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From New SENCER Models Engage Students in Fieldwork and Research at the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement on August 8, 2017

The 2017 additions to the SENCER Model Series actively involve students in designing and carrying out projects as they master course concepts. Ecotoxicology, or the “Worm Lab” by Dr. Sharon Pochron of Stony Brook University, includes two courses, EHI 350: Design and Implement a Research Project in Ecotoxicology (fall) and EHI 351: Conduct and Communicate a Research Project in Ecotoxicology (spring). All projects have human angle: how dangerous is (fill in the blank with an environmental toxin) to soil and the creatures that live in soil? Students study existing literature, set up and run an experiment, and analyze results for publication and dissemination.

Field & Natural Science, a course for pre-service middle school teachers, models effective pedagogical methods that the students can later use in their own practice. Students participate in fieldwork surrounding environmental issues, collect and analyze data, and share results. Dr. Sarah Haines of Towson University focuses improving pre-service teacher education in environmental issues, and has been a leader in the SENCER community in this work. She is a SENCER Leadership Fellow and is currently part of a grant project through NCSCE and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to develop partnerships between colleges, universities, and informal education venues.

Ecotoxicology (“Worm Lab”), Dr. Sharon Pochron, Stony Brook University

By its nature, ecotoxicology pulls in policy and culture. For instance, it was the WHO that reclassified Roundup’s main ingredient as a probable toxin, and it is school districts across Long Island, the US and Europe who are pulling out grass fields and replacing them with fields made of recycled tires.

The first semester begins by articulating the environmental toxins that currently concern the students. Students then perform an extensive review of published literature regarding their toxin using Web of Science, Google Scholar and/or PubMed. After reading the literature, students walk through what we know and don’t know about the risks associated with the toxin, and devise a way to test the risk using earthworms and soil microbes. At this point, sample size issues, costs, and how to interpret various outcomes are discussed. If the students want to use techniques that Dr. Pochron doesn’t personally have in her toolkit, Dr. Pochron and the students discuss ways to get access to them. This has led to teaming with chemistry professors, ecotox labs, and Brookhaven National Laboratories. Over the course of two semesters, at least one research project is conducted, sometimes two or more, the paper is written, and the Spring students present their research at SBU’s science fair. After they get the project underway, the Fall students draft high-quality Introduction and Methods sections for their research. The Spring students complete the research and writing. In the Spring semester, effective ways and venues for communicating findings are discussed, thereby engaging local citizens in science in general and this research in particular. Access the full model here.

Photograph of Sharon Pochron and students in the Worm Lab courtesy of Sharon Pochron

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