When I returned to East Tennessee from Russia in September, I would get the occasional question from other students and faculty about my research and the reasons why Lake Baikal is such a special place to be doing such research. It’s hard to explain Siberia and the Lake to those who have not experienced its true beauty in person. There’s something absolutely awe-inspiring about those shores, but more importantly, the science that we conduct there could not be done anywhere else in the world. Baikal is such a unique ecosystem that it is completely unlike anything else on the planet.
Now, trying to explain this to my fellow graduate students and faculty was difficult. As I said, unless you have experienced Russia, you’re missing a big piece of the puzzle. But, try bringing that experience and this incredible knowledge into a kindergarten classroom…. Read more about how I bring my research into local classrooms after the jump!
At ETSU, I am a graduate fellow with the National Science Foundation’s GK-12 Science First! grant. As a part of the fellowship, graduate students at ETSU in STEM fields go into classrooms to teach STEM subjects as content specialists. A particularly unique aspect of ETSU’s partnership is that it is with a local elementary school, Northside Elementary School of Math, Science, and Technology. Most GK-12 programs bring science research and curriculum into middle and high schools. I teach science to Preschoolers and Kindergarteners!
Check out this video of my student compost helpers learning to fill the compost barrel. This was during our week-long lesson about composting and decomposition.
At first, it was really hard to tame my “research talk” to a 5-year-old’s level of understanding. (I can barely explain my research to my own mother some days!) But, after some practice, I’m decent at relaying some high level concepts to my little kiddos. One of their favorite lessons last semester was when I brought my research from Baikal into the classroom. We spent a week learning about Lake Baikal, Siberia, and Russia. After the habitat, we moved onto my research, specifically on E. baikalensis. The students were highly interested in drawing their own “water bugs.” Though most of them (to the great delight of Teo and others) thought that diatoms are much prettier, their drawings of their own copepods were very intricate and impressive.
You can access a powerpoint I used in the classroom here. (Keep in mind I teach 4-5 year-olds, so words are to a minimum.) In the future, I intend to use the Baikal system to teach climate change, food webs/chains, and microscopy. I plan to bring some of my (less precious) samples for my students to look at under a microscope. Bringing my research into the classroom has been an incredible experience for me and for my students. It allows me to really get to the bare bones of what I do. I have to break down my language and explain things in a very straightforward way. Outreach also fosters their love of science and helps them wrap their little minds around what I (and other scientists) actually do every day.
Nothing is better than when you get a student that says, “When I grow up, I want to be a GOOD scientist, just like you, Mr. Larry.”
I’ll leave you with a song they learned to sing JUST for me about protecting our planet. You gotta love these #FutureScientists!