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Original Research: Notes from March 25 Webinars

Original research can be defined as the collection of information and data from observations and measurements conducted as part of an investigation. Original research generates new knowledge around a subject, and is undertaken in order to produce new understanding.

It’s important that we have our students conduct an original research project, and have students construct that project from inception. By having students actively generate questions, measure phenomenon in the field, observe and reflect upon processes, we will be able to see the following benefits reveal themselves. Firstly, there is a deeper engagement in the curriculum. If students are taking an active role in developing new understanding, they will grasp the root of learning more readily than taking a passive, consumer of information role. Secondly, the development of communication skills is observable, as students write and rewrite the questions that will collect the data and information desired. In addition, by having students conduct interviews, listening and questioning skills are acquired, more so than in regular curriculum delivery methods. Students become more discerning  consumers of other people’s research: having understood the process of conducting research themselves, their critical thinking skills will be applied to other information they receive. Finally, student’s connections to their community can be strengthened by conducting research in a local area.

The Vital Signs program at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute offers teachers and students the structure and support to conduct original research, focussing on the monitoring of invasive plant and animal species in Maine. Sarah Kirn, the manager for the Vital Signs program, joined me for the webinar to discuss how Vital Signs seeks to develop student’s skills in data collection, data review and putting the data to work in understanding the concepts of biology and ecology. Teachers are trained in the various parts of the process, and then use these skills to conduct fieldwork with their students, looking for the presence (or non presence, hopefully) of invasive species in their local area. The data collected is peer reviewed, then uploaded to the Vital Signs online database, where it is further reviewed by experts in the field. The data is available for use online, by students, educators, scientists, and anyone who has an interest in monitoring the spread of invasive species. Students take on the role of scientists, and contribute data to a functioning and important set of scientific knowledge, available to the world.

Some examples of these observations from the field can be found on the Vital Signs site:

http://www.vitalsignsme.org/observation/species-cipangopaludina-chinensis-malleatus-was-found-indnewtongreen-2009-10-23

http://www.vitalsignsme.org/observation/species-littorina-obtusata-was-found-mdenniston-2009-07-17


http://www.vitalsignsme.org/observation/species-lythrum-salicaria-was-not-found-thepeople-2009-10-27

http://www.vitalsignsme.org/observation/species-myriophyllum-heterophyllum-was-not-found-oobvmilfoil1-2009-06-02

Vital Signs, and original research as a whole, fits into the science curriculum tool currently being used to guide curriculum development in Maine. ‘Ready, Set, Science!’, published by the National Academies Press (available to be read free online: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11882) promotes science learning as the interplay of four strands, one of which is generating scientific knowledge. By having students take part in research, reflect upon this research and produce new knowledge from this information, science learning, and indeed any curriculum area learning, is multiplied and made more concrete.

If you are interested in learning more about the Vital Signs program, please send an email to this address, letting the folks at GMRI where you heard about the program and the interest you have in their work.

Vital Signs run a summer institute that trains teachers to conduct Invasive Species monitoring programs with their students.  The two and three day institutes provide all the training and equipment necessary to take students into the field. Participants are provided with a stipend for their time. For more information, please contact the Vital Signs team, and visit the site. The dates of this year’s institutes are July 7-8, and August 18 – 20.

Other links shared as part of the webinar:

Introductory video for students heading out to look for crayfish, as part of the Vital Signs program – a connection with scientists:

http://www.vitalsignsme.org/crayfish-dr-karen-wilson-university-southern-maine

Some online tools to help with information collection:

Surveymonkey, GoogleDocs and Skype

The 2010 Census:

Main Page, Census for Teachers

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