One key element missing in the S.T.E.M and S.T.E.A.M education initiates today is the importance of community and professional resources and partnerships that could be utilized to help strength and bolster relevant and authentic learning outcomes for students. Within the classroom, the combination of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, with the introduction and incorporation of strong outside resources and partnerships, would change the way students and the community view each other, and perhaps open the doors for collaboration in all disciplines. Utilization of resources play a vital role in bridging the classroom experience to the real world application of scientific inquiry and education.
One way a group of Allendale Columbia 6th graders is collaborating by using S.T.R.E.A.M is by learning about natural disasters with Dr. Cynthia Ebinger. Dr. Ebinger is Professor of Geophysics at the University of Rochester whose expertise is with geological hazards along continental margins, including earthquake and volcanic hazards. Through classroom visits, experiments, and demonstrations, Dr. Ebinger has brought her knowledge and resources to Allendale Columbia to give the students a more meaningful and relevant experience. Plans are underway for the 8th graders to visit the University of Rochester to work with her undergraduate students. Mathematics, technology, and science portions of the partnership will be two fold: one will be to work with the undergraduate students, but also statistical analysis, predictions, usage of USGS website and Google Earth data reinforcement in the classroom. Through the use of powerful images, writing, and reading first hand accounts of natural disasters, the humanitarian approach to the lesson will be evident. Students will see volcanoes and earthquakes as a power natural force, but also a life-changing event. Students will go on to study the way structures and dwellings are engineered and their role in earthquake safety. As a finale to the unit, students will use their artistic skills to create a public service announcement, an earthquake safety brochure, or a short documentary about what they have learned.
Another example of a successful S.T.R.E.A.M initiative introduced at Allendale Columbia was the in collaborating with the Paleontological Research Institute in Ithaca on the Mastodon Matrix Project. Through this citizen science opportunity, students were able to sift through matrix recovered from a mastodon dig. Not only did students create their own blog that detailed every step of their journey, they photographed and cataloged every single item recovered from the matrix. Students chose to draw or sketch topics that interested them along the way; some students decided to sketch the actual mastodon that is located in the Ithaca Museum of the Earth. The idea of scale became important as the object in the lens of the microscope needed a frame of reference when photographed for the blog. As the project continued, students engineered their own devices to sort the matrix samples. Coffee filters, coffee cans, and screening material became invaluable laboratory equipment created by the students. Dr. Carlyn Buckler from the Paleontological Research Institute was a key part of this projects success, as the students emailed and blogged with questions and comments. Jason Theuer, a Ph.D. candidate in Archaeology from SMU worked for three months with the students in the classroom showing them techniques and procedures that middle school students would not normally be exposed to. Students made a personal and educational connection with professionals in the field, and it made the experience for them even more authentic.
It is my hope to continue to build more partnerships and connections with professionals and organizations who can help bring authentic science experiences to the students. It is these connections that give students the excitement for advanced coursework in the sciences, as well as a familiarity with professions that they might consider in the future.