Tuesday, August 18, 2009

S.E.E.K.ing Advice

Did you ever go to one of those summer camps where they gave you a piece of string, a straw, a stick, a rubber band, and then told you to make a can opener out of it? Or have you ever been an astronaut stranded in space who had to make a carbon dioxide scrubber out of duct tape and technical manuals? If so, I have a question for you at the end of the post.

What happens to community science knowledge in times like this where there is no money for science teaching, none for field trips, no resources? Well, in our case we (my community college science division professors) are putting together a program for local fifth graders in which they will come onto our campus for their "field trip" to see real live scientists who will be giving them demonstrations and hands-on lab experiences. We don't have grants or really any other resources, and the presenters are all volunteers. We are calling the program SEEK, for Science Encounters for Elementary Kids, and I could use some ideas.

Here's the question: you are given one standard geology lab, with the usual maps, fossils, rocks and minerals (oh, and a working seismometer), and you have 35 fifth-graders for 45 minutes. What would YOU do to open up the world of the earth sciences to these kids? I have some ideas, but I would sure like to hear from folks out in the geoblogosphere and elsewhere.

Thanks in advance!


Unknown said...

Couple thoughts - although I've not done outreach for kids that age since grad school :).

* Local geology. If you can show them a rock from near where they live (and have them find out neat things about it - ask them to make their own observations and then help them interpret those observations), or look on a geologic map of the area to find their town/school/house and see what kind of rocks should be there. (Ideally, you'd have samples of each rock unit - or similar samples, at least.) You've then got the rocks and the maps to tell a geologic story, time permitting.
You can even use the seismometer here - if you can get a printout or computer projection of the latest local seismic activity map from the USGS... (helps if you've got recent local seismicity, obviously :) ).
* Look the part. Wear field gear and use that as an intro - you can ask them to observe what you are wearing and see if they can explain why you might need it (floppy hat, Brunton, rock hammer, sunscreen, pocket knife/pliers, hand lens, hiking boots, you name it - it's all about 'what does a geoscientist do and where do we do it?'). I had some luck with this with a bit younger group of kids (3rd grade) - they made some nice observations from just a photo.
* Barring the local angle, fossils are always fun - perhaps try a drawing activity where you give the kids unlabeled fossils and ask them to draw the fossil in their notes... then talk about what they saw and both ID the fossils and give them ages (or give them time periods and ask them to look up the ages, or put the fossils in age order - works best if you have a nice geologic time scale posted on the wall, obviously).

I think it boils down to don't try to do to much - let the kids make the observations and help them do the interpretation, and don't have so much to do that they can't enjoy the observing.

Geology Happens said...

I would let the kids play a little, especially with the working seismometer. Have them look at samples and create their own methods of classification. Be there to answer questions nd to direct their questions. I like squawkies idea of dressing the part..or even overdressing the part. Describe your tools and then let them try them out and yes fossils are always a big hit.

Please have a post or two about how this turned out