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Citizen scientists

Alissa Widman Neese • Aug 27, 2014 at 2:41 PM

Alley Porter rolled up her sleeves and delved into a container of cold water.

The fourth-grader pulled out a wriggling crayfish, one of the newest members of her Meadowlawn Intermediate School class, and introduced it to a nearby classroom visitor.

“We’ve been studying their habitat,” Porter said. “We even got to see some baby crayfish in a magnifying glass. They’re really tiny.”

She then returned the crustacean to its home and adjusted her sturdy plastic safety goggles.

One of the area’s largest educational grants ensures Porter and her classmates don’t just look the part.

Third- to sixth-grade students at Perkins and Sandusky schools are now full-fledged “citizen scientists,” thanks to the National Science Foundation’s revamped, hands-on curriculum.

The new program, iEvolve with STEM, is in full force this year.

The acronym stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math,” which are fields educators nationwide are encouraging students to pursue post-graduation.

The program’s twofold goal: show students how science can be fun and provide real-world context for education.    A $7.28 million grant awarded to Bowling Green State University’s main campus from the National Science Foundation will fund iEvolve with STEM for the next five years. It was one of only six such awards distributed in the United States this past year, and it is equally distributed between Perkins and Sandusky schools.

The funds pay for supplies and a slew of training for local teachers.

Schools nationwide will likely emulate the model in years to come.

“When my students open up their lab materials, it’s like Christmas, because they’re that excited,” Meadowlawn teacher Erich Fahr said. “Many of these experiments are something they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives.”

The plan is to expand iEvolve with STEM to sixth, seventh and eighth grade in the 2015-16 school year, said Bob Midden, a BGSU main campus chemistry professor.

Midden is the director of the Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education and is spearheading the university’s role in the project.

Classroom instruction is significantly supported by FOSS kits, which are shipped periodically to provide classes with materials for experiments, such as the crayfish students raised in Fahr’s class. The acronym stands for “full option science system.”

The scope of the project doesn’t stop in the classroom.

Two national projects students will participate in are Monarch Watch and FrogWatch USA, which aim to track dwindling species in the United States. They’ll also partner with Bowling Green State University, The Ohio State University, professional scientists and local organizations for other educational endeavors.

“It’s no longer simulated or pretend; this is real science research they’re collecting,” Midden said. “By 2015, the plan is to have students tell others about what they’ve done by publishing their results.”

Students in younger grades, meanwhile, will build a solid foundation for revamped science education moving forward.

Shamarion Clinton, a third-grader at Venice Heights Elementary School, said engaging classes this year have helped him learn the difference between a solid, liquid and gas.

“A liquid has no definite shape and a flat surface, a gas has no definite shape or surface, and a solid has a definite shape,” Clinton recited this past week.

Classmate Jocelyn Beier, meanwhile, said her favorite part of the lesson was going outside to measure circumferences of equipment on the school playground.

No matter the activity, the overall goal remains constant, Venice Heights teacher LouAnn Cebull said.“At this grade level, we’re teaching them about the basics of the scientific method,” Cebull said. “It encourages critical thinking and discussion to really get them thinking like a scientist.”

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