InSciEd Out brings student-driven inquiry to local classrooms

By Seth Thompson, Water Resources Science PhD student

Students across the Twin Cities metropolitan area are getting the opportunity to ask and answer their own scientific questions thanks to the Integrated Science Education and Outreach (InSciEd Out) program. An evidence-based elementary and middle school program, InSciEd Out empowers young learners to investigate society’s most pressing health issues so they can ignite measurable and sustainable changes in the health and wellness of their families and communities. Through a partnership between the College of Biological Science and the Mayo Clinic, InSciEd Out now reaches over 3,000 students form 6 partner schools in the Twin Cities.

Water Resources Science faculty Jim Cotner and PhD student Seth Thompson have worked to develop a water-centric curriculum for the InSciEd Out program that engages students through a focus on the link between water quality and human health. Through strong teach-scientist partnerships, elementary and middles school students perform experience to better understand how contemporary water issues such as eutrophication or contaminants of emerging concern in local water bodies can impact their health. Ultimately, students are empowered to do real science, using the support of Cotner and Thompson to push their questions towards true novelty.

“The types of questions young students come up with are truly amazing,” says Thompson. “Working with these students challenges me to think of my own research questions in a new way. They aren’t afraid to challenge me to explain why I am interested in a question or why they should care about it. That constant challenge has forced me to think more deeply about the scientific questions I am asking as a researcher.”

Through a process known as “student extensions,” InSciEd Out students work with a scientist partner to develop and perform impactful experiments. For example, 8th grade students at one partner school recently completed a project examine the impact of soil texture on the transport of surface water contaminants into ground water. These students will be presenting their work at a year-end research symposium to be held at the University of Minnesota on April 16th.

This emphasis on engaging students in relevant science has paid off. As Kristen Dirksen, a 5th grade teacher at an InSciEd Out partner school puts it, “I have found that the connections with the scientists really brings out even more scientific reasoning in my students.  The students are excited to share their knowledge with others, especially their community.  There is so much pride in my students when they present their work to the community.  They see their value and realize that their science has an impact on others.  It's truly and amazing experience.”

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An InSciEd Out partner teacher works with her students to observe zebrafish embryos in a petri dish.

For more information about the InSciEd Out program for to learn about opportunities for involvement, contact Seth Thompson at thom2587@umn.edu.