Academic journal article Science and Children

Just Me and You ... and a Whole Community Down by the Stream

Academic journal article Science and Children

Just Me and You ... and a Whole Community Down by the Stream

Article excerpt

The dread of summer learning loss that students experience make the approaching months of summer bittersweet. Although you may not be able to guarantee that students retain the specifics of your science lessons, you can begin taking steps now that can help science inquiry remain at the forefront of their minds during the break. A year-long science club can plant seeds of fascination with the children's surroundings that continue to foster their development as young scientists long after the final bell on the last day of school. This effort exemplifies the approach called for in the new A Framework for Science Education which focuses on "captur[ing] students' sense of wonder about the world and spark[ing] their desire to continue learning about science throughout their lives" (NRC 2011, p. 32).

Forming a Science Club

After 20 days of indoor recess resulting from the subzero temperatures of our small, midwestern town, several of my fifth-grade students had had enough. One day, the handful of fifth graders chose to forgo another recess spent in confines of the classroom to help me find locally based environmental science activities for our upcoming unit. Needless to say, this was a rare occurrence, so I was shocked but quickly took them up on their offer!

As the students searched the internet, they stumbled upon several environmental activities that caught their attention, but the activities were more appropriate for younger students. The students insisted we try the activities, so we decided to form an elementary science club whose first focus would be hosting an event for younger students to teach them about their environment. Thus began the journey of our science club and its connection to our community. Read my tips for starting a science club in Figure 1.

The science club was an opportunity to engage students in science while they learn about their environment and make connections with their community. This project was crafted within the guidelines of place-based education (Sobel 2002), focusing on students' local environment. Place-based education does not deliberately seek out the "problems" of the community but explores the nature of the place and the elements that sustain it. It involves students working collaboratively with parents and experts within the community to develop a story in which they become active participants, not passive observers in this living entity called home (Sobel 2002).

A Community Collaboration

The science club held more meetings, which typically took place before school and during the school day. We also met at the nature center for minilessons once a month during the school year and then during the summer. More students joined the club, and parents got involved by bringing students to school early for meetings. Some parents even volunteered to help and stayed for the meetings. Initially, supplies and other resources were not readily available, so the students decided to contact our local wilderness center for our first activity. The wilderness center is located about six miles from our school and works to promote environmental stewardship by educating and connecting the community. The center has several environmental programs, including outreach to schools. The students asked the center for help in investigating the local watershed, and this led to an after school visit where students learned about watersheds, macroinvertebrates in local water sources, and birds and other wildlife.

Attendance at the event was impressive for our small community: 60 students in grades 1-5 and their parents--not bad for a low-budget operation like ours. Maybe I should clarify; we were a "no-budget" operation and relied solely on minimal donations from parents and our own imagination. Our local county extension agency's soil and water division also later provided resources and assisted at our meetings to answer students' questions. After the success of this first event, the wilderness center suggested we do a stream study at their headquarters that summer, so we scheduled one for early August. …

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