STUDENT WORK AT FOUR RIVERS HAS DEMONSTRATED INCREASED ARTISTRY AND CRAFTSMANSHIP, COMPLEX THINKING, AND AN AUTHENTIC AUDIENCE.
The purpose of our 11th grade Chemistry arsenic research expedition is to show students what university-level research is and to give them the chance to take part in an ongoing study aimed at helping solve a real-world problem: arsenic contamination in rice. Students meet Dr. Julian Tyson, professor emeritus of Analytical Chemistry at UMass and learn about his research into arsenic detection methods. Most years we focus on developing reliable methods for detecting arsenic in rice, but sometimes we work on improving test kits for use detecting arsenic in water. Since our students’ work is meant to contribute to the work of Dr. Tyson’s graduate and undergraduate students, 11th graders are asked to present their experiments and findings in a specific professional format: the research article. The audience for their work is Dr. Tyson and the student researchers in his lab, as well as our own future Chemistry students, who will need high-quality models.
After building background knowledge using a variety of protocols to introduce the issue of arsenic students are asked to get familiar with the format of a research article using close reading protocols geared toward complex texts. Their teacher introduces the test kits, reagents, and reactions they will use to conduct the majority of their experiments. Students are put into groups and select research topics that Dr. Tyson has provided. Each year the topics are different, as they reflect the current state of his research. One of the biggest sources of motivation for the students is that even Dr. Tyson doesn't know what the Four Rivers students’ research will find - there are no answer keys and they themselves are generating new knowledge. They are also building skills in scientific research and experimentation.