Getting up a head of S.T.E.A.M.

What is science anyway? Science is not removed from our lives. Science is a part of the every day. For too long, science has been regarded in the same way as poetry has been regarded, as the playground of a select few. As an English teacher I spent much of my life, when I begin to teach poetry, combatting a student’s reflexive bias that poetry is only for people wearing black turtlenecks and smoking clove cigarettes. That in fact poetry speaks to the every day, but it raises our sights and inspires us.

Liz

Liz Gottlieb

Ellie

Ellie Beyers

Science is no longer the realm of people in white coats with  an over determined fascination with numbers or small bacteria. Let me give you just another example of two of our teachers—Ellie Beyers and Liz Gottlieb—who are having our students doing real science in AP Environmental Science (APES) — science that requires skills, collaboration, grit, and a willingness to be in it for the long haul. They didn’t put on lab coats. They pulled on boots. They didn’t receive samples in the mail from a high school scientific lab company. They went out and retrieved their own. And they did it in such a way that they knew if they didn’t do exactly right, they’d have to do it again, again, and again. Hence the discipline of science.

Phytoplankton samples are collected using a custom made rita net.

Phytoplankton samples are collected using a custom made rita net.

It all began when APES teacher Ellie Beyers was stretching in preparation for a run. Literally, a women walked out of the marsh carrying a flourometer and a conversation sparked between two scientists, and that’s where our collaboration began. Next thing we know, our students are stepping out of the lab, pulling on their boots, and collecting their own samples. Here’s where the grit, the skill, and the collaboration all come together. Students have to work together to pull the samples out of the water at the same time, using the same measurement, in order to create a solid baseline sampling. It is impossible to do that all on their own. And as with much experimentation, it’s frustrating. It doesn’t always work out as you expect. But their sights aren’t set simply on pulling on their boots and collecting water samples. They are doing this in service of a larger idea. As APES teacher Liz Gottlieb says, ” This is about being a part of a bigger process. The issue we’re investigating is going on in our Bay and all over the world.” The real value of being citizen scientists is combining service and data, and taking responsibility for the privilege we have to be here in this place. Our students can have an influence while they’re here at MA, and that influence is powerful and lasting.

Samples are filtered using a filtration manifold and vacuum pump.

Samples are filtered using a filtration manifold and vacuum pump.

This experiential aspect of science is a form of art. You have materials out there. You’re going to investigate. Trying to figure something out. And you’re going to say something about it. Science has the same power as art. The process of creation is inevitably trial and error, design, happy accidents. And it’s always about something larger than itself. All art is metaphor. Just as science is. Students are engaged in an action that either directly or indirectly contributes to our understanding the world and how we solve a problem. Science helps them develop a point of view and a place from which to act.

S.T.E.A.M. is a commonly used acronym for integration between Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.

Note about Romberg Tiburon Center: As stated on its website, the RTC’s mission is to advance understanding of the world’s complex marine and estuarine environments through research, education, and outreach, with a focus on San Francisco Bay. The collaborative work between MA’s APES students and the RTC is focused on collecting field data from two sites, collecting phytoplankton samples, and analyzing the data using microscopes and fluorometers. 

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About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
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