Authentic Student Research

sci fair header

Seven days until Science Fair at Dalat International School. My students are scrambling around to get their work done, fine tune their data analysis, thinking about how to assemble their presentations. There is a hum of action in “my” lab. I feel energized just listening and watching and answering and trouble shooting.

Last week I heard from a lovely former student who is finished medical school (University of Washington) and is starting her residency. I remember so many years ago now, her “individual research project.” At that time, it was my first effort and “authentic student research” and my guidance was more rudimentry than her innovation. Having difficulty finding a question to study she chose my feeble suggestion: does the pH in the soil increase or decrease as distance from a conifer’s trunk increases? (The idea being that little grows under a conifer and pH could be the possible reason.)

She did a great job; I think I still have her paper somewhere. I think about that now: 2 students today told me they hope to study medicine in Melbourne when they graduate. Years ago I might have been dubious, but now I want to encourage them.

Which brings me back to student research. Student research is HARD! Authentic questions are not simple; even simple questions are not obvious. 2 students do electrolysis with 9V batteries and NaCl as an electrolyte are getting bubbles on only 1 electrode. 1 electrode? How is that possible? [Still working on that one!]

Another student (one destined for Melbourne), is looking at affect of voltage (in a voltaic cell) on pH at both electrodes. There is a remarkable “mirror image” effect of the pH readings. They fluctuate synchronously looking like a line-drawn inkblot. [Still sorting out this one too!]

The adventure is an “open system.” I honestly do not know what the outcome will be in some of these experiments. It is an opportunity to model risk-taking and to also work with students to make the best of a plan gone sideways.

This sure seems a lot like real life!

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