Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Misunderstood directions, lost worms and science

April 16 – We are into Week 2 of the Eco-Footprint Challenge, and our biggest concern is the whereabouts of an important composting creature that leaves no footprints because it has no feet!

Yes, the munching worms needed for Whitewater Academy's vermiculture composting center are lost!
Veteran teacher Renee Golz has handled this setback like the pro she is.
"Oh man!  I am SOOOOOO bummed!  First they were ordered and then delayed and then delayed and then delayed again.  YIKES!"
In other words, she's cool.
Over at Mountain Island Academy, Mary Smith is learning (do we ever really learn this?) that communication is not what you think you said, but what THEY think they heard.
In this case, the communication involved instructions on how to collect data for the school's project to reduce the amount of disposable plastic kids toss out each day with their lunches.
Science experiments require collecting data - the right data.
"Well this is quite a learning process for our students, to say the least!" Mary emailed me on Monday.
"The students were asked to record data from 5 separate garbage cans during lunch last week.  They were asked to record the amount of plastic and non-plastic waste items in each receptacle, so they could then determine the overall average percentage of plastic waste in the samples."
And what really happened, Mary?
"What REALLY happened was that the students counted all of the plastic and all of the non-plastic items and recorded that: 24 plastic items; 106 non-plastic items; 130 waste items in all.
"They did NOT separate the data by each trash can.
"Moving forward (as this is such a great learning experience!), they will be recording the numbers by trash cans, and then averaging the results."
Personally, I think worms on the run and data down the drain are great lessons about what science really is all about.
Think about this: The discovery of penicillin happened because someone left a lab window open one night and some stuff blew in and landed in a petri dish and ruined Alexander Fleming’s experiment - except that Fleming realized that whatever that thing was might be important, too.
I'm sure I have this quote a little off, but basically the story goes that Edison was asked by a newspaper reporter what he had learned after failing 40 times in his efforts to create the first electric light bulb.
Edison supposedly replied, "I haven't failed; I have discovered 40 ways not to make light bulbs."
So life and science go on, even when our best plans fall apart. I hear the worms have been sighted crawling toward the front door of Whitewater Academy and could be there today or Wednesday.
And I suspect that the students at Mountain Island Charter School have a clearer understanding now of what data they need to collect.
Science IS a challenge. But it’s one worth taking. Right Mary and Renee?
– Rich Haag, Catawba River District

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