They'll share their experiments with the world


September 22, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Science students at two Baltimore County high schools will be exploring their own back yards this school year, but they'll be telling the world what they find there.

As part of a worldwide environmental project, students at Woodlawn and Randallstown high schools will study -- and try to improve -- the quality of air, water and soil in their areas.

They will also use computers and cutting-edge telecommunications to share their findings with other young scientists from the 60 schools in the Global Lab project.

"It's closer than most people will ever get to real research," said Russ Dunn, who teaches biology at Woodlawn. "It's a chance to be original."

Students will conduct studies involving chemistry, physics, mathematics, botany, zoology, geology and topography. The project's sponsor, the Technology Education Resources Center (TERC) of Cambridge, Mass., hopes the high-tech, hands-on approach will encourage students to enjoy science.

"Project-based science gets kids thinking," said Stephen Bannasch, one of the project's directors.

With money from the National Science Foundation, TERC provides all the materials the students need to take their measurements and share their findings.

The organization also pays for the "air time" students will need to communicate with one another through Internet, a computer network that links universities and business research centers around the world.

The materials include at least $2,000 worth of computer hardware and software that each school keeps after the project is complete, said Tom DeGraziano, chairman of the science department at Woodlawn. "This is wonderful . . . as an educator in a public school, you dream of these things," Mr. DeGraziano said.

He said the global lab will not only expose his students to scientific research and computer work not available to most high school students, but also broaden their cultural outlook.

"They will get to communicate with students all over the world. It's like having 60 pen pals. It has all kinds of benefits -- foreign language, social studies. . . ."

More than 40 of the study sites are in the United States and the rest span the globe -- including schools in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Japan, Mexico and Canada.

Schools with adequate computers and experience with hands-on ecological research got preference, Mr. Bannasch said. Geography was a secondary consideration, but selecting two sites in Baltimore County and other areas was intentional.

"We chose two sites close to each other so they can communicate," comparing similarities and differences that occur in environments just miles apart, he said.

Two other Maryland high schools -- Daval High School in Lanham and Poolesville High School -- are also participating.

The first step in the process is picking an area to study. Mr. Dunn and a few students have walked their campus several times, but haven't yet picked the spot, he said.

"We have a large campus . . . with three or four different environments," he said.

Randallstown students will study the stream on their campus, said Penny Jenkins, the science teacher in charge of Global Lab there. About 50 students from her environmental science and gifted-and-talented biology classes will be involved.

The students will observe the site they choose, describe its characteristics and look for man-made factors that affect it. For instance, if the students at Woodlawn choose a site along heavily traveled Woodlawn Drive, they'll have to consider the effects of car exhaust on nearby air, soil and vegetation, Mr. Dunn said.

The third step is to draw an "eco-profile," that is, to measure elements such as air and water temperature, the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air, how much nitrogen is in the soil and what pollutants are present.

In the last phase, students conduct experiments to find out what's causing ecological damage and to design projects to correct the problems. Students at all sites will file their data, using a simplified telecommunications program, and share their experiments. They will be free to critique others' techniques and findings. The project will consume about one class period a week, said Mr. Bannasch, "but there will be lots of opportunities for work outside the school setting."

Eun Ji Shin is excited about the project. "It makes science more real," said the Woodlawn senior. "It makes you more aware of the environment."

Mr. DeGraziano, who has taught for more than 20 years, said the Global Lab project is unique.

"We're starting to take care of our globe, not just our back yard. It's the nicest project I've ever seen in all my years of teaching." He thinks it will especially benefit the college-bound.

"This year, when students who seek scholarships are going to have a harder time economically, these kids will have had such a unique experience, it can't be sloughed off," he said.

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