Skip to content Skip to navigation

Engaging Students as Scientists

Mar 1, 2011
Winter 2011

Four years ago, when Betty Bickford began teaching 5th grade science at Mattanawcook Junior High School in Lincoln, she participated in a teacher professional development workshop at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI).

"That experience made a huge difference in my classroom," she said.

Her curriculum enables students to be scientists throughout the year - not just when they are at GMRI participating in LabVenture!. They go out into the field to research important issues. They are asked to back up their opinions and predictions with evidence. They discuss findings with other scientists and communicate their results.

It's this type of authentic science learning that will lead to a future where all Maine children have the capacity for critical thinking, problem solving, and active citizenship.

Betty participated in a second teacher workshop at GMRI last summer, and has been using our new VitalVenture learning resources to introduce students to science concepts and the local watershed. This year her students have been acting as scientists on a service learning project to protect the rich water resources in their district. Lincoln has 13 lakes, several streams, and the Penobscot River within its boundaries. Students have conducted field studies at the river, a lake, a stream, a pond, and a wetland. At each site, students took on the roles of wildlife biologists, botanists, and geologists. They tested the water and learned about the water cycle, water filtration, and cleaning up polluted waters.

They then brainstormed and chose a service learning project based on what they had learned. Two projects emerged. For one project, students are adopting a body of water to protect and preserve from this day forward. They are working with the town to create a clean-up day and potentially plan a vegetative buffer or rain garden. The second project focuses on reducing water use in the school and community. Students are working with the school facilities manager on water saving measures and collaborating with the water district to provide information to local residents.

"The students understand that we have lots of clean water in our area and that it is their responsibility to keep it that way," said Betty. "They also understand that water is not distributed evenly around the globe, and that there are plenty of places in the U.S. and in the world where water is scarce. They know that the tipping point is coming where we use more water than the earth can cycle naturally to have clean water available for all of our needs."

Students can't wait to get to science class, and according to Betty, that is in a large part "because of GMRI."