In support of the recent International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, we share the learning of Jodie Harnden (Sunridge Middle School – Pendleton, OR) who joined an atmospheric aerosol research project with scientists at NASA Langley to develop a similar student project modeling how authentic science is conducted to collect and analyze data useful to the community.
In emergency medical practices the airway, or being able to breathe, is the first priority, making air pollution a major threat to those who breathe…which is everyone! In my seventh grade science classes we study the structure of the atmosphere and air pollution problems and students learn about different pollutants and how they affect our location. While students do develop an understanding of air quality conditions, they do not have the opportunity to collect their own data and analyze that data in order to answer questions, as scientists would do.
And neither did I – until my Fund for Teachers grant.
One of the challenges of being a science teacher is that I had never been an actual scientist. While I have spent my career learning to be the best teacher I can be, I lacked in experience that relates to the actual processes of scientific research and data analysis. For me to lead students to think and work as scientists, I needed the experience myself. The two-week fellowship collecting air quality data with NASA Langley provided an intensive and exciting opportunity to interact and work alongside actual scientists, followed by developing related classroom applications for students.
I had the opportunity to participate in the data campaign as a volunteer intern under the direction of NASA scientist Dr. Margaret Pippin. My air quality data research took me to sites around Hampton, VA, monitoring aerosols, or tiny solids that are considered pollutants. I became proficient in using the Calitoo, a device that measures aerosol optical thickness, and indicator of particulate matter. I learned what the impact of clouds can be on the accuracy of measurements and established my GLOBE account for submitting my own data.
Previously I had only demonstrated the Calitoo with borrowed units. Now I will be having students collect and submit data on a regular basis to the GLOBE Project. Collecting data for a long-term project is a change from just occasional measurements. Students will now be the scientists,
collecting and submitting the data for use, and have access to the data for future use, as well.
The greatest accomplishment of my fellowship was developing a true understanding of the different stages of scientific research. Data campaigns have a planning and funding period, then, if approved, all participants coordinate for the campaign period (in this case, two weeks), then hope for good weather. Collection days can be very long! After rest and recovery, analysis of the data begins and will be the focus for the next year, prompting future research.
School has started and smoke from regional wildfires has created a difficult situation for many. Outdoor activities have been cancelled as we come to grips with the loss of beautiful forests. We can’t even make aerosol measurements because the smoke blocks the sun. Students are getting an early introduction to the air quality unit. We have begun to enter data into GLOBE, but the smoke prevents the collection of quality data (a good lesson for students!). Normally our rough time is January and February when cold, high pressure settles in to create an inversion, trapping the smoke from wood stoves; however, this year may mark different conclusions. I have taken note of an unusual ozone
concentration near one city west of the Cascade Mountains, a problem we don’t have, but can study from afar.
While there are numerous environmental issues that are worth studying, air quality continues to be a challenge in our area. While the causes may sometimes be out of our control (such as weather and wild fires) awareness and understanding is not. Mitigation of contributing factors that are human-caused are something we will continue to study, learn, and take appropriate action when possible. This August we have experienced a severe air quality issue, something to study further in the fall.
Along with my personal experiences at NASA Langley, I was able to witness the inclusion of student interns in the research process. I came away more convinced that ever that science is a process and something to be understood, not just a set of facts to be learned. The future of science depends on doing science, and I must give my students opportunities to contribute to the field of science. School, in many ways, is an artificial microcosm of life and I will be able to expose students to so much more now that I was exposed to more myself.
A National Board Certified teacher, Jodie is in her 33rd year of teaching science at the middle
level, most of it in Pendleton, Oregon. She thrives on the opportunity to learn, bringing experiences back to the classroom and sharing with others professionally. While it won’t be a problem until retirement, rock collecting is a favorite activity.