Academic journal article Science and Children

No Duck Left Behind: Fourth-Grade Students' Data Analysis Supports Scientists' Theory of Declining Duck Populations

Academic journal article Science and Children

No Duck Left Behind: Fourth-Grade Students' Data Analysis Supports Scientists' Theory of Declining Duck Populations

Article excerpt

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Recently, a group of fourth graders joined Pintail Partners--a year-long collaborative research effort of scientists, students, classroom teachers, preservice teachers, museum educators, and university professors. Students and teachers followed satellite tracking data (marking the pintail ducks' spring migration) and interacted with scientists via the internet. Looking to the quality of wildlife support in their own community, students gathered data regarding local weather patterns, food source availability, wetland disturbances, and geographic diversity. We hoped students would ask and answer questions about pintails right along with biologists--and be able to make applications in their own nearby wetlands.

Rationale

Dr. Dave, a research biologist, wanted to more fully understand pintail population dynamics to determine the limiting factors on population recovery (research results would guide useful wildlife management remedies). As he explained in a classroom visit, the annual pintail population continues to fall below the objective level established by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (see Internet Resources). The professors wanted elementary students and teachers to shadow the biologist's research work with the help of hands-on learning and internet resources. This real-world application of scientific research with elementary students would help strengthen students' desire to apply scientific knowledge to their everyday lives as well as help build the relationships between the educational setting and professional scientists. The use of the STS model (Science, Technology, and Society) was the driving force for the format of this research. In developing this model, teachers would create and follow integrated curricula (science and mathematics) in an effort to help resolve this real-world problem.

Beginning Our Research

The Pintail Partners project was designed to follow female, satellite-fitted pintail ducks across fall, winter, and spring seasons to learn about the declining pintail duck population. Dr. Dave provided knowledge from a population management perspective and led fieldwork experiences. He and his biology research partners shared their ongoing data collection via the Discovery for Recovery website. University education professors organized wetland field trips, curricula development, and overall project support. The elementary teachers designed and implemented the supplementary curricula needed to guide students' inquiry. These lessons consisted of technology application of the PinSat Satellite tracking program, geography lessons, and science lessons to enhance understanding of adaptations, migrations, and suitable habitats.

As we began, my fourth graders immersed themselves in the life patterns (habitat, nesting habits, and migration patterns) of a sample of pintail ducks for one spring semester. We read fiction and nonfiction literature about many different types of ducks and their adaptations, researched information on the internet, and emailed and telephoned questions to Dr. Dave when we needed a "professional opinion." With Pinsat satellite technology and the guidance of Dr. Dave, we followed our ducks' migratory route from our region in west Texas (where Dr. Dave had fitted the satellites during winter) to their spring nesting grounds in southern Canada. Every three days, the students would log on to the PinSat website and, using the duck's unique ID number, locate its latitude and longitude reading. Students would then map their duck's new location on their personal map and on the classroom map. Routes for each duck on the classroom map were traced by different colors of yarn, which helped the students see the cumulative data. Daily predictions were made in the students' science notebooks.

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By the end of the semester, my fourth graders would generate a reasonable hypothesis about why the pintail duck population is declining and submit ideas to the Discovery for Recovery biologists. …

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