Exploring “In the Field”
When you think of scientists working in the field, what do you imagine? I imagine them venturing to remote, possibly dangerous sites. Then again, some field work is closer to home, less rugged. And, as this month’s books reveal, modern field work can sometime mean anxiously awaiting data and video feeds while a specially equipped drone or other remote sensing device ventures far from home. No matter what the exact circumstances may be, this month’s titles transport readers to many places and offer exciting tales of passionate scientists eager to answer their questions. Let’s begin diving into this theme with a look at underwater archaeology.
Submerge Yourself in a Science Mystery
Secrets of a Civil War Submarine is packed with possible science learning connections. Especially relevant to this month’s theme is the archaeological practice of studying objects in situ, carefully documenting and noting the physical relationships among the artifacts at a site. Readers witness this practice as author Sally M. Walker takes them to the murky, underwater field where the 150-year-lost historic H.L. Hunley was discovered. Here scientists meticulously record the locations and orientations of the objects on the site before removing anything from the site. Later, scientists carefully record the sub’s interior objects’ spatial relationships before extracting them for study. The importance of preserving these details becomes clear when the data later prove important in answering scientists’ questions.
You can enhance students’ appreciation of the value of this information with a simple lesson involving different arrangements of a set of objects undergoing different events.
For example, imagine a site that includes a computer mouse, piece of paper, computer, glass, chair, desk. Ask students to sketch or create 3D scenes of these artifacts’ positions and orientations based on each of the following scenarios:
Scenario A: A left-handed person seated in front of a computer spilled a glass of water on a computer keyboard. Then the person jumped away from the desk, knocking over the chair.
Scenario B: A right-handed person seated in front of a computer fainted and fell out of the chair, knocking over a glass of water.
Scenario C: A left-handed person carrying a glass of water walked toward the desk, approaching it from the right, when a dog ran through the room from left to right, first toppling the chair, then bumping the person, which made the glass of water fall out of his/her hands.
Discuss how (and why) the layout of the artifacts varies in each of the representations, providing unique clues to each event. If you are feeling more adventurous, you might try either of these variations:
- Before the activity, prepare secret assignment cards. On each card, print only one scenario but make sure A, B, and C are all represented in the class pile of cards. Randomly distribute the cards to student pairs, who must then sketch or use model artifacts to show the event. Next, each team can examine another team’s scene, making careful observations and beginning to make inferences about what happened to result in the objects’ arrangements. After revealing the three scenarios, challenge students to infer which of the scenarios each student representation seems to match (and why). Discuss the observations and inferences that are related to the spatial relationships among the artifacts, and how they provide clues to a prior event.
- For a more open-ended challenge, ask student pairs interpret other sketches as much as possible, without telling them what the three scenarios are. Support student thinking with questions such as:
- What’s similar/different between the scene you are looking at and the one you just created? Do you think the scenario implied here is the same or different from the scenario that informed the scene you created? Why?
- If different, what details about the event can you infer from the scene? What evidence supports your ideas? What is unexplained?
Looking at the entire set of scenes in the classroom, students might infer how many different scenarios are represented, using evidence to make arguments that support their claims. You might decline to tell students the answer, as archaeologists can never go back to the original witnesses and check their ideas.
As a biography of a groundbreaking field scientist, Anita Silvey’s Untamed, the Wild Life of Jane Goodall covers a lot of territory, including an exciting glimpse into this pioneer’s experiences as a field scientist.
Help students envision a primate scientist’s field work by comparing their own daily routines to their understandings (based on the text) of Jane’s early work in the field. Students might log where they eat, what they have to do to get their food and water, and where and when they sleep. They can break the day down into an hour-by-hour log of activities. For comparison, they can read about Jane’s early field activities on pages 28-33. Pages 71 and 73-77 address some ways that chimpanzee scientists’ field work has changed. They won’t be able to make exact correlations between their days and details about the scientists’ experiences, but they’ll get a flavor of the differences. Ask students to reflect on what aspects of being a field-based primatologist might be most exciting and challenging.
An engaging way to convey the lure of primatologists’ field work is watching videos of primates in their habitats. Show students one or more of these clips (with or without the narration) and discuss their observations (what they see and hear) and inferences (what sense they or the narrator/scientists make of what is observed). You might use some of the ideas in December’s STEM Tuesday In the Classroom installment, which focused on zoology.
- Chimpanzee Tool Use (from The Jane Goodall Institute)
- Learning (from the Jane Goodall Institute)
- Researcher Captures Rare Footage of Wild Baby Gorillas Playing in Rwanda (from the San Diego Zoo)
- Cute Jumping Indri Lemurs (from the BBC)
Individual animals’ “personalities” and their relationships with other group members are important. Field scientists often learn to identify individuals by sight. Your students might enjoy trying to learn the names and details about the chimps pictured on pages 84-87, perhaps by creating flash cards with copies of their pictures on the front.
Journey into Meteorology and the Eye of the Storm
Of course, field studies extend beyond the bounds of biology, as you will see in Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code, by Amy Cherrix. While you might appreciate the extensive teacher’s guide that offers many ideas for discussions and classroom activities, you might want to focus specifically on field work. If so, you might show NASA videos featuring drone missions to hurricanes, such as NASA Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HSE) – Studying Storms with the Global Hawk UAV. You can also sign up to connect your classroom to NASA’s airborne missions. If you do, you will gain access to the same video that NASA scientists see when they run the drone flights, and receive additional support.
As you might imagine, classic field-based weather observations make a great connection to this book. For example:
- Your class might commit to participating in a citizen scientist group of weather watchers, (which may require modest investments in standard equipment), such as the CoCoRaHS Network.
- For independent observing, students might build and use their own weather stations. Build Your Own Weather Station, published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, offers instructions.
- If you prefer, challenge students to engineer their own instruments (based on designs that they research), as described in a free Integrated STEM Lesson Plan by R. Bruno.
The books on this month’s list offer many opportunities to jump into field work. How might you involve your students in actual or simulated field studies? What suggestions do you have to expand upon the ideas in this post? Please share your comments and questions!
STEM author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano is also a STEM education consultant who supports teachers, librarians, schools, and organizations by providing curriculum development and professional development services. Find out about her books at http://carolyndecristofano.com and her consulting at http://bhstemed.us.