Up in the Air

This past Thursday, we started our Get Real! Science Summer Science TEAM – a one-week summer camp we run with the teachers at Sodus Jr.-Sr. High School. On Thursday, the students spent most of the day learning about each team and getting sorted into their team for the week. Today we got the chance to dig in and start our investigation.

Today, we spent a lot of time learning about aerial photography. We wanted to attach a GoPro camera to a bunch of helium balloons and take a video of a waterway from the air! The students had a blast designing and building the housing to protect their cameras and attach them to the balloons.

It turns out that our biggest balloon was quickly deflating, so we weren’t able to get our cameras as high as we’d hoped! Still, we learned a lot about what factors you need to consider when building an aerial camera rig – how will you keep the camera steady? How will you keep the camera safe? How heavy can the rig be and still fly? How do you design a rig that you can easily get a camera in and out of (no, you can’t just duct tape the camera to the balloons!)?

My biggest struggle at camp so far has been adapting to change. We have been planning this camp for months, and yet we still end up having to make major changes just days before an investigation we have planned! On the drive home from Sodus today, the Ex-stream Team discussed changing our schedule to fit most of our outdoor investigations in tomorrow in case it rains on Wednesday. As I write this, it has just started to rain outside my window, and the forecasted thunderstorms in Sodus for tomorrow have moved up a few hours to coincide with camp. So a new last-minute plan is born! We now have two plans, one for if the thunderstorm holds off, and one (much less intensively planned) for if it doesn’t. We really won’t know which plan to use until hour(s) before camp tomorrow, when we see what the weather has brought us. Until then… it’s still up in the air.

Refocusing

Well! Summer A semester just came to a close a few days ago, and tomorrow is the beginning of Summer B semester! I’m excited for the classes I’m going to be taking starting tomorrow and everything new I’m going to learn. But it’s a bit bittersweet, because my Summer A classes were fantastic.

Take our GRS class, Integrating Science and Literacy, that just ended last Thursday. For our final class of the semester, we met at the Sodus High School for a round of Collaborative Conversations. We talked about some of the issues we were grappling with related to our plans for our upcoming summer camp in Sodus. We got to hear from a bunch of members of the community, such as teachers, family, and friends. Every single person I talked to had something to say that I found valuable for our camp planning (Less than three weeks till camp!) Not only was the information everyone shared useful, but hearing what aspects of camp/teaching were the most important to the different participants shifted my whole perspective. I was getting really bogged down in one particular aspect of our plans for the Exstream Team over the past couple of weeks, which is a tendency I have – focusing on the details of something and losing the big picture. I feel like I can see the big picture again, and it’s given me more energy and ideas for camp than ever!

Looking at the big picture

What Is The Scientific Method?

The scientific method. I don’t think a single student has been able to get through all of school without hearing about the scientific method. Do you remember the list of steps you memorized? This version is the one I was most familiar with when I was younger:

And while this structure can be helpful at times, especially if the concept of a scientific method is totally new to you, it is not really an accurate representation of how science is done!

As the University of California, Berkeley, states:

“The simplified, linear scientific method implies that:

  1. Scientific studies follow an unvarying, linear recipe.
  2. Science is done by individual scientists working through these steps in isolation.
  3. Science has little room for creativity.”

Through my own experiences in science, I have not found a single one of these implications to be true! Science definitely doesn’t take a linear path, and requires a lot of creativity and collaboration. If you don’t take my word for it, here’s what Dr. Ellen Matson of the University of Rochester had to say:

“I think that being flexible and creative is the way to be a great scientist.”

I recently got the opportunity to sit down with Ellen and hear about the research her team is doing in synthesizing metal-oxide clusters to use in redox flow batteries. These batteries are designed to store energy from intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar energy so that when the sun isn’t shining, or the wind isn’t blowing, they can use renewable energy that has been stored in the redox flow batteries. I created this comic strip about their research!

 

 

Throughout our talk, Ellen was constantly acknowledging the collaboration necessary to do her work as a scientist. Some of her collaborators included her graduate students, a collaborating scientist in Buffalo who had expertise necessary for the project, and a friend who gave them the suggestion that their metal-oxide clusters would work well in a redox flow battery. This is much different than the conception of scientists as working in isolation without any contact with other humans! It’s clear that the old idea of the scientific method isn’t cutting it.

So I started looking at other representations of the scientific method that might be able to explain what was going on a bit better.

 

This representation of the scientific method is nice for a couple of reasons. First, science is shown as a cycle rather than a linear process. You go through as many iterations of the process as you need to. Your results always lead to new questions and ideas for tests. Second, the mini-loop of developing testable predictions, gathering data to test predictions, and refining, altering, expanding, or rejecting hypotheses better represents how your experiment may go wrong, or may lead you in a different direction than you planned, or help you create even more predictions.

 

 

This representation of the scientific method comes from the University of California, Berkeley’s Understanding Science. If you follow the link to their page, you can navigate around this interactive diagram. In this concept of the scientific method, you may find yourself traveling in any direction at any time! The path your science will take can not be predetermined. Like the last representation, Understanding Science also highlights the cyclical, iterative process of science. This is my favorite way of thinking about the scientific method that I have found.

As you can see, the scientific method is both more complex and more human than the first representation we saw may lead us to assume! I hope this helped you to see a more complete picture of what it means to “do science!”

 

(For some more information about Ellen’s research: Matson Lab / UofR Newscenter / Chemical Science

Storying Our Science

This week, I got a chance to reflect on the research the Exstream Team has started to do in Sodus. We got the opportunity to hear other scientists’ ideas about our project, create a video about the research process, and plan to present about the science we’re doing to some students in Sodus next week! As we did this, I started to think about the different ways that science can be told as a story.

One way we have started to tell the story of our science is through the creation of a “Blockumentary” about the local “block” we investigated in Sodus, NY. As the Exstream Team, we were looking into how land use affects the quality of different waterways around Sodus. We investigated areas near the school, an orchard, residential areas, and more secluded woody areas. In our upcoming summer camp, we are going to do more research into Sodus water – with some students who actually live in Sodus! These students will know the area much better than we do and I am excited to see what else the students can learn about their town’s water.

But in order to do this, we first have to tell our prospective students about the work we have done so far and pique their interest enough to join the Exstream Team. In order to do this, we have created this Blockumentary:

Investigating the Water of Sodus

Creating this video required us to shift our perspective from scientists and educators to storytellers. Instead of thinking about our investigation in terms of an introduction, purpose, data, and results, we had to think in terms of the chronological plot of the path our science took.

Although this is not a perspective I have worked from before, I can now see the great value storytelling has in order to get people excited about science. I am hoping to incorporate this method of sharing science into my life more in the future!

What a Mess

This week, the Exstream! Team (Ellie, Kristi, and I) explored some of the water around Sodus as part of our investigation into water health. We started out with a plan, a protocol, and lots of maps. However, we quickly found ourselves having to improvise. It all started when we went to visit Salmon Creek. We found the creek on our map and drove to where the creek intersected the road… However, we found that the creek was inaccessible at that location!

Our map of Sodus streams (including our inaccessible starting point)

We kept driving until we found a spot where we could access the creek. We were able to get down to the creek, even though along the way we encountered some mud. And some mosquitoes. Aaaaand some plants that we had to fight our way through. (Sorry Ellie, I already forgot what those really annoying tall plants are called!)

When we reached the water’s edge, we ran into our next problem. We had brought waders with us so we could go into the water to investigate, but quickly realized that we had three right feet and only one left foot! With only one complete pair of waders, Ellie alone made her way towards the water. For like, three steps. At that point, the mud had completely dragged her feet under and she was immobilized. Ellie eventually did get unstuck (although we lost our sole left wader in the process) and her, Kristi, and I made our way back to the road to check out more locations.

Searching for macroinvertebrates

 

By the end of the day, we were all very muddy

We ended up checking out the water at a bunch of different location along Salmon Creek, a pond, and the water drainage ditch at the Sodus Jr./Sr. High School. We also met some macroinvertebrate friends along the way! We collected a few water samples to perform tests on later, but didn’t end the day with any spectacular results to show for our effort. So what did we learn?

What we saw in action was the reality that science is messy.

The messy process of science

On paper, science seems very organized and straightforward. Usually, we get to see the polished products of science – results. When we craft our own investigation from start to finish, however, we start to see the mess involved in doing real science. Getting comfortable with the uncomfortableness has been my goal this week, and the lovely Exstream! Team made doing so super fun.

Setting Goals

I have just finished my first week in Get Real! Science and I am exhausted. I’ve got to say it, guys. I’ve always worked my hardest and pushed myself academically in school, so I am used to a certain kind of exhaustion – falling asleep studying, stumbling home from the library at 3 am, getting up with the sun to set up the lab exhaustion. But as I am quickly learning, science education demands both the mental energy we are accustomed to as scientists and the emotional and social energy involved in collaborating with a team of science educators, grappling with the political and social issues facing schools and science today, and striving to improve a profession we are only just beginning to understand. I’m just glad I have the rest of our Get Real! Science cohort to learn with and from on this journey. (Check out their blogs too!)

 

I’m excited to start my teaching blog, and I want to start by setting some goals for myself and my blog:

  • To use this space to explore and express my opinions and guiding questions for my teaching practice. Too often in person I feel like my voice is lost among the many others around me, so in my personal blog I want to push myself to express myself more completely.
  • At the same time, to create a space that is open to collaboration with others. I hope to be able to engage in dialogue and form a sense of community with everyone reading and commenting on my blog!
  • To understand the ways the blogging platform can be used in the language of science. I hope to improve my posts over time and use the mode of blogging to make science accessible and explainable.

I set these goals for myself because they are not too straightforward and will give me a lot to work on. Just bear with me while I get better at blogging!

– Madeleine

Some of the beautiful trees on the UofR campus