Connecting students and scientists

As the new school year is getting underway, are you looking for some experiences to get students focused on scientific thinking and research skills? How can we show students what scientists actually “do” and how they communicate? Many teachers share science articles on current research with students  or assign students to find them on the Internet. To interact with the information, students are often asked to complete a teacher-created reading guide, answer questions, or write a summary.

In one of the NSTA’s listserves, the Natural Inquirer was mentioned and recommended as a way to connect current science with the scientists who do the research. The publication is described as a “middle school science education journal” for students and teachers and is published by the USDA Forest Service. The articles are written by scientists who conduct various types of research. These aren’t just summaries or digests–the articles describe the methodology and discuss the results, just like an article in a professional science journal. The difference is that these are written in student-friendly language and include resources for the classroom.

Scientific Modeling CoverIn each issue, the articles can be downloaded as PDF files, and some are also available in Spanish. Each article introduces the scientists and has a glossary, graphs, diagrams, charts, and photographs in a visually appealing format. What I really like, though, are the reflection questions throughout the article to get students to stop and think as they read. Many articles also have a “factivity” that extends the concept to the classroom as a hands-on investigation or a vocabulary review.

Some of the issues have several articles relating to a theme; others are monographs with one article. You can browse the contents of each issue, but I found the search feature helpful. The “Education Resources” link has ideas for lesson plans, downloadable podcasts, and slide shows. And, best of all, the PDF articles, downloads, and other resources are FREE.

The articles are multidisciplinary, focusing not just on biology and ecology, but also on related topics in the physical and earth sciences. These articles are robust enough to be used in activities that reflect science practices, and lesson ideas are included. To see what this would look like, check out Engaging Students in the Analysis and Interpretation of Real-World Data in the November 2013 issue of NSTA’s Science Scope.

If you’re an elementary or high school teacher, take a look at this site, too. Even though the journal is designed for the middle school level, the articles and activities could be useful at other grade levels: for upper elementary students who are interested in science and who could handle the reading level or for high school students with little experience in science thinking and hands-on science or those who struggle with the advanced reading level in traditional textbooks. Or for teachers who want to learn more for themselves! For example, living in coastal Delaware and participating in horseshoe crab counts every spring, I was interested in the article How Do Horseshoe Crab and Red Knot Populations Affect Each Other?

The site also describes two other publications with “readers” for K-2 students that describe the work of scientists, and the Investi-gator for upper elementary.

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2 Comments

  1. Jana Downey
    Posted September 2, 2015 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    The photos on the Natural Inquirer do not download with the rest of the article only a blank white section indicating where the picture is suppose to be that I am missing. 🙁

  2. Jessica
    Posted September 3, 2015 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Hi Jana,
    I am sorry to hear about the trouble you are having downloading the article. Can you tell me which article it is so I can look into fixing the problem. I would also be glad to send you a hard copy of the article. Feel free to email me at jessica@naturalinquirer.org. Thanks!

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