Integrating local environmental research into an inquiry-based unit on biogeochemical principles in a high school science classroom


Presented here is an inquiry-based unit on biogeochemical principles taught to tenth grade Ecology students that was designed and implemented by a teacher-graduate student part- nership who were supported by the National Science Foundation GK-12 program. Course content was based on results from local environmental research efforts, with students playing the role of scientists. The unit was framed as a crime scene investigation, in which students were tasked with determining the main culprits behind a widespread fish kill event in a local watershed, Hood Canal, Washington, a sub-basin of the Puget Sound estuary. Students were given sequential pieces of evidence (e.g. scientific plots, lab exercises, and simulations) to learn fundamental biogeochemical principles and were allowed to move on to the next piece of evidence after showing an understanding of the underlying concept, and how it fit in with the mystery as a whole. The graduate student was present two days per week and led self-designed warm-up exercises, lessons, and lab activities, while the teacher remained responsible for student discipline. This disciplinary dynamic made students generally feel comfortable working with the graduate student, strength- ening the student-mentor relationship. The teaching pair collaborated on the unit during a one-hour planning period twice weekly and corresponded remotely. This framework was successful in engaging local researchers with the K-12 STEM community, enhancing opportunities available for high school students, and providing diverse training for future educators. Although the NSF GK-12 program has been archived, we encourage educators and researchers to work towards the goal of creating sustainable STEM networks by lever- aging state STEM programs and soliciting new partnerships.

The Earth Scientist-NESTA, 31(2), 21-28