Two Colorado State University faculty members hosted a two-week program with the Museum of Discovery in Fort Collins this summer to teach science and literacy to a group of local fifth graders.
The Youth Scientific Civic Inquiry program, funded over two years with $60,000 in grant money from the Intersections initiative of the National Writing Project through the National Science Foundation, was spearheaded by Assistant Professor Antero Garcia and Professor Cindy O’Donnell-Allen of CSU’s Department of English.
In the program, which was held at the Museum of Discovery in June, eight students from Title I schools in the Poudre School District developed individual projects on local water use and protection.
“We want to try to catch them before they lose interest in science,” Garcia said. “We need to recapture their imagination.”
He added that while there was heavy emphasis on writing during the two weeks, it wasn’t just about the printed word or page, but digital literacy as well. A portion of the grant funding was used to purchase iPod Touches for the students, which they used to take photos and record voice memos during field trips. On one outing, students followed the path that water takes coming down from Reservoir Ridge. The museum’s proximity to the Cache La Poudre also provided a suitable natural setting in which to learn.
“The back of the classroom was basically the river and the park,” Garcia said.
They also participated in “research roundtables” in which they had discussions with various CSU experts and scientists, including Assistant Professor Vincent Basile of the School of Education, postdoctoral fellow Christina Paguyo of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Professor Scott Denning of the Department of Atmospheric Science. Two City of Fort Collins employees who specialize in water quality also participated.
The program was also about sociocultural literacy, O’Donnell-Allen explained. Participants learned about civic action and how to get involved in local government. At one point, organizers held a mock city council meeting and had the students play the role of water consultants giving advice to council members.
“I think they gained an understanding of what civic means, and how they can contribute as citizens,” O’Donnell-Allen said.
Participants read water-related news articles from the past year — as well as some that dated back to the 1800s. They also played “Stump Siri,” a game in which they tried to identify open-ended questions that the Apple iPhone’s virtual assistant couldn’t answer. Other activities included scavenger hunts and bird-watching.
By the end of the two weeks, it was the students themselves who had become the experts; they delivered presentations and explained their projects to family and friends.
“Across the board, kids and parents loved it,” O’Donnell-Allen said. “And the grants are really competitive, so it’s a feather in CSU’s cap that we were able to get this funding.”