Citizen Science Design: Broadly Focused Mercury Study
Teachers expressed interest in increased opportunities to involve students in inquiry
Also expressed interest in direct connections with working scientists
Our desire to encourage more thinking about systems and interrelationships rather than disconnected chunks of scientific knowledge
Given support in the form of PD focused on the process of inquiry, coupled with technical support WRT a particular problem focus (Hg in the environment), teachers would incorporate more project-oriented investigations in their teaching
Direct connection to a working scientist would matter in terms of teacher confidence and student response
Teachers would participate in an Web-based community of practice to share experiences, concerns, and so on
Successful use of field based inquiry by some teachers would encourage other teachers to adopt similar practices
Participation by high school (primarily grade 9 and 10) teachers from a number of Maine communities.
Summer workshop that involved teachers in a multi-day inquiry including formulation of their own questions, research design, data collection, analysis, and presentation of findings
General focus during the school year on mercury in the environment
Participation from a scientist (Dr. Sarah Nelson) who liked working with students
No strong focus on a particular research question … instead, focus on students and teachers developing their own questions
Collection of samples that would be analyzed for total mercury content (THg).
Substantial investment in preparing support materials
Investment in Web-based community for information sharing among teachers and between the scientist and the students.
Culminating poster presentations by students.
What We Learned
The scientist’s participation was viewed as valuable, even essential, by teachers and students
The project was very time consuming for the scientist
Students and teachers had a lot of difficulty formulating good questions
There was little evidence that the work we did with teachers transformed colleagues’ practice
But, for a small number of teachers, the experience was transformative
Most teachers did not much use the Web-based community, but liked getting together in person
Most teachers made minimal use of the support materials
The students had almost NO idea of how to work with data. They produced graphs that were unrelated to their question — as if the graph was an end itself that had no further purpose. More troubling: most of the teachers did not have a perspective that caused them to see this as a problem, and when the problem was pointed out, did not have pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) and, in some cases, content knowledge(CK) that they could use to address it.
The posters were more successful than PowerPoint as a way for students to share what they learned and to provide evidence of learning
Evidence of surprisingly high mercury levels in biota in some ponds and streams.