Last Friday I had the opportunity to talk to two groups of grade six students in Gray, Maine at the Gray-New Gloucester Middle School. Gray is located in the Casco Bay watershed in southern Maine. The Casco Bay watershed comprises only 3% of the state’s landmass but houses 25% of Maine’s population. This is notable since urbanization and population density can have a significant impact on water quality. When speaking with the students I wanted to convey the message that even though the Gray-New Gloucester Middle School is located 23 miles from the coast, local human activities can impact the health of the coastal ecosystem.
Who thought that talking to a room full of sixth graders could cause such trepidation! I’ll admit, the few days leading up to the presentation I was nervous! These stomach butterflies proved to be unwarranted. Not only was I able to actively engage with the kids during my presentation, I had fun doing it! I thoroughly enjoyed working with a young, interesting group of kids. I started by showing the class a Prezi-tation, which was mostly composed of pictures and maps. (You can view my Prezi here.) Instead of showing a slide and explaining to the class what it represented, I asked them to share their interpretation of what they saw. The students were eager to make guesses and used reasoning to infer meaning from the photos and maps I showed.
In addition to my Prezi-tation the students and I used an Enviroscapes watershed model to actively demonstrate how water moves contaminants within a watershed. The kids loved this hands-on activity and became quite involved, adding food coloring to represent pesticides, mixing together cocoa and water to represent manure, and spritzing the model to stimulate rain. After playing with the model and learning about the many different ways water can move contaminants we played a watershed ball game to assess their understanding of the material that we discussed in class. I got this great idea from fellow rad grad Carly Ellis. I wrote questions about watersheds onto the different panels of a soccer ball. The kids threw the ball to each other and had to answer the question that their thumb landed on. This was not only fun for the kids but gave me an idea of how much information they were able to comprehend from my presentation.
I can’t get over how much fun I had doing this type of work. The teacher, Ms. Enaire, asked if I’d be willing to come in and do other activities with the students and I happily agreed. The more I learn about it the more I believe that educational outreach in an important tool for getting kids excited about science. Introducing environmental knowledge at a young age encourages youth to be informed about the natural world around them in both their academic lives and beyond. Education about environmental issues such as water quality raises awareness of the problem and its intricacies, with an objective to ultimately shift attitudes and subsequent actions. An important aspiration of many members of the scientific community is to strengthen the future STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) workforce and foster the next generation of scientists. STEM education at early ages is pivotal in encouraging young students to engage in STEM based pursuits and educational outreach is a great way to achieve this.
My work on NEST is supported by the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR programs in Maine and New Hampshire.