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Texas Students Spin GLOBE to Australia and Back
In the spring of 2017, The GLOBE Program, an international science and education program sponsored by NASA, and supported by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Department of State (DoS), held six regional Student Research Symposia (SRS) where GLOBE data-collection protocols were used.
In this series of feature stories, we are able to see some of the teacher/student teams who were present at these symposia.
"My teachers would laugh if they knew I teach science now."
That’s Ben Moran, a science teacher in grades three through nine at The University of Texas at Tyler (UT Tyler) Innovation Academy in Texas, talking about his high school days. “I was a pretty lousy student. I did not like science classes in high school. It was a very traditional approach. I remember in seventh and eighth grade, the teacher would put notes on an overhead projector, and we copied the notes. That was the daily experience. Not a lot of hands-on stuff.”
Ben’s come a long way from those pedantic high school days to the Innovation Academy, a charter school with a STEM-based curriculum. “My philosophy is very constructivist. I only use inquiry approaches and problem-based learning.” And The GLOBE Program is a core element of his teaching.
“GLOBE is a really good fit, a model for our school, with real world experiences, global connections, and opportunities to collaborate with professionals,” Ben said. “In biology we have a large ecology section, almost a quarter of the year on the interdependence of organisms in ecosystems, and we have a city lake less than a quarter of a mile from here. We walk on a dirt road from the building to the lake a couple of times a week, and collect data using the GLOBE protocols in hydrology.”
GLOBE provides the Innovation Academy with the “best option we’ve had” to go outside and collect data. Ben said, “It gives us a real-world reason to get out from time to time, hand recording at the lake, then logging on to the NASA website when we get back.”
The Trip North
Last spring, Ben took nine of his students to the GLOBE SRS in Denver, Colorado, to present their research projects. “They developed their own questions, something they struggle with in ninth grade…good, testable questions and a valid hypothesis.”
The trip to Colorado was full of new experiences for many of Ben’s students. “More than half of them had never been out of Texas before,” he said. The symposium was at Metropolitan State University of Denver, so the students got to stay in college dorms. On the way, they stopped to visit Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico.
For students Ella and Hannah, their project connected them with the other side of the world. The GLOBE experience, said Ella, was “not what I expected. It was really awesome. I thought it would be competitive, but it was more than that. My partner Hannah and I did a presentation about turtles.” They compared the water quality in their lake to the quality of the Mary River in Queensland, Australia, using data from students there to answer the question whether turtles would thrive better in Texas or Australia. “We discovered they would thrive better there,” Ella said.
One interesting observation Ella made at the Denver SRS was, “We have our own little bubble where we live. We saw data from all different places. We have our perspective here, others have their own perspectives.” That might, in part, explain the career path Ella has in mind: Journalism. “I’m thinking about some different things. It will be about research, whether it’s science or not,” she said.
A Lifeline to the University of Texas
Most GLOBE teachers are paired with a university partner who provides coaching, resources, and a link to The GLOBE Program in the United States,the University of New Hampshire Leitzel Center, and in Ben Moran’s case, that link is particularly strong. Mike Odell at the University of Texas actually created the charter school where Ben teaches. Mike oversees The GLOBE Program for dozens of schools in Texas, and gets in to see every GLOBE teacher once a month.
“Ben is a fabulous, masterful science teacher,” said Mike. “He really engages those kids.”
With funds from the NSF, Mike provided additional resources for Ben’s team to travel from Texas to Denver -- and hooked him up with experts on the UT Tyler campus. “Ben,” he said, “is a veteran. He knows how to navigate the university pretty well.”
Mike and others from UT Tyler helped Ben’s teams by critiquing their presentations, asking if they have thought of this angle, or that angle. “When the kids presented, they had to answer hard questions. It was a valid experience. There were a lot of Metropolitan State-type people who asked hard questions that the kids weren’t expecting. They had to look at their data and examine what they had learned. They were treated a lot like they were in college.”’
Keeping GLOBE Spinning
Texas teachers interested in learning more about GLOBE might look first to Mike Odell or Teresa Kennedy -- and at UT Tyler, which serves as the GLOBE nexus statewide. Both teach college-level STEM courses, while Mike leads a large research institute and holds the Roosth Chair in Education and Teresa teaches a number of bilingual, ESL, and science education courses.
For GLOBE teachers throughout Texas, Mike and Teresa provide trainings and workshops; science equipment and GLOBE protocols; support in writing grant proposals at the school level; one-to-one teacher coaching; and assistance in making connections throughout the Texas science community. Ben Moran has one connection in his backyard, with a NASA facility in the city of Palestine that launches football-field size, high-altitude weather balloons -- a ready-made science trip.
Part of Mike’s guidance can be political as well, like how to walk softly in conservative settings about hot potato words like “the 'E' words, evolution and environment; and the 'C' words, climate and change,” said Mike, even though many of the students’ projects are explicitly about these relevant, demanding, immediate science topics.
Ben’s advice to teachers wondering if they should engage with GLOBE: “Don’t wait! Any teacher looking to add a real-world element with authenticity and generate excitement and enthusiasm for the subject should just jump in.”
“The one thing that GLOBE is doing to help me grow as a teacher is the opportunity for that global awareness for my students. That’s huge. It’s a really difficult thing to incorporate into the curriculum,” said Ben.
GLOBE will continue to be part of Ben's future, and the future of his students. "We'll be back next year. We're going to follow the soil and hydrology protocols; they fit nicely with our curriculum. And we've been talking about different activities. GLOBE is going to be a part of our culture. "
-C. Ralph Adler
The GLOBE Program is gearing up for its 2018 Science Research Symposia, funded by NASA Grant No. 80NSC18K0135. For information on dates, locations, and registration procedures, visit the SRS webpage .
The 2017 Regional Science Symposium was funded by NSF Grant No. 1546713. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.
News origin: United States of America