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|Engaging young scientists|
|Written by Gillian Smith|
|Wednesday, 20 November 2013 10:17|
Ten students stand in a straight line, one behind the other, and place their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. Someone shoves from the back of the line and they all go falling forward until the person at the front yells, “Stop!”
This is not recess or gym class; in fact it’s a sixth grade science class at Duxbury Middle School, where students are learning the impacts of earthquakes and how seismic waves move. Helping to engage them is a seismograph of their own, which sits in the corner of the classroom, tracking seismic activity in Duxbury and around the world.
The seismograph is the result of research conducted by Kerstin Adami-Barrett, a DMS teacher who is on leave this year. When looking for projects and activities to spice up her science classes, she came across a program hosted by Boston College, the Boston College Educational Seismology Project, through which a school could buy a seismograph and have a seismologist come in to teach the students about seismology and earthquakes. Adami-Barrett and Aimee Casale, sixth grade science teacher, applied for and were awarded a one-time grant from the Duxbury Education Foundation to purchase the seismograph and instruction from Stacy Moulis, a seismologist from Boston College.
The project is run out of the Weston Observatory, a research laboratory at the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Boston College, in partnership with the Boston College Lynch School of Education. The program utilizes an EQ1 educational seismograph, which is a vertical seismometer that can be set on a stable surface and detects seismic activity, transmitting the information into a computer program. In Duxbury, the seismic activity shown on the computer program has been unusual, due mostly to the amount of construction occurring at the new school.
Last week, Gillian Victor’s sixth grade science class was visited by Moulis and students were taught the differences be- tween P-waves, S-waves and surface waves that are emitted from an earthquake. Moulis will visit three sixth grade classrooms once a week for four months. Because of the rotating academic schedule, Moulis will see each sixth grade class at least once or twice over the course of the four months.
While Moulis is unable to make it to all of the classrooms, she gives her files and materials to the sixth grade teachers so they can give the same lesson to the other classes. On the first day of the program the students got together and, on the count of three, jumped up and down to see the impact they would have on the seismograph.
“It’s important for them to be able to see the impact they can have and understand it in their own terms,” said Casale. “The seismograph keeps them engaged and curious about each lesson.”
At the beginning of the school year, students were asked to create their own seismographs using only house- hold items. When they brought their seismograph into school, they put it on a “shake table” and the seismograph recorded the movement.
“Doing something physical helps the concept sink in,” Casale said. “It’s more likely that once they have gotten up to demonstrate or worked on a project they will be able to recall the concepts further down the road.”
In keeping with that theory, Moulis had a handful of students line up in a straight line facing the back of the head of the person in front of them. With their arms locked and resting on the shoulders of the person in front of them, Moulis demonstrated how a P-wave moves. She had a student record the time it took for her lightly pushing the student in the back to when the person at the front of the line felt the push.
Next, Moulis had the students take a small step backward, creating a bit of distance between their hands and the person’s shoulders. Because S-waves are not as tightly packed, Moulis said, it would
take longer for the push to move through the students. The last group of students demonstrated how it is impossible to record seismic waves through a liquid. She had the students turn and stand shoulder to shoulder, without touching. She had them close their eyes and moved the student at the beginning of the line.
“Don’t move unless you feel a touch,” she instructed.
When none of the students moved, they figured out that a wave could not travel through water because of the way particles are arranged in a liquid.
Casale said the school plans on continuing the program in the future as it fits into the current curriculum, but future programs will have less interaction with Boston College.