Earlier this fall, two grade three classes at Pleasant View Elementary School in Providence took on a significant challenge.
Six animals living in a local zoo were about to be returned to the wild, and it was up to the students to determine where each animal should go. During the fall, they should figure out where on Earth to find the appropriate climate and weather conditions for each creature. Along the way – and with the help of Earth Science students at Brown University – elementary school students discovered some of the drivers of Earth’s climate system and learned a bit about how scientists work. take to answer critical questions.
The challenge was part of DEEPS STEP – the science education program of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences – at Brown. As part of the program, Brown students and post-docs develop lesson plans that meet next-generation science standards. Then they head to classrooms in the Providence Public School District, providing materials and co-teaching hour-long lessons once a week alongside elementary teachers.
The animals the students helped move are hypothetical, of course. But the learning outcomes are not.
“The DEEPS team has worked a lot on the program, and it’s really something special,” said Seth Bower, third grade teacher at Pleasant View. “The aim has been to enable students to engage in the scientific process, that is, to ‘do’ science rather than learning a set of facts about a scientific subject. This approach is really what science education should be if we are to nurture the next generation of scientists and engineers.
The roots of DEEPS STEP go back about 15 years, to a grant from the National Science Foundation co-led by DEEPS professor Tim Herbert. With support from the grant, Brown’s graduate students developed science lesson plans for elementary schools and then helped teach those lessons at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School – where the university is working with educators on a separate project to transform an empty classroom into a practical, interactive space for students to explore science, technology, engineering, arts and math – and other local schools.
In 2016, Olga Prilipko Huber, Research Associate and Outreach Coordinator for DEEPS, worked with a new cohort of graduate students to revamp the program. Speaking with elementary teachers in Providence, Huber discovered that there was an interest in developing lessons aligned with the next-generation science standards, which Rhode Island had adopted in 2013. She also wanted to expand the curriculum in some way. something that schools could support on their own. .
“The idea was that for the first year, we would develop lesson plans, provide materials and have DEEPS volunteer students lead the classroom lesson once a week,” Huber said. “The following year, primary school teachers lead the lesson with the help of DEEPS volunteers. From the third year, the teachers saw it; they did it ; and now they can teach it independently with us to provide the material.
So far, the DEEPS STEP team has worked with teachers from three PPSD elementary schools: Pleasant View, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and Vartan Gregorian. Approximately 30 Brown volunteers work with DEEPS STEP in any given year, including faculty and staff as well as undergraduate and graduate students and post-docs.
DEEPS STEP lessons are placed in the context of things young students love – zoo animals, pirate journeys around the world, or butterfly migrations – with an emphasis on hands-on activities. Students learn about the Earth’s water cycle, wind patterns and climatic zones.
Bower, a 2013 graduate of Brown’s Masters of Arts in Teaching program and has taught at Pleasant View since, said the students were particularly excited about an activity in which they built an anemometer – a device for measuring wind from of Dixie cups, cardboard, pencil and thumbtack.
“Having the opportunities to dive in and try to physically create something or solve a problem rather than just reading about it or watching a video has been really engaging,” Bower said.
During a lesson one morning in late November in Pleasant View, students explored why it is warmer at the Earth’s equator than it is nearer the poles. The third graders split into small groups, each equipped with an inflatable Earth and a small flashlight. The students first shone the light on the equator and traced the circle of light with a marker. Then the students raised the flashlight so that the beam reached the North Pole and traced this circle of light.
They quickly saw that due to the curvature of the Earth, the circle of light at the pole was larger than at the equator, even though they held the flashlight the same distance. Sloane Garelick, a Doctor Brown candidate in geology and earth sciences who volunteered with STEP, helped a group of students understand the ramifications of what the experiment showed.
“So is the light more concentrated at the equator or at the pole?” Garelick asked a group of students.
“Ecuador!” a student answered.
“So, does that make it hotter or colder at the equator?” “
” Hotter ! The group shouted.
Garelick, a fifth-year doctoral student, has worked with DEEPS STEP since arriving at Brown. She says she has always enjoyed working with children, so she jumped at the opportunity to be able to share her passion for science with young students.
“It’s not just something I’m interested in, but also something that could be really important,” Garelick said. “If we can make an impact on these students and their science education, I want to do what I can to help them. “
Bower says he’s glad subject matter experts like Garelick are visiting his classroom.
“DEEPS students have brought invaluable insight and experience to our class,” he said. “The rotating cast has always been delighted to work with us – happy to share their experiences, knowledge and background – and a great connection to the wider world of science for my students. “
For the University, the program is part of a wide variety of initiatives through which students, faculty and staff in the Brown community engage with PPSD schools through teaching, tutoring, after-school enrichment and more.
For the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, STEP is part of a larger commitment to promote scientific literacy, says Jim Russell, chair of the department. This year DEEPS is piloting a new education awareness program at Providence’s Hope High School called CORES – Career Opportunities and Earth Science Research – which introduces high school students interested in science to career paths they may not know.
“DEEPS STEP educates the students of Providence about the changing world we live in, providing them with the tools they will one day need to make informed decisions about the environment, health and many other issues facing society.” confronted, ”he said. “It is important to note that the program seeks to create a sustainable program through partnerships with teachers and students. “
The organizers hope to continue to develop the program in the years to come, and they have started recruiting new science-minded volunteers outside DEEPS to help them.
Bower says any expansion of DEEPS STEP should be welcomed by local educators.
“This program or something like that should be extended to as many classrooms as possible,” he said.