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Science Students Investigate Essential Questions

The Board of Education has a number of Strategic Planning Goals as part of their Vision 2020 program. One of their goals is to "consider new elementary, middle and high school programs, that continue to encourage creative thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, and communication".

As part of a continual and on-going curricular and program review, the K-12 Science department has recently introduced a number of initiatives that encourage teachers to design learning experiences that will address the new state-mandated science learning standards while providing opportunities for students to develop the skills contained in the board's strategic goal.

This newsletter will highlight some of the science practices that have provided students the opportunity to use these skills, vital to the educational development of the 'modern learner' while engaging in inquiry, problem-solving and critical thinking, and constructing answers to a series of important questions that drive the learning.

Second Grade

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"How do the properties of things determine their use?"

Second-grade students recently investigated the properties and phases of matter by designing and creating hats to protect them on a deserted island. The investigation was part of a Mystery Science unit based on the essential knowledge that "materials have a set of unique properties that determine their use".

The students investigated the properties of different materials and had to use their critical thinking skills to decide which objects would be best for the brim, how to connect the materials together, and which material would absorb water in case of rain. The students then explained the reasons behind their hat design and how it provides protects them from the wind, rain, and sun. The students had a great time collaborating on their hat designs while learning about how the properties of things determine what they can be used for.

Third Grade

'Why are some places so hot?"

Third-grade students have been busily engaged in a Mystery Science unit exploring the world's climate. This online science program bases their units around science questions in which students engage in inquiry through a number of activities and a series of discussions and use their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to address an essential question.

Third grade worked on the mystery of "Why are some places so hot?" They created a world climate map based on the low and high temperatures of different cities and discovered climate patterns across the world. They then used their understanding to address the class question and delve deep into an answer. The students loved the open nature of the inquiry process and can't wait for the next Mystery!!

Fourth Grade

How do volcanoes cause rapid changes in landforms?

Fourth-grade students at AWR recently took a Virtual Reality (VR) field trip to see volcanoes in Hawaii. Their virtual field trip was part of their study of soils, rocks, and landforms and was designed to help students collect evidence to answer the question 'how do rapid changes in landforms occur?'. As the students progressed through the virtual field trip, they answered a variety of questions directed towards their scientific studies, and that allowed them to develop an understanding of the effect volcanoes have on the surrounding landforms.
The class set of VR glasses, provided by a recent New Providence Education Foundation (NPEF) grant, engaged all the students in building their knowledge and introduced them to a new innovative tool that is well placed to significantly impact learning over the next few years. A big thank you to the Technology department for helping facilitate the whole educational experience.

Fifth Grade

How can we use our knowledge of variables to improve our engineering design?

Fifth-grade science students started the year with the “Great Top Challenge” in the STEM learning laboratory and investigated how their study of variables in science could be used to help improve the angular momentum of a spinning top. Using the co-teaching model, the STEM and Science teachers facilitated an examination of Newton’s laws of motion, angular momentum and the design process. After several days of research, design, and iterations, many of the competing designs were able to spin for over 30 seconds!

When Salt Brook students returned to their science classes, they used their ELA skills to write a summary of their understanding of variables and then shared their writing with 12th-grade Biomedical Engineering students at the high school, who provided constructive feedback on their writing.


Seventh Grade

"How can we design a quickly assembled and portable refugee shelter?"

Seventh-grade students have been addressing the refugee crisis in their Junior Engineering mod. According to the United Nations, the world is now witnessing an unprecedented number of refugees with some finding themselves stranded, homeless and exposed to extreme environmental elements. To address this problem, students use their scientific knowledge of heat transfer and insulation and their problem-solving skills to design, construct and test models of refugee shelters that are easy to assemble and transport.

To help determine the best design, students collected data on heat loss using temperature probes and infrared cameras connected to iPads and tested the strength of the shelter using a Vernier Structures and Materials Tester. All the testing equipment has been provided by NPEF grants over the last few years. The data allowed students to continually iterate their design and create the strongest, lightest and most heat efficient refugee shelter that can be efficiently transported and assembled.

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Eighth Grade

"How can We best demonstrate energy transformations?"

Eighth-grade students have been investigating energy and matter by designing, constructing and testing machines that demonstrate their understanding of forms of energy and how energy can be transferred. Modeled after the great Rube Goldberg machines of the past, students created their own inventions that used different transfers of energy to do a simple task such as open a container, burst a ballon or flick a switch.

Students videoed their innovations, categorized all the energy forms used and described all the energy transformations that took place over the course of the invention. They then presented their findings to the class and explained their understanding of energy transformations. The video below shows one of the machines in action.


Ninth Grade

How does Form Follow Function in specialized cell structure?

Ninth-grade students started the year investigating the crosscutting concept of Form Follows Function by addressing how cell structure is adapted to the function of the cell.

Students examined a variety of cell samples using the new video camera microscopes purchased by a recent NPEF grant. These innovative microscopes allow students to transmit the view through the microscope to their iPads, examine, save and edit the images, and then insert them into their lab reports.

The technology allows students to critically examine a number of samples quickly and effectively and to advance their understanding of this important scientific concept.

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Eleventh and Twelfth Grades

"How can we best design a system that provides clean drinking water in remote areas?"

Eleventh and Twelfth-grade students recently collaborated with students from the Koshi Super Science High School, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. This Science Exchange Program has been in existence for nine years and this year the students collaborated to design, build, and test a simple water filtering system that could be used in remote areas to physically clean water.

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Students were split into mixed design teams and provided with a variety of materials to build their filter. The process started slowly as the groups worked through the challenges of communicating in two different languages. As the groups started to use diagrams and models they started to collaborate more effectively and designed, redesigned and retested their filters to determine the most economical and efficient physical water filtration system they could construct.

The quality of their designs was evaluated by two performance criteria – the amount of water filtered by the device and the quality of the filtered water. By the end of the two days, students were actively communicating and effectively collaborating while using their critical thinking and problem solving to create a number of impressive water filters. We look forward to continuing this wonderful science partnership with Koshi high school.

"How can we improve the process of facial reconstruction?"

Twelfth-grade Biomedical Engineering students recently examined the innovative practice of 3-D printing body parts. Students investigated the difference between the present facial construction protocol and recent advances in 3-D printing facial bones using a porous, biodegradable scaffold and seeding the structure with adult stem cells derived from adipose tissue.
Students replicated the process using face masks, precise calipers for measurement of the facial damage, diagraming skills, 3-D pens provided by an NPEF grant and modeling clay. They created scaffolds that reconstructed the damaged facial structure and displays that explained the innovative practice. Student feedback reported an advanced understanding of the process, and students then applied their understanding to examine the role 3-D printing will play in future medical advances.

Science in the Spotlight

All the examples above show how science students are developing their creative thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, and communication skills while designing, creating, modifying and presenting, and building the understanding necessary to answer the essential questions that frames the inquiry. The video below shows the transformative nature of a classroom where inquiry-based, problem-solving learning is taking place.