A dozen Orchard Middle School students gather during lunch and after school extending their day to pursue a special project—real scientific research in a middle school classroom. Victor and Kevin are busy filling the wells of a titer plate with the samples of their study. They will place the samples in a controlled amount of light, and tomorrow examine how much photosynthetic activity took place in the primitive algae. “How do you like doing real research”, I asked the group. “It’s important” said Christian. . . .”Exciting” followed Nancy…. “Fun” concluded Afnan. The group worked deliberately in accomplishing their experiment. Their instructor, Ron Hamby spends his lunch period and after school supervising the special project.
Ron Hamby is no ordinary instructor. After spending three summers working at NASA Ames and Lawrence Livermore in a Student Teacher and Researcher (STAR) training program, he decided to bring the same project to his classroom. Securing the equipment from director of PhycoSAT at NASA he set up a similar lab for his students. The project involves the astrobiology of various strands of algae and cyanobacteria. The goal is to determine the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation on these organisms. NASA considers the project important for long term space flights as these organisms can be used as a renewable recycler for waste, oxygen, and food supply.
Science educators are encouraged to supplement the routine lesson plans with such inquiry lessons—that is, experiments conducted and often designed by students allowing discovery by scientific methods. The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards applauds inquiry in the classroom and advocates it for all science classes. Few students have such an involved project, however the Center for Excellence in Science and Math Education at California State University in San Luis Obispo places teachers in summer research programs at prestigious laboratories like NASA Ames, in order to promote such inquiry and train teachers I scientific method. Mr. Hamby’s class project is the result of these agencies working for excellence in science education.
“So how long will you devote your time to this project” I asked the students. “For the rest of the school year” they answered in unison, and turned away to attend to their busy routine. The students will make a presentation of their findings to the NASA Ames research team at the end of the school year.