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Stillaguamish Valley School experiments with hands-on approach to

Top right: Stillaguamish Valley School ninth-grader Amanda Gegner checks which way, and how high, the wind is blowing her flag to determine the wind speed and direction for that day at one of the ecosystems at the schools campus. -
Top right: Stillaguamish Valley School ninth-grader Amanda Gegner checks which way, and how high, the wind is blowing her flag to determine the wind speed and direction for that day at one of the ecosystems at the schools campus.
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ARLINGTON When Verlaine Meyers ninth- through 12th-grade science students meet once a week in their classroom at the Stillaguamish Valley School, the notes they take at their desks are a primer for the lessons theyll learn that day.
The Stillaguamish Valley School is experimenting with a more project-based curriculum in its science classes, such those taught by Meyers, to engage students who might find such a hands-on approach to be better suited to their sensibilities.
We want them to learn why science is important and how they can use it in their lives, Meyers said. Life is where science and society interact.
In Meyers classes, each student has been charged with adopting their own ecosystem, similar to the forested areas that they study and interact with under her instruction at the school so that they can apply their lessons, addressing the fundamentals of subjects ranging from topography to meteorology to the real world.
Meyers sees her classes curricula as consisting of the components of systems, inquiry and application. While systems covers definitions, properties and characteristics, inquiry involves students investigating behavior and determining methods of how they can examine phenomena further, just as application requires them to hypothesize connections, between the data they gather and the world in which they live.
They start by making measurements and reporting those in, then they conduct experiments by introducing non-native species into their environments, Meyers said. Through interviews with forest rangers and other experts on the local environment, they can theorize how that wildlife might be affected by factors ranging from the economy to global warming. Science is not just text, nor is it isolated from life.
While indoors, Meyers advises her students on what they should be looking for while outdoors, from larger rocks that could serve as evidence of glaciers having existed in their areas, to the types of research that they should perform, both online and in person with local residents and ecological experts, to map water sources.
By employing simple tools such as sticks and planks of wood, strips of cloth, jars of water and rulers, Meyers has helped her students conduct their own measurements of the slopes of their terrain, as well as the speeds and directions of the wind within their areas, while planting vegetation and taking samples of microorganisms.
Before her students head out to test the techniques theyll later be using to inventory their own ecosystems outside of school, Meyers surprises them by illustrating how the true health of an ecosystem might not be as readily apparent as theyd assume. By comparing colonies of bacteria extracted from immature, moderate and mature growth forests, Meyers notes that the bacteria from the moderate growth forest is more diverse.
Because its bigger, the mature growth forest might seem healthier, but diversity is a better measure of health, Meyers said. Its actually the abundance of species that matters more and in the moderate growth forest, no one species has taken over yet.
Since Meyers directs her students to inventory their own ecosystems no less than two times a week, and ideally four or five times weekly, theyll have plenty of opportunities to record average temperatures and weather conditions as well as check for both biological and non-biological, or abiotic, factors which could influence wildlife, such as trees bending a certain direction as they grow in response to the prevailing wind direction in a given area.
Stillaguamish Valley School Principal Ed Aylesworth believes that project-based science classes could afford students a better balance between the more traditional style of instruction, and an emphasis on practical applications that could be more appealing to them.
We cant have them out and about all the time, but if most kids are hands-on learners, then why should be always have them sitting down at their desks? Aylesworth said.

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