Science service learning : learning in deed
Glass, Lelia "Dale" Soutter
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Many schools require community service, yet students work at a food bank or stream clean-up without understanding causes or solutions for the issues they encounter. Since students learn best when they make connections between scientific concepts and real-world issues that interest them, integrated science service learning is an effective and engaging way to teach. My fifth grade students at National Presbyterian School in Washington, DC learned about climate change through a service learning project to help the environment on campus. My class of 28 fifth-graders investigated environmental variables affecting our campus. They brainstormed ways they could help the environment and decided to focus on reducing idling in the school carpool lane. Students researched the relationship between automobile exhaust and climate change, acid rain, and health. Students crafted a tally sheet to record the number of cars and their idling times. Over an average week with pleasant weather, 35 of 165 cars (22%) which arrived early for carpool idled for a total of 509 minutes. This put out 75 kg of the greenhouse gas, CO ₂, and cost $34.00 in fuel. Students used this research to develop an anti-idling campaign, which they presented to the whole student body and posted on the school website and e-newsletter. Students showed improvement on climate science knowledge and realized typical or better marks on benchmark assessments. They also became more confident in their knowledge, moving from an average 3 before the project to an average 8.5 afterwards on a 10-point Likert scale. Students also demonstrated a change in their view of science. Before the project they drew chemists with bubbling test tubes but after the project they drew themselves as a variety of different scientists helping to solve problems in the world. This project attests that science service learning can make science more concrete and relatable, teaching students not only about the concepts and techniques of science, but its role as a tool for the public good.