Ice core study heats up students’ enthusiasm for global studies
CASTLE ROCK – For the students in Lisa Johnson’s and Kenny Harris’ sixth-grade classrooms at Renaissance Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound Magnet School, the concepts of scientific method and data analysis might seem like a tall order. But these students have shown that their passion for learning is what it takes to conquer these concepts by performing scientific experiments on a 200-year-old ice core from the Greenland Ice Sheet.
“The climate change study is a case study and it’s helping them get bigger ideas or enduring understandings about cycles and systems being inter-connected and that scientists have specific ways of finding things out. The kids decided that they want to find out what’s going on with our current climate,” said Johnson.
The students began their project by first visiting the National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL) to gather information about how scientists work to solve the mysteries of past climates, in an effort to understand climates of the present and future.
“We really wanted to find out what was happening in the past so we could learn about our present and future,” commented Renaissance Magnet Student Tessa Conti.
After their inspirational visit to NICL, the students ventured to St. Mary’s Glacier in Idaho Springs, Colorado to secure their own local ice core sample. They wrote scientific research proposals in order to have the privilege to use the precious samples they collected.
“It’s an authentic project that they’re working on. They’re contributing to real science research and real climate research, and part of that is not just collaboration, but learning to communicate with experts in the field and use domain-specific language,” added Johnson.
This experience inspired them even further. A group of six students designated as the Sample Allocation Committee researched and wrote a proposal to NICL Science Director Mark Twickler at the University of New Hampshire. After numerous correspondences between Twickler and Renaissance Magnet School Student Savannah Smith, the group at Renaissance was awarded a 200-year-old, 20cm ice core extracted from the Greenland Ice Sheet.
“The collaboration that’s required of them to be able to solve this problem, which is acquiring a piece of ice from a national institution, was incredible. The critical thinking they would use to be able to revise and resubmit was awesome,” said Harris.
“We wrote them a proposal and we got the acceptance email. We gave them how much we wanted and when we wanted it by. I definitely learned how to communicate with people better. I learned how to communicate with adults and get my point across so that they understood me,” added Smith.
To those outside of the Douglas County School District, this level of learning might seem above the sixth-grade level, but Johnson points out that these students are always up to the challenge.
“Oh no, it’s not too much for a sixth-grader. They are absolutely fearless. They feel that they can do anything to change the world and solve problems, and we are not going to get in their way.”
And according to Harris, this lesson was also sustainable with well-rounded applications.
“There is no doubt in my mind that they’re going to be able to take what it is that they’ve learned here and apply it to any part of their lives…academic, athletic and even relationships. It’s a lasting lesson that has built a ton of character.”
“Our goal for the kids is we want them to walk away knowing that if they have questions about the world, they have the power and means to find out the answers for themselves,” concluded Johnson.