Teachers interview scientists: Reading for the lab

With the release of the Battelle LDC Science Collection, we’ve pulled together some of the teachers and scientists behind the project. Erika Reeves, a teacher, and scientist Kate Kucharzyk talk about how to prepare students for science in the workplace.

Let’s start with quick introduction about yourselves
Erika Reeves
Erika: I am an enthusiastic, energetic, nerdy science educator who is passionate about providing students with hands-on learning opportunities and making material engaging and relevant. I have been teaching and learning alongside my students for 12 years (2 at Metro Early College Middle School) and have had the honor of teaching all disciplines of science. My favorite subjects are anatomy and physiology.

160311 Kate cropped
Kate: I am an environmental microbiologist who has been at Battelle for 2 years. I have worked in a variety of client projects focusing on environmental bioremediation of groundwater pollutants, oil and gas, and agriculture issues.

You both worked together to create a lesson around Controlled Experimentation. Can you give an overview?

Erika: I created the What Factors Influence Plant Carbon Dioxide Production and Usage? Module. It was developed from the Battelle Controlled Experiment Module Template to help middle school students through the steps of the scientific process:

  • Asking a question,
  • gathering background knowledge,
  • developing and carrying out testing,
  • gathering data,
  • analyzing data,
  • and reporting on that analysis.

It focuses on the writing process that follows experimentation as well as the Next Generation Science Standards related to photosynthesis.

The module embeds content for a strong understanding of factors that influence photosynthetic rate as measured by carbon dioxide concentration. Students were able to choose how they explored this concept through a variety of questions.

Students could choose to evaluate how any of the following factors affected production and usage of carbon dioxide by plants:

  • carbon dioxide
  • light (quality or quantity)
  • temperature
  • water (quality or quantity)

Kate, how does this connect to the real-world?
Kate: As a scientist, I like to collaborate with a variety of subject matter experts, to enrich my own knowledge but also to transfer our skills into projects. We usually start with performing a literature search, design the experiment and analyze and discuss results to draw conclusions. This type of a systematic approach to experimentation brings a lot of value as well as logical progression while seeking answers to questions that we try to answer through the project life.

Because of that, I think there is a great deal of value in teaching students how to design their work/experiments to see successful results.

You two met to build this module before Erika taught it. Can you share some of your questions and answers?
Erika: How can I help students develop controlled experiment skills that are relevant now but also develop throughout their educational journey and on into the workforce?

Kate: One of the most important skills that you can teach your students is reading with understanding and looking for the most important details in the text. Regardless if it’s an essay or a peer reviewed paper, the skill of reading and fishing out the most important details will transfer throughout different classes and topics.

Planning and designing is an equally important skill, built on logical organization of the work needed to complete a task. These skills will save time, create clarity and take confusion out of the picture.

Erika: Why is it important for students to spend time reading materials before designing and performing the lab investigation?

Short video where Erika explains one part of her approach
YouTube video

Kate: Reading is so important, but reading with understanding is a skill to nurture!

During my PhD program, my advisor Tom gave me the best piece of advice ever: “one hour in the library will save you four hours in the lab”.

I’ve been carrying this motto with me ever since and it will always be true that before you start working on your idea you need to explore what others had already discovered and reported. You will then work more efficiently, avoid repeating mistakes or failed experiments and come up with new fresh ideas to the scientific gaps that exist within a given topic.

The beauty of science lays in the fact that there are at least ten more questions to the one that has already been answered. Keep on reading and exploring!

Anything you are still wondering after using the module in class?
Erika: After reviewing the mini-tasks that make up the module and examples of the student work, what change would you recommend for other teachers?

Kate: Keep it simple and have fun with it! I think that controlled experiment module should teach how to critically design and analyze an approach to the problem but also show the students that science is all about exploring and being creative.

Getting into overly complicated experiments while the class time is limited takes the focus away from the topic.

You want to teach your students how to think like a scientist and to make sure that the skills learnt are transferable into other classes. I think that this way the class will have a greater impact and will be remembered better.

Don’t forget about the fun – a chemistry experiment to create a cloud or “volcano effect” or a (safe) explosion is something your students will remember for life.

What words of wisdom would you share with a teacher who wants to implement this module or with students completing this type of work?
Kate: The controlled experiment module should teach your students:

  1. how to read a scientific text,
  2. fish out the most important information,
  3. design an experiment and
  4. analyze and discuss the data gathered.

This should be an engaging and fun class where students learn transferrable skills including reviewing work of their colleagues and giving credit for work of their team members. Keep it simple and have fun with it.

Erika: I have students who completed the controlled experiment module in the fall who are in my current spring classes.

The skills they developed while completing the module can be seen in their current work and their critical thinking is at a much higher level than those students who did not have the opportunity to participate in the LDC module.

LDC Experimentation

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