The Rim Country Middle School library buzzed with nervous twitters and fidgeting; spread out in a circle, tri-fold cardboard displays showed Christina Cleary’s sixth grade science class projects on weather topics from tornados to lightning.
“They just finished their unit on weather,” said Cleary. “I had them pick a question and do a research project. It helps them to get excited about the subject.”
Cleary’s students then presented their findings to eighth-graders, which made them nervous — until they launched into their presentations.
Emma Thompson decided to find out why hurricanes have people’s names.
“Meteorologists pick people’s names to keep track of storms,” she said gushing with excitement. “It makes warning people easier.”
Thompson said she learned that each year, meteorologists pick a hurricane’s name from a list of up to 21 candidates.
In 2014, she said to look for a storm named Vicky.
Emma said she picked her topic because there are so many hurricanes.
Cleary said that for part of their projects, the students had to interview an expert.
Emma interviewed a meteorologist.
Cleary’s requirement that the students interview an expert is an example of project-based learning (PBL), an approach that exposes children to teamwork, problem solving, gathering research, integrating information, and using tools such as computers.
The George Lucas Foundation (http://www.edutopia.org), has gathered the latest research on PBL.
Studies show that project-based learning, when done well, increases a student’s ability to remember the subject taught and improve their attitudes about learning.
Cleary said by sixth grade, many students begin to lose interest in science, but research shows that doing a project such as the weather presentation keeps the students interested.
Lexy Turlukis definitely expressed excitement with her topic. She decided to pick a weather topic that hits closer to home — lightning.
“We have a lot of lightning because temperatures drop and ice crystals (in clouds) bump together more and more ... the top of the cloud has positive energy and the bottom is negative and lightning happens,” said Lexy.
She said it’s dangerous because lightning is attracted to things that stick out, like people or a tree.
Lexy even found out about ancient culture’s attitudes about lightning.
“The Egyptians thought the gods were angry when they saw lightning,” she said.
Lexy knew the average number of lightning strikes annually in the United States (16 million) and the average number of times lightning strikes in a storm (100 flashes).
She said she has gone out to watch lightning storms with her brother and it’s pretty exciting.
Down the aisle from Lexy, Jesus Sanchez played with his mock up of how a hurricane works.
He taped two plastic pop bottles together, put in water, sunflower seeds, blue food coloring and a little soap to make a pile of bubbles.
As he watched the water swirl from one bottle to the other, he said he had added the particulates in the water because hurricanes, “pick up a lot of debris.”
He said hurricanes were affected by the cycle of water, weather and changing seasons.
Jesus articulately talked about the water cycle, “Ms. Cleary taught us,” by dropping a chain of papers taped together longer than he was tall.
Just then, Cleary announced the end of class.
“Pack up and get ready for your next class,” she told them. “The eighth-graders said they really enjoyed your presentations.”
Jesus beamed as he put away his project.