Student Research in Action (Part 1)

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Objective

Students will collect data to establish an answer to student developed research questions to assess the impact of environmental/health toxins on the nervous system.

Big Idea

Student research in the classroom empowers students to understand or bring resolve to questions that attempt to understand the impact of health and environmental toxins on the nervous system.

Introduction

Lesson Background & Justification:

           Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge. With this type of learning, students are not only active and engaged in learning but are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they're studying. And while PBL in the science classroom may serve to inspire a number of future scientists, research indicates that hands-on learning can also significantly contribute to students gaining the 21st century skills they’ll need as they develop into the next generation of business owners, innovators, managers, and employees. Among these skills are:

  • Scientific investigation: develop an idea, plan an experiment, conduct an experiment
  • Project management: manage a project and meet deadlines
  • Scientific analysis: keep a logbook, analyze data, create a chart or graph
  • Communication: write results, create a presentation board, present and discuss results

Incidentally, these skills are as critical to the success of those in the sciences as to those in financial services, healthcare, transportation, public service, and other industries. In essence, granting students the opportunity to partake in science projects or PBL opportunities not only enhance their understanding of content introduced in the classroom, but has the potential to prepare students for life.  

    A model organism is a species that has been widely studied, usually because it is easy to maintain and breed in a laboratory setting and has particular experimental advantages. Over the years, a great deal of data has accumulated about such organisms and this in itself makes them more attractive to study. Model organisms are used to obtain information about other species – including humans – that are more difficult to study directly. (See Model Organism Lesson)

    Caenorhabditis elegans  is a free-living (not parasitic), transparent nematode (roundworm), about 1 mm in length, that lives in temperate soil environments. As one of the first organisms to have their genome and nervous system mapped, C elegans have gained notoriety in the research community as ideal model organisms.

     In this short term project, students use the model organism C. elegans characteristics to assess the impact of environmental factors (BPA, Nicotine and Heavy Metals) on human nervous systems through the project based learning style. This lesson, the second (lesson 1) of a three day research process , guides students through the investigation process which will be used to collect data for a culminating research product. 

Prerequisite Knowledge: It is recommended that students be familiar with the structure and function of a neuron, the concept of neurotransmission, the action potential mechanism, nerve cell structure/function, and general knowledge of C. elegans (see lesson) form & behaviors. 

Lesson Preparations:

 In the effort to prepare for this lesson, I make certain that I have the following items in place: 

a) Students' graded research plans example (from lesson 1). 

b) Student lab books.

c) Lab Protection Wear

d) Materials from the Edvotek's Envrionmental Toxicity Response to C elegans kit

e) Fisher Scientific Bisphenol A 5 grams

f) Fisher Scientific Nicotine Solution

g) Carolina Biological Culturing C elegans kit

h) Various hardware/support materials (electronic balance, weight bottles, graduated cylinders, distilled water, petri dishes, and micropipetters & tips) 

Common Core and NGSS Standards:

SP1- Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering).

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

SP4- Analyzing and interpreting data.

SP7- Engaging in argument from evidence.

XC-SSM-HS-4- Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

W.11-12.7- Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Standards Rationale:

      Keeping students abreast of current topics in science can be challenging if it doesn't fit into their repertoire of current affairs. When we however incorporate current science topics and research into our lessons, we can motivate students to learn and sometimes even change their attitudes about science. For instance, students who are exposed to current scientific research questions and methods discover that we live in a world with more questions than answers. Students can then apply their critical reasoning skills and creativity to discuss the scientists’ questions, design their own experiments, and test hypotheses which can be an empowering experience for student and teacher alike.

      Modeling is the process by which scientists represent ideas about the natural world to each other, and then collaboratively make changes to these representations over time in response to new evidence and understandings. It is intimately connected to other scientific processes (asking questions, communicating information, etc.) and improves students ability to recall scientific jargon through association. In the classroom, it is important that teachers engage students in modeling practices, to set the foundation of success in a lesson or instructional unit, or in this case a short term research project. In this lesson, modeling is used in concert with other science practices in the classroom to promote students’ reasoning and understanding of core science idea presented (animal models in research.) 

Engage

15 minutes

Section Sequence:

      In this section of the lesson, students are reintroduced to the overall objective of the project and are given an opportunity to revisit their research plans constructed in the first lesson of this research process. The idea is for students to reinstate their scientific frame of minds and reorient themselves to their procedural scripts (post teacher comments) to ease their comfort and confidence levels with their experimentation. This section proceeds as follows:

a) Slide 1: Provide students with their graded Research Plans and share that they will revisit these plans individually and collectively in partners to prepare them for their investigations. Direct their attention to the projected information, while presenting this C elegans Image  and ask what the overarching goal is for their projects. Take responses from individual students. Direct students attention to the illustration on the screen and ask how understanding the general anatomy of our model organism will help us to potentially assess the impact of the toxin on their nervous systems. Discuss as a class. Continue to present the C elegans Simple Neural Circuit image and discuss how might the information referenced on the image aid us in interpreting any data that will be collected throughout the investigations. 

b) Slide 2: Read and instruct students to complete steps 1 and 2 on the screen with respect to any suggestions made by the teacher. Instruct them to rewrite/modify their items if needed before instructing them to proceed with step 3. Emphasize to students that they should ascertain proper articulation of variables in their hypothesis and to make certain that they align with the problem at hand. In other words in the If, then statement, the variable being tested should address the question.  

c) Slide 3: Repeat step b with students. However, this time make certain students understand that the their materials lists should accommodate their procedural steps and that their procedures should compliment their investigation question and hypothesis as well. 

Standards Covered:

SP1- Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering).

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

SP4- Analyzing and interpreting data.

SP7- Engaging in argument from evidence.

XC-SSM-HS-4- Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

W.11-12.7- Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Explore

60 minutes

Section Sequence:

       In this section of the lesson, my job is to give students a generic walk through of their independent (experimental) procedures in the effort to insure safety and maximize on task efficiency. This day, compared to the second day of experimentation also gives students an opportunity & adequate time to set up their experimental and control groups for next day observations. This section proceeds as follows:

a) Slide 4: Walk students through the steps as projected, while announcing a stop and/or check point after each step. For example, after instructing students to don their lab ware, stop and visually check to see if everyone is properly robed. 

b) As students engage in their projects (*See attachments), circulate and talk students through any sticky points. Allow for them to think their way through obstacles, while maintaining the fidelity of their research plans.

Attachment Descriptions:

#1 This image shows junior scientist leadership in action. One student, while conducting her research demonstrated how to subculture her worms under her experimental and controlled conditions. 

#2 This image shows a student pair transferring metal solutions to their agar beds before introducing their model organisms to their set up conditions. 

#3 & #4 These images show two students documenting their experimental set up and/or their observations using their cell phones. 

Standards Covered:

SP1- Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering).

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

XC-SSM-HS-4- Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

W.11-12.7- Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Wrapping up!

10 minutes

Section Sequence:

       In this section of the lesson, students are given an opportunity to candidly discuss in think-pair-share format their initial set of experiences with their project. This section proceeds as follows:

a) Instruct students to complete the following steps (2-3 minute intervals each):

1) Individually, list out any sticky points or efficient methodologies of their research procedures so far.

2) Pair up with a student who is investigating a similar toxin (BPA, Nicotine or Heavy Metal) and discuss your revelations.

3) Share out to the class suggestions to make day 2 more efficient. 

Standards Covered:

SP1- Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering).

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

SP4- Analyzing and interpreting data.

SP7- Engaging in argument from evidence.

XC-SSM-HS-4- Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

W.11-12.7- Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.