Saturday, June 6, 2015

Post Research Cruise, Applications in the Classroom

Industrial Phytoplankton
After an incredible learning journey at sea, my mind was racing and racing still of all of the creative ways that the research aboard the R/V Melville could be integrated into an 8th grade classroom. It is not everyday that a science classroom in a landlocked State in the mountains turns its focus to the global impacts on the oceans, much less the primary producers within. Throughout the year, we collected water samples from the mountain streams to the Tennessee River to the Atlantic Ocean, and we continued to return to the challenges to biodiversity in every aquatic ecosystem.

Partnering with the Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga Zoo, and experts along the way, students analyzed the adaptations of plants and animals that promoted as well as limited survival. As we investigated the changing chemistry of the ocean, we did more than research the effects on fish and marine mammals. Although we did include a study of the effects of overexploitation (overfishing the oceans specifically), we dug deeper into the unseen marine world. For most students, this was their first introduction to phytoplankton. We had analyzed macroinvertebrates in the streams and rivers firsthand, but most did not realize that there are microorganisms in the waters as well.

In this project, students connected their growing understanding of the souring seas to their first look at arguably the most important organism on our planet. Students chose a marine phytoplankton genus to study deeply and based their writing and their model from their research.

In history class, our 8th graders were studying the Industrial Revolution. So, we read excerpts of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and created a "SteamPunk" exhibit! Students could only use scrap metal (dismantling old costume jewelry worked well) to create their replicas because the next step only worked with metals. To give our phytoplankton replicas that Industrial Revolution feel and demonstrate another type of chemical change/reaction, students copper-plated their project using two anodizing techniques. One used hydrochloric acid; the other used copper sulfate; both needed a current from a battery to plate the phyto's with copper. We learned a lot. Some creations were destroyed by unwanted chemical reactions, but others transformed perfectly before their eyes.
(Side notes: 1. Watch multiple "how-to" videos before starting 2. Use test pieces first 3. Lower voltage works better 4. HCl reacts with aluminum 5. Have fun learning together)
Here is a video of a student explaining the plating process:
For more pictures of student examples, check out:

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