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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Oceans of Science

The school year is starting for some of my colleagues and they are barely ready. I think I will take a lesson from that and get my introductory unit ready to go so I can relax a bit before the kids arrive. I think it may be because it has been so hot that I have selected oceans.

There are lots of science angles for oceans. I will take the chemical path. You may want to dive into the biology or the physics. One of the best sites is called Bridge. I believe it is from the National Marine Educators Association. This site has exceptional data to use for activities and links to hundreds of other sites including NOAA (my other favorite).

I will start my students off with the water cycle. There is a great interactive chart from the USGS. http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycle.html

The students will get a chance to navigate through the chart and pick one location to dig into deeper. I am asking them to write one fact that is true and one that is not and partner up. Their partner will tell which one they think is true and why and which one is false and why. The reasons are the most important part of this activity. To get them to go through the rest of the cycle a bit deeper I have constructed a scavenger hunt. Having the kids dig into this interactive chart from two activities should make sure they get a great refresher on the cycle.

Once we have the water cycle down it will be time to check out the BRIDGE site and check out the Buoy Data center where hundreds of ocean buoys are sending in all sorts of data from temperature to wave height and weather every few minutes. I would love the kids spend some time with this data and decide how it might be useful to scientists. I will locate a NOAA scientist for them to chat with online at least part of the week. The key here is that I want the students to see the ocean as a dynamic system. This may require a little review about what a system might include.

Students are generally good problem and puzzle solvers. Giving them a rich set of data and asking them to look for patterns that have meaning is a pretty good use of their time. Some will graph information and others will see the patterns without a visual tool. I have, in the past, given the kids data I constructed and asked them to graph it in a certain way. This taught them graphing skills but not the analytical thinking that they will need in the world of work. Giving them raw data is powerful and the analysis is less predictable. I have found that the students always find patterns I never saw. This data mining does produce some great leaps in student willingness to deal with activities that are not as defined as cookbook labs.

As the year marches on I will get into the chemistry of ocean water, some thermodynamics dealing with El Nino and La Nina years and perhaps one that covers some of the issues with polar ice. So, while it is hot enough outside to cook an egg we should be inside dealing with the cool ocean breeze.

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