Gates Chili Central School District

Teaching science in a new way

Gates Chili High School science teacher Chris Amesbury's forensics class was challenged with presenting complex science concepts, like the chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar, in a way that third-grade students would understand and find interesting. This Project-Based Learning (PBL) activity's theme revolved around a made-up crime in the high school and the forensics that could be used to solve the case.

Amesbury discussed with his high school students what a third-grader's learning abilities are and showed videos of a third-grade classroom. Amesbury worked with Gates Chili science teacher Laura Braid and BOCES 2 STEM Coach Leslie Tanner to coordinate the pieces of the PBL. 

The forensics class also had assistance from Rochester Museum and Science Center Head of School and Teacher Programs Deborah Massey. She helped the students understand how to make the stations kid friendly and how to interact with third-graders. Part of a PBL is utilizing experts in a given field to further the students' discovery.

PBL is intended to engage learners' minds and involve meaningful inquiry. According to the Buck Institute for Education, there are eight essentials for PBL: significant content; a need to know; a driving question; student voice and choice; 21st-century competencies; in-depth inquiry; critique and revision; and public audience. 

"Through this project, the high school students were able to think critically, collaborate and be creative," said Tanner, touching on key competencies that students need to be successful in the workforce.

Fifty one third-graders were treated to a case of whodunit. They walked into a mock crime scene in the atrium of the high school and then visited seven stations featuring forensics-based activities. The third-graders were there to help solve the crime using evidence, science and observation and the forensics class students assisted them as the culmination of the PBL.

At one station meant to test a powder found at the scene, third-graders witnessed reactions between various white powders and liquids. When the baking soda and vinegar reacted during the demonstration, one student deduced what the white powder was and quickly wrote his answer: "Baking soda because it swelled up." 

That was just the reaction the forensics student teachers were looking for.

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