Pillbugs and millipedes beckon teachers
Educators roll up their sleeves and learn how to turn science classes
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The inquiry method is becoming increasingly popular with environmental science teachers and that's a good thing for science instruction in this country, says M. Patricia Morse, acting professor of zoology at the University of Washington at Seattle.Skip to next paragraph
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First of all, she says, it teaches students "to understand how scientists do science." But even more importantly, she adds, it allows them to exercise their curiosity. "And that's something kids don't have any problems doing."
The Spider group, however, was quick to agree that the inquiry method had been highly successful in terms of both stimulating interest in the subject and providing a vehicle for learning. They had quickly selected a fairly narrow focus -the structure of webs -and after a period of photographing and observing different webs, in addition to doing some library research, they designed a series of simple experiments.
The first round consisted of dropping buttons of different weights onto webs to see how well they withstood impact. They discovered that web strength varied greatly, with some webs remaining intact even after being bombarded by a 25-gram button, and others tearing at the touch of a 3-gram button.
They discovered through their reading, however, that webs are designed to withstand momentum rather than simply weight, so they modified their experiment and began measuring the height from which they dropped the buttons.
These experiments also allowed the team to fulfill another course requirement, which was to link environmental learning to other parts of the curriculum. In this case they were also able to devise a math lesson in weights and measurement.
Those in the spider group said in the end that they were left with more questions than answers about spiders and their habits, but that they had also acquired an abiding love of the subject, and a desire to research it further.
For Cook, that's the point of the course. "They're now excited about their own learning," he says. "That's what we want them to take back into the classroom."
But for some participants, the hands-on learning method had another benefit as well. "It's collaborative and also rewarding on a personal level," says Willis. She worked on the rot and decay team with Deb Taylor and Rachael Mayles.
The three found close bonds forming. "We call ourselves The Three Moms," says Ms. Taylor. When the lunch break comes and the students head outside to eat, this team of three finds a quiet rock to perch on and share conversation as well as sandwiches.
All three women decided to become elementary school teachers later in life after having children and pursuing other careers. Willis had been a college professor and Taylor a university administrator; and Dr. Mayles was an optometrist.
And as all three are dealing with the challenges of balancing motherhood and a new career, they found they learned as much from one another as they did from the class.
But in addition to the new friendships, Willis says she has also acquired a unique new interest. "Did you know pillbugs have gills?" she asks enthusiastically. "I can't wait to do a study to find out how they're related to sea creatures."
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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society