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About 200 sixth-graders braved the wind for a field trip to Carvins Cove reservoir.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Braving steep terrain and wind, a group of sixth-graders marched down to the water’s edge at Carvins Cove.
The young scientists were on a mission.
They were gathering data to judge the water’s quality and discern whether the water, a reservoir that serves as one of the area’s primary sources of drinking water, was colder than the air or vice versa.
Students carefully placed a probe in the water and tried gingerly to avoid getting wet while the water lapped the shore and the wind made an unseasonably cold day even chillier. They measured the water’s temperature and pH.
After the trek down to the water, student Musa Cisse, 11, explained he was learning about science, more specifically watersheds.
Carvins Cove contains an 11,200-acre watershed that drains into the reservoir.
Cisse’s voice, muffled by his thick coat and hood, said he liked the trip.
“I hang out with my friends and learn stuff,” he said.
The Friday field trip, dreamed up by two Stonewall Jackson Middle School teachers, is an effort to build on problem-based learning that’s already been happening at the school, tie lessons together and make science real.
In the classroom in recent weeks, students have been tasked to help the Western Virginia Water Authority with a fictional project: building a new reservoir in southeast Roanoke over the old Buzzard Rock Native American Settlement. Through the project they’ve learned about water properties, water quality and the environment.
Friday’s real-life trip to the authority’s reservoir tied it all together.
While the school has taken trips to Carvins Cove in the past, this year’s visit was more elaborate. More students went, about 200 — the school’s entire sixth grade — and there were more stations for students to visit, putting their scientific skills to the test.
Not far from the students testing water quality and temperature, another group was passing around small jars of pickled bugs. Students were drawn to the critters. Wide-eyed they carefully peered inside the different jars.
“They’re cool,” said Octavius Sales, 11. “When the bugs are in the larval stage they’re big.”
He said that surprised him because he thought they would be smaller.
Sales said he liked Friday’s trip, though he noted it was “a long drive.” The reservoir is about 20 minutes from downtown Roanoke.
“I guess you could say I get to learn about nature and stuff,” he said.
That’s the idea. Students learn about science and their own environment.
“The neat thing about this is it puts it in context,” said teacher Claire Guzinski.
Guzinski, a second-year teacher, and Kevin Agee, a veteran educator, crafted the field trip, which was facilitated through their work with VISTA, or the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement.
VISTA is a partnership among the Virginia Department of Education, more than 60 school systems and six Virginia universities, including Virginia Tech. Launched in 2010, it’s funded by a five-year, $34 million federal grant.
The idea is to help teachers make science lessons hands-on and question-based so students, and their curiosity, drive learning. Through professional development that’s part of the program, teachers like Guzinski and Agee have learned the best research-based science teaching practices. They also get support from VISTA through grant funds and a coach.
“When you think of water, to sixth-graders, they just think about what comes out of a water fountain,” Agee said, explaining this trip makes it more understandable to them.
Both Agee and Guzinski said this approach is more labor-intensive, especially when it comes to creating and setting up lessons, but VISTA and support from the administration have been key.
“It’s going to take a lot of convincing,” Guzinski said for educators to essentially change their teaching approach. “It’s a big jump.”
But Agee said it’s a change teachers have to make.
“It’s no longer rote memorization,” he said. “It’s a different world.”
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