Indian Valley Youth Scientists take on the Scientific Method
The first step is to shed the notion of science as a “thing.” Science is a process. Science, as fifth and sixth grade students at Indian Valley Elementary School (IVES) discovered last week, is a systematic method of explaining the observed world, checking conclusions against nature, and sharing the results. Understanding that science is not knowledge but instead the pursuit of knowledge, every amateur, expert, prodigy, and student in Indian Valley can be a scientist.
Courtney Gomola and I led a weeklong Science Fair Workshop at IVES last week to help show students just that. The students of Mrs. Williams’ fifth and sixth grade class worked with us to explore the scientific method step by step, fully identifying and investigating a research topic over the course of five days. Collaboratively, we identified a topic (erosion) and a question (does soil type affect the rate of erosion?), designed an experiment to test this question, and drew conclusions from our results. Our group science fair project helped lay the foundation for the students to develop their own projects for their April 27 Science Fair and Open House. By the end of next month each student will have a unique, experiment-based project to share, but last week they all worked together to study erosion as a team
Imagine it: 27 kids enthusiastically naming themselves the “Schoolience Team” (yes, they combined “School” and “Science”!) and working to study erosion to better understand the intense flooding they’ve seen in Indian Valley this past winter. Students learned that science begins with observation during a recent visit by John Muir Laws. With a simple reminder about the importance of this step, the open, curious minds of the students allowed them to make poignant reflections about their deluged landscape and work together to make inferences about those observations.
By the time the class had run their stream-table sedimentation experiments and drawn conclusions from the results, science was beginning to look less like a destination and more like a journey. It’s a journey that I, personally, am happy to see the students embark on, and a journey we hope to bring to all elementary students in Indian Valley. Over the next month, Courtney and I will continue to work with the other classes at IVES to bring science to the classroom, underscore the importance of inquiry-based learning and investigation, and link these studies to the newly implemented Outdoor Core at all Plumas Unified School District Schools.
We may not know which youngsters will end up as biologists, doctors, or nuclear physicists, but we did ask Mrs. William’s class “Who in this room is a scientist?” Which students raised their hands? Every. Single. One.
Written by Luis Mayberry
Contact Luis at LMayberry@SierraInstitute.us