LEWISTON — During the past two months, science for students at St. Peter School has been focused on real research with real world ideas, working in two different areas of the living environment. Recently, students from grades four, five and six and their teachers were given an opportunity to work with volunteers from Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve in Cheektowaga on a project involving the Buffalo River.
For many years, there were concerns that the Buffalo River was contaminated, but with combined efforts from many agencies, the river seems to be experiencing resurgence. In late spring, teachers received training at Reinstein Woods with regard to aspects of the proposed Buffalo River research.
Participants learned the correct techniques for testing water qualities such as turbidity, water temperature, depth, identification of organisms present, dissolved oxygen, pH and observational conditions of the site. These techniques were shared with students when they arrived for the school year.
For the project, bus transportation was provided through Reinstein Woods as a result of a successful grant submitted by fourth-grade teacher Brittanie Philips and fifth-grade teacher Denise Carlson. Twelve classrooms from across Western New York were each assigned a specific site for their unique group.
St. Peter's fourth-graders tested water at the base of Ohio Street, while fifth- and sixth-graders went to the end of the river in the Buffalo Harbor. They tested water temperature, turbidity, depth, types of organisms present, dissolved oxygen content and pH, and also recorded conditions surrounding water at that site. This included types of vegetation present, wind speed, wind direction, condition of the ground under the water and along the shore, air temperature, weather conditions, and types of surrounding buildings.
The collected data was then compiled in a document that was shared via the internet so that all schools could compare data with that of other sites, and scientists could have access to this data to give them a picture of conditions along the river.
The question being investigated in this activity was, "Is the Buffalo River regaining its environmental health?"
In another activity, the fifth-grade class worked with the first-grade class to conduct scientific research on pumpkins to see if they all float. Students made predictions relating to size and weight and hypothesized with experiential knowledge. Then, they made actual measurements on the pumpkins, even counting seeds in each of their pumpkins to see if size determined the quantity of seeds. An analysis of their hypothesis was made through student-constructed charts and graphs to determine if measurements supported their ideas.
Besides science content, this activity gave the fifth-grade students an opportunity to show leadership while mentoring the younger students. The younger students were able to work more easily on scientific skills needed for successful research.
Both of these action research components positively related to the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, concept of teaching and learning. Students worked collaboratively in groups, used technology, brainstormed methods of research before implementation and developed math skills connected to the project. During this project, student scientists were able to conduct real-action research.