Middle school students spend Sundays with science
Did you spend your weekends doing science projects during middle school? For 7th and 8th graders at South Gate Middle School, the answer to that question is yes! For the past three years, a group of South Gate students has been coming to CMA every Sunday during the school year to learn about scientific research by designing and documenting their own research projects.
It all started with an enthusiastic science teacher named Craig Jones. After listening to presentations by CMA staff members, he was very skeptical about the student research program at the Aquarium. “When Craig first called he really didn’t think that Aquarium staff members would mentor South Gate students for free. He said, ‘Nothing exists in this world that is that good,’” said CMA Research Curator Kiersten Darrow.
“After several phone conversations, Craig was convinced. He really wanted to get South Gate Middle School students to a science fair for the first time ever,” said Darrow. “The biggest challenge was how to get all the students here every Sunday.” Thankfully, FRIENDS of CMA receives bus transportation funds from donors such as The Ella Fitzgerald Foundation and was able to cover the weekly costs.
With a full bus available, there was room to give many students a chance to visit CMA. “We have our core group of South Gate Middle School students here every single week working on research projects and then we have a different group of visiting students who joins them,” said Darrow. “We are bringing as many students as possible to CMA because we want them to get excited about science and hopefully some of the visiting students will want to be part of the core research group next year.”
Each Sunday, the visiting students split off to work with several local student volunteers led by CMA staff member Chris Bautista. The day is packed with fun activities including an Aquarium tour, an introduction to field research and Aquatic Nursery research highlights. Students get to feed abalone, learn about seahorses and their behavior and sometimes there’s even an opportunity to witness in vitro fertilization of jellies.
Meanwhile, Andres Carrillo, a CMA staff member and PhD student at UC-Irvine, mentors and teaches the core group of 24 students doing research projects. “At the beginning of the program I talk to them about CMA, the scientific method, how to look up facts in the library and help them understand what makes a suitable research project,” said Carrillo. “During the fifth week, the students are setting up tanks or learning how to use quadrats for field research measurements. The goal is for each student to be able to create a poster and learn how science works.”
And so far, Carrillo’s approach and Jones’ dedication to accompanying the kids every Sunday has been a winning combination. Not only have South Gate students met Jones’ goal of going to the Los Angeles County Science Fair, during the second year of the program Chelsea Gonzalez placed first in her category and Kevin Coronado received an honorable mention. Now Violeta Llamas, another science teacher, has taken over the program and a third group of South Gate students is preparing for the science fair this year and maybe another first place.
Post Date: Monday, March 04, 2013