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University of Minnesota Extension

U of M brings citizen science to grade 6-12 distance learning

Dr. Ponder examines a bald eagle held by another person
Dr. Julia Ponder (left), executive director of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, examines a bald eagle.

Distance learning is in high gear at schools across Minnesota this spring, and grade 6-12 science teachers have a new tool to help them when they need it most. Thanks to a new grant from the Cargill Foundation, University of Minnesota Extension and the University's Raptor Center are teaming up on a new project called Outdoor Investigations in the STEM Classroom (OISC). 

The team is making use of two curriculum pieces designed to help teachers and their students learn about outdoor scientific research principles and the steps involved in solving problems using science. They are basing their work on the Raptor Lab, a free online research and investigation tool aimed at students in grades 6 through 12, along with Extension’s Driven to Discover: Citizen Science Curriculum Guide. The guide helps teachers plan and carry out citizen science-based research with their students.

"Students will use scientific approaches in outdoor investigations that will help them develop a better conservation ethic and an interest in research."

The Raptor Lab tool is a three-step process 

  • First, students go online to watch scientific investigation through the work of veterinarians at the Raptor Center. The video is narrated by Dr. Julie Ponder, veterinarian and executive director of the Raptor Center. Students role-play being a vet and learn how to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate a patient.
  • The second step shifts the role of students from being a vet to being a wildlife researcher investigating a question raised by their patient’s diagnosis. Guided by Dr. Pat Redig, a world-renowned expert in bald eagle toxicology, students conduct a model research project about lead poisoning of bald eagles.
  • The final step guides students, using their new knowledge and skills, through the process of their own outdoor investigation and data gathering. This module was written by Andrea Lorek Strauss, Extension educator.

Students gather evidence and analyze data

"We're helping teachers get students fired up as they get back into learning," says Lisa Curtis, Extension program coordinator for the OISC team. "Students will use scientific approaches in outdoor investigations that will help them develop a better conservation ethic and an interest in research." 

Other goals include promoting higher-level thinking through evidence gathering and data analysis, along with developing the communication skills needed to inform the public. The program is aligned with Minnesota K-12 science standards as well as Next Generation science standards.

The OISC team plans to continue to connect with teachers as they navigate new approaches to distance learning and the challenges it brings. They hope to make in-person visits to classrooms next fall.

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