Hands-on environmental science during a pandemic: activity design, results, and efficacy
Wednesday 11:15-11:45am PT / 12:15-12:45pm MT / 1:15-1:45pm CT / 2:15-2:45pm ET Online
Poster Session Part of Poster Session II: Online Teaching--Lessons Learned during the Pandemic
Rebekah Stein, University of California-Berkeley
Nathan Sheldon, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Jenna Munson, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Engagement with the natural world is imperative to student learning in the geo- and environmental sciences. Immersion in the environment is particularly useful for complicated subjects like nutrient cycling and biogeochemistry. However, access to the outdoors is not ubiquitous, and often students living in urban centers and/or remote locations are unable to access geo-, bio- and environmental science activities and demonstrations. This inaccessibility was exacerbated by the pandemic. During the summer of 2020, we created a remote learning activity to teach the carbon cycle to high school students enrolled in the University of Michigan's Earth Camp. These high school students from the greater Detroit area were admitted to this week-long summer program to facilitate their access to the natural world, but when Earth Camp was moved online for safety reasons, this access became more limited. Students collected hair from their pets and their pets' foods (or in the case of students without pets, their favorite snack foods) and sent it to the University of Michigan's Earth Systems Laboratory for isotope analyses. Prior to processing, students recorded ingredients in their specimens and hypothesized what isotope values their specimens should have, based on C3/C4 plant distribution. The students' results, which showed strong correlation between pet hair and pet food, allowed them to examine how the Earth's carbon cycle is reflected by common plants and animals living in their own homes as well as the opportunity to collect physical observations and analyze their own data. This activity received positive evaluations from students, and students felt their knowledge of isotopes and the chemistry behind their food increased after this activity. In addition to the Earth Camp audience, we created and shared an activity that can be used in high school and introductory undergraduate Earth and environmental science courses.