Students Engaged in Real World Science
Place-based education (PBE) engages students in learning through and with their local community. The Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA) launched the WeatherBlur program in 2011 to support local PBE efforts and extend them through an online platform where students co-design science investigations in collaboration with fellow students, community members, and scientists.
The first year of WeatherBlur led to an interesting discovery by students in island schools along Maine’s coast. Students at four schools were curious about what types of bycatch they would find in local lobster traps. Through WeatherBlur they co-developed a plan to investigate, and they engaged local lobstermen to help collect data. To their surprise, the primary bycatch discovered was not local—it was an invasive European green crab. Through further collaboration with scientists, peers, and community members, the students learned their research mirrored the findings of scientists in the area. They were invited to present their findings at the 2013 Maine Green Crab Summit (see presentation posters here). While the invasion of green crabs remains a persistent problem in Maine, students have been empowered as young scientists to learn how collective inquiry and collaboration can help us better understand and propose solutions to critical and challenging problems.
Partnerships Extending Opportunities
This year, new partnerships build on the past success of WeatherBlur to connect distant communities in new ways. MMSA and RTI International have partnered to link schools in coastal Maine with schools in coastal Mississippi and Alabama through WeatherBlur, with the support of a Capacity Building Grant from the National Academies of Sciences’ Gulf Research Program. MMSA and RTI recently provided training to this year’s cohort of teachers who will introduce more than 1,200 students along the Gulf of Maine and the Gulf of Mexico to the WeatherBlur. Students in grades three through eight will use the platform to engage with peers, national environmental health experts and local community stakeholders to conduct investigations, share data and carry out action projects to improve the health of their communities. Classrooms will be connected throughout the year—co-developing their investigations, learning about life in different coastal communities, and supporting each other in their actions. When recently asked what they are most excited about for the coming year, many teachers responded that they look forward to “being surprised” by what the students discover together.
Technology Extends Place-Based Education in Rural Communities
A mix of technology and inquiry is driving this unique approach to PBE. WeatherBlur is both a platform and process that empowers students in rural communities to design and carry out co-created place-based citizen science projects based on self-identified areas of interest. WeatherBlur leverages technology to extend PBE beyond rural communities through relationship building and increased collaboration between diverse participants including youth, teachers, community members, representatives from natural resource-based economies (such as fishermen) and scientists.