Science class takes thorough approach to watershed study

Chinook Middle School students put learning about environment to the test

lpemberton@theolympian.comDecember 9, 2013 

Sand, moss, toothpicks and imagination helped transform plastic painting trays into watershed models last week in classrooms across North Thurston Public Schools.

“There are two goals for this: One is they’re learning about ecosystems and the human impact on them,” said Chinook Middle School science teacher Charlie SittingBull. “Also, (they’re learning) what they can do to help.”

The city of Lacey provided supplies and support for the science and engineering unit that was presented at all four North Thurston middle schools.

The unit, which was covered in four 50-minute class periods, included presentations and discussions about watersheds, stormwater runoff, erosion and water pollution, according to Missy Ayres, an AmeriCorps member with the city of Lacey’s Water Resources department. The course ended with the watershed design challenge. SittingBull said the project is a good example of what science classrooms are expected to look like in the future with the “next-generation standards” that integrate engineering with science concepts.

Instead of just reading or discussing information, the engineering component required students to discuss a problem in groups, research ways to solve it, work as a team to create a model, test it, analyze data tables, and later reconstruct the model to try to improve outcomes.

Making mistakes and learning from them was part of the process, SittingBull said.

“We want them to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I failed. What can I do better next time?’” she said. “That’s real life. There’s not an engineer on the planet who sees a problem, creates a model and fixes the problem the first time.”

After the models were built, the students sprinkled water — which acted as rain — over them. The water ran out of the watersheds and through the hole in the bottom of the painting tray into storage bins that Ayres had called “Puget Sound.” Afterward, they recorded the amount of runoff and the level of erosion on a chart.

“It’s pretty fun,” said 13-year-old Samanda Miller, an eighth-grader. “We actually got to make it instead of draw it.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com @Lisa_Pemberton

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