In 1999-2000, I was a member of the Science Squad funded by the Biological Sciences Intiative at the University of Colorado at Boulder. This program offers workshops free of charge to public schools in the Boulder and Denver school districts. The goal of the program is to increase the number of students interested in careers in biological and earth sciences, to strengthen their science education, and especially to encourage minority and women students entering the sciences.
I worked with Dr. Hillary Hamann, a very talented professor who now teaches at Colorado College, to develop interactive, educational workshops addressing four topics in Physical Geography:
1. Air photograph interpretation and human environmental change
2. Tree-rings and forest biogeography
3. Soils and environmental gradients
4. Climatic impacts of El Niño
Each workshop actively involves the students, while teaching basic principals and methods of geographic research and applying research to “real life”.
In the first workshop, data are collected from pairs of air photographs, from which the students calculate land use changes and interpret the impacts on human communities and wildlife habitat.
The second and third workshops are examples of inquiry-based learning. In the tree-ring workshop, students learn basic dendrochronological skills that they apply to analyse tree cross-sections to determine tree ages, growth rates and dates of fire scars. The map their data and use multiple lines of evidence to deduce the timing and spatial distribution of a past forest fire. In the soils workshop, students examine the characteristics of soil samples using colorimetric chemistry tests, color charts and grain-size analysis. Their results are used to deduce the origin of the soil: the alpine tundra, montane forest, or grasslands.
The fourth workshop is a simulation of an El Niño event using a 400 square foot map of the Pacific Rim. Students role-play various components of the ocean-atmosphere system then interpret the weather and impacts of El Niño during “World News Reports”.
There are multiple versions of each workshop, designed for elementary-, middle- and high-school students. If you would like copies of these workshop materials, contact Dr. Lori Daniels (firstname.lastname@example.org).