboratory experiments, field testing and observation of nearby aquatic ecosystems. This year the MSR classes are using Turner’s Pond as a case study in fresh water ecosystems.
Each week the Class IV science students walk to Turner’s Pond to test the water. Using one of five Vernier LabPro™ data-collection devices, teams of students collect information on 7-10 variables including ammonia, pH and nitrate levels.
The Vernier LabPro, a handheld, battery-operated device with 6 channels for data collection, offers a flexible and portable laboratory interface. The LabPro can collect data as fast as 50,000 points per second per channel or as slow as one point per day; it can store 12,000 data points internally, and is compatible with Texas Instruments Graphing Calculators, making data collection easy.
The Turner’s Pond case study has also provided an opportunity for students to work with extensively in graphing and with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
While the individual faculty members keep the weekly data, students in Milton’s Advanced Computer Programming Course are working on a computer program to easily organize and store data collected from Turner’s Pond on a science lab computer and to write reports from that data.
According to Michael Edgar, the sampling data from Turner’s Pond will be used as a spring board from which students will launch their independent research projects. While some trends have begun to take shape, Michael says it will take 3 years for the course to be at a point in which the data can identify predictable trends.