MISD E-Connections
This week’s E-Connection demonstrates how teachers work together to incorporate critical thinking, collaboration, communication and problem solving to help students design Science Fair projects.

Scientists in Action – West Mercer students collaborate with high school students on experiment design

One day last week 4th graders in David Baxter’s class at West Mercer Elementary were listening attentively as their teacher read aloud from The Hobbit. Much as they love this book, there was still an air of expectation in the room, whispers and giggles as the students waited. “Ok,” said Mr. Baxter as he closed the book. “You can go see now.” With that, two boys jumped up and raced out the door, looked and said, “They’re coming! They’re right next door!”

“They” were Mercer Island High School students and “right next door” was Mark Headlee’s 4th grade class. These sophomore students from Larry Benjivengo’s Biology class came to help the younger students figure out how to design a good science fair project. Earlier in the day, Jamie Cooke’s biology students visited Chris Cocklin-Ray’s and Sherry Isaac’s class. After a brief “getting to know you” period, the students got to work brainstorming projects. The high school science “buddies” were given the task of encouraging the younger students to refine their questions, dependent variables, and experiments over all. The students worked in small groups to answer questions such as:
  • Are smiles contagious?
  • What kinds of conditions preserve an apple the best?
  • How does age affect reaction time?
  • Which appliances use the least amount of energy?
  • Do you remember more when you write or type?
At the end of the session, most students had identified their variables and formulated a testable hypothesis. For their final project, they will compile a list of all materials needed for their investigations, step-by-step instructions, an explanation of the variables, a diagram of the experiment, pictures and even a video recording. During this entire process, they can write to their science mentor buddies on the classroom blog, asking them questions that may come up during any phase of the experiment. The high school students are already researching information on their buddy's topic that they can send back to them. 

According to Sherry Isaacs, “We wanted to form a partnership with the high school students to help our students focus on the scientific method and how it is incorporated into their Science Fair projects. Jamie Cooke thought that this was a great opportunity for his students to use their knowledge in both the design and formulation process.” 

Both teachers are excited because the project gives students the opportunity to go through the brainstorming and planning process while building a collaborative relationship.  And what do the students think? “I am impressed with how much they already know,” said a high school student about her 4th grade buddies. The 4th graders, in characteristic 4th grade fashion, say, “High school kids are cool and … it’s fun!” 

The younger students are looking forward to seeing their buddies again at the West Mercer Science Fair on March 4, and later this spring at the high school where they will work together investigating cells. “Wait until you see them under the microscope!” said a high school student.
 
students5  
 "We'll see each other later at the WM Science Fair!"
 
Baxter  
Though Mr. Baxter's students enjoyed hearing him read from The Hobbit, they were also eager for the arrival of their science mentor buddies – the high school students!
 
students1
 
students2  
The buddy system: High school students brainstorming with their elementary buddies about science fair projects.
 
students3
 
students4