Thursday, December 18, 2014

Science Projects

For the February round of Exhibitions, our fourteen students, with guidance from several adults, will design projects with a scientific focus. 

I have shared with them selected writings from two sources: longform.org, a website devoted to interesting articles of a certain length culled from print and the web; and the Best American series, specifically, the 2013 and 2014 editions of Best American Science and Nature Writing. These essays will make for challenging reading, but our kids can manage them, and because these pieces are mostly from general-reader publications (e.g. The Atlantic and The New York Times), they include sufficient background for lay readers.

Here are links to both:
Best American Science Writing 2014

Each student will read three essays and will be expected to create a hands-on project, preferably an experiment or engineering task, on the subject matter of any one of those. They may work alone or with a single partner. The articles run the gamut from medical research to genetics to climate change to agroforestry to environmental themes to astrophysics (and so on). They will choose something that they can relate to, that matters to them, and that they find compelling. 

For example, a student might read David Dobbs' Beautiful Brains, a National Geographic article describing recent neurological developments in the understanding of why teenagers make the decisions they do. (It starts out spicy: the author's 17-year-old son calls him from the police station, where he has been arrested for driving 113 miles an hour.) Dobbs explains what brain research has to say on this topic.

What kind of active project could be built from this? The student would need to choose a question to explore: say, Can I really plot behavior to the growth of the brain? Exploring the answer might involve studying the structure of the brain, and recreating it as a sequence of models or representations showing stages from infancy to adulthood. He or she might then conduct a behavioral survey of younger children, his/her classmates, and a group of adults, and compare them. The final version could head in any number of directions. 

Other projects on other topics could find a student measuring the pollutant content of water samples. Another might plant seeds. Another might pour Coca-Cola on rust stains. These activities should yield scientific understanding (and excitement) in physics, or biology, or chemistry, or genetics. Perhaps one will plan the regeneration of the SK patch of wetland by our playground. 

Projects begin with great questions.

To make these experiences more powerful, each student, or pair of students, will have a science advisor. In collaboration with me, this advisor would ensure that the student(s) have the right grasp of the key scientific concepts, are able to design a project that explores these central themes, and can execute it.

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