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GLOBE Teacher Vicky Gorman Uses GLOBE to Foster Authentic Science Learning with Students

The following is a submission around the GLOBE research program led by Vicky Gorman (top center in image below) at Medford Township Public School District. Medford Township is supported by John Moore and the Institute for Earth Observations GLOBE Partnership at Palmyra Cove in Palmyra, New Jersey.

TVicky Gorman and students at a GLOBE SRSo my fellow educators…what is your mantra when creating activities and projects? How do you enrich the lessons in your curriculum? What little nuggets of “special” do you add when planning the year’s activities?

It wasn’t until I started thinking about these questions that my teaching practices truly improved. I hadn’t realized how much I had bought into the “science should be fun” mentality and how that mindset stifled authentic science learning. So, what snapped me out of this fog? The GLOBE Program in 2012!!

Here was a science and education program designed for students to do science as scientists do. While mimicking the work of professionals, students developed critical thinking skills, learned the value of hard work, and became vested in their research. Students felt a responsibility to their fellow junior scientists and the mission. Collaboration was not forced, it was necessary to be successful. 

We began by taking cloud observations. Even the simple task of creating a schedule for which pair was going to observe at what time, taught students a valuable skill. Knowing the data would be put in a global data bank used by scientists and students all over the world added a layer of responsibility that translated to more careful observations and calculations. The added bonus was when we would receive satellite images of the same clouds we had seen from the ground. The comparisons always led to robust class discussions.

We decided to continue with the satellite theme by participating in the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. Students learned how to gather precipitation using a rain gauge. In addition, the many GPM activities had students talking about precipitation at the dining room table. When GPM transitioned to an ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) campaign, we upped our game as well. We adapted our yearly curriculum to focus on a water theme. Every student team developed a research question that had to do with water. I encouraged students to “think outside the box” and not be restricted by their grade level (7th and 8th). Students “cold-called” scientists (using email) who were doing similar research to what the students wanted to do. Every scientist responded. All were helpful. We wanted to tell a story with our projects. We even included another satellite, SMAP. SMAP measures soil moisture. Truth be told, SMAP was an all-time favorite of my students. They loved taking soil moisture measurements and comparing those measurements to that of the satellite. One group picked up where another group had left off and over a combined two-year effort, designed and tested a new protocol for more accurately measuring soil moisture. Feel free to contact me for a description of this protocol.
Vicky's students present their GLOBE work
Students were excited to learn about science posters and public speaking. They wanted to share their knowledge with STEM professionals, their peers, and even community members. We organized and ran several Science Summits for our town, and we participated in County Earth Fair days. GLOBE Student Research Symposia (SRS) were on our agenda. We entered some non-GLOBE contests (NSTA/Toshiba Exploravision, GOES 16/17 Virtual Science Fair, Rutgers University Teen Climate Summit). For students who were unable to attend travel activities, we arranged for them to give a GLOBE webinar on our “water-themed” research. To cap off 2018, excitement reached a feverous pitch when eight students traveled with me to Ireland for the GLOBE Global Learning Expedition. In January 2020, three students traveled to Boston to present at the Centennial Celebration of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). It was the first time middle school students had ever presented at an AMS Annual Meeting. We expanded our GLOBE participation by joining in on the GLOBE Aerosol campaign and the GLOBE Mosquito Campaign.

Everything was going great until the Pandemic! The way our school district conducted remote and hybrid learning, it was difficult to implement GLOBE activities, but we did use the GLOBE app to do some citizen science activities from home. I look forward to the 2022-2023 school year when we will be back to full strength as far as GLOBE is concerned. I can’t wait!

The great thing about GLOBE is you can implement its activities 10% or 110% and reap benefits! However, you still need your special mantra or overarching theme for your teaching. I have three questions I use as a litmus test for a meaningful lesson, project, or research.

  1. Is the journey as important as the destination? Om, om, om…

If we focus too much on the destination, we can convince ourselves that is the only thing that matters. We begin to believe the destination is the only thing that can make us happy. We lose sight of the successes along the way and the fulfillment and joys the journey can bring.

  1. Does the learning extend beyond the classroom walls? Om, om, om…

In great learning, classroom walls do not define the scope of problem selection. Rather students should be inspired to look at their everyday lives and to think about how they could improve them.  On an even broader scale, students want to find, research, and solve real-world problems. 

  1. Do the practices included in the learning reflect the work of professionals? Om, om, om…

The real work of STEM professionals should be the inspiration for all teacher and student learning. Science is as scientists do. Let science drive science education!  

To end, I’d like to briefly address something I said at the beginning which might still have your head spinning. I like fun just as much as the next person. I just don’t plan my lessons around having fun. But, as I’m sure many of you know, when students are doing “authentic” science, they are always having fun!!

News origin: United States of America


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