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Let’s Go Outside . . . and Learn Science!

by Regina Barrier C

an’t you just hear your mother saying, “Go outside and play”? Now, we ask that students go outside and learn more about their envi-

ronment. Science is the study of the world. So why not use the world around you to teach science content? Do you want to make sure your students realize the connection between the curriculum and the real world? Are you ready to start teaching through content application and merge your classroom with the world outside the school doors using your community as a learning laboratory?


A middle school student uses the Vernier technology to collect water temperature data for a stream study.

Just imagine outdoor science classrooms, community parks, and school campuses in which students regularly use technology to collect and analyze data in the environment while learning science. The Science House, an outreach program of the College of Physical and Mathemati- cal Sciences (PAMS) at North Carolina State University, is working to achieve such a vision. Outreach Coordinators from The Science House in six offices across North Carolina work closely with local schools and communities to involve students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engi- neering, and Mathematics) opportunities and research. Through a series

of professional development opportunities, Michelle Benigno and I, working as Outreach Coordinators for The Science House, train k–12 science and math teachers in the use of geocaching, hand-held data collection technologies, and inquiry-based pedagogy to teach science content. Geocaching is a form of treasure hunting in which participants find hidden containers

(caches) filled with “treasure” at particular GPS coordinates. A geocaching enthusiast herself, Michelle Benigno saw an opportunity to use this exciting hobby as a means of teaching or reinforcing science and math curricula. The obvious concepts of direction, mapping, Cartesian coordinates, longitude, latitude, and parallel and perpendicular lines can be explored, but the environment itself can also be used as a teaching tool. Rather than “treasure,” caches contain science questions or activities to be conducted at particu- lar coordinates. Caches hidden at strategic points in the environment allow students to investigate and interact directly with science concepts. Teachers provide students with coordinates for an invasive species scavenger hunt; key caches to identify trees, leaves, rocks, or minerals; or question caches near geologic formations, chemical processes, pol- lution sources, or areas of erosion and deposition. GPS sensors are also used to determine area and calculate runoff from impervious surfaces or determine the speed of a car from its skid marks. By working with real tools in the real world, students see the relevance and application of science concepts.

Gathering Data

Students can use hand-held data collection technologies, such as Vernier LabQuests and sensors, to collect and analyze data around the school or community. Long-term inves-

PAGE 8 • Connect ©SYNERGY LEARNING • 800-769-6199 • MARCH/APRIL 2012

regina barrier

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