Teacher Levi Simons: No reason why you can't get meaningful scientific data from 14-year-olds

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Hurray for Crashspace member, high school science teacher, and Boing Boing reader Levi Simons for winning an "Unsung Heroes" grant from ING, the financial services institution!

The honor comes with a $2,000 grant that Levi will use to fund "The TIGER Project" with his Division Three students at Wildwood School in Los Angeles.

TIGER stands for Technologically Integrated Geotagged Environmental Research. Ninth grader Owen L. will lead the project, which involves sending students to various sites throughout Los Angeles to test metrics such as pH and dissolved oxygen content of the local outdoor water quality.

"Students will be checking the environmental conditions in their own city, and looking at those conditions over time to compile public data," Levi explains.

The project has four themes: air and water quality, drawing meaningful conclusions from data, the social impact of environmental quality, and the economic motivators behind current and potential environmental conditions. "This merges social science and physical science," says Levi.

Students will use netbooks, digital camcorders, and Wiki software that will be purchased with the ING grant. Levi sees these tools as fundamental equipment that can be used by "citizen scientists." In fact, the concept of the "citizen scientist" is a growing movement — and Levi is a passionate supporter. He envisions projects in which researchers at all levels, from high school to grad school, can do field work with little more than a cell phone to contribute to ever-expanding bodies of knowledge.

"It’s about creating a central lab, then farming out the research to local citizens and creating 'volunteer effort science,'" he explains.

Levi has recruited two citizen scientists from Division Three, Charlie S. and Steven W., to work with him on a project at Caltech that involves finding compounds that will split into hydrogen and oxygen when placed in water. Another student, Paul N., is working with Levi on a radiation mapping project through Crashspace, which describes itself as "a collection of hackers, programmers, builders, makers, artists, and people who generally like to break things and see what new things we can build with the pieces."

This active, hands-on approach to science is in keeping with Levi’s firm belief that "the most effective way to learn is through the apprenticeship model." "There’s no reason why you can’t get meaningful scientific data from 14-year-olds," he says. "Science is about hard work and endurance. It doesn’t matter what age you are."

Physics Teacher Levi Simons Wins ING Grant

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  1. I (and my wife) attended a one-day-a-week school for the gifted in northwest florida (“The Learning Center” of Okaloosa County), where you could take courses ranging from the humanties/theater, to hard science, and the arts.  (Even a class on etiquette, grooming, and dancing).   I took classes there in botany than held me over all the way through college botany 101, oceanography, and archeology.  

    Having done a supervised dig and transect surveys in Archeology (6th grade), as well as sand and current studies in Oceanography… we occasionally found something interesting enough (with enough detail) to interest the local university to come and investigate – I feel I can say the following with a measure of confidence:

    Kids can generate good science if they have trusting, motivated and patient adults willing to teach it to them.  They can astound you with their capabilities if you help/allow them to do so.

    Finding said adults is the hard part.

    1. ” a one-day-a-week school for the gifted in northwest florida (“The
      Learning Center” of Okaloosa County), where you could take courses
      ranging from the humanties/theater, to hard science, and the arts. 
      (Even a class on etiquette, grooming, and dancing).”

      oh, lucky y’all.  :/  seriously.  here where i live, we just got shoved into whatever room the other (and much larger) end of special ed decided they didn’t need at that particular moment.  the teachers did a wonderful job with what we had, which was more or less zero resources.  seriously, for several years we met in a changing room adjacent to the stage, which was located in the cafeteria.  no special outings, field trips, anything like that.  but we *did* get to dissect frogs once, which was considered a Very Big Deal and Very Extravagant on the part of our school.

  2. Buddy, just play it cool, man. Don’t turn around. Kenny G is sneaking up behind you. I said don’t turn around!

  3. ” He envisions projects in which researchers at all levels, from high
    school to grad school, can do field work with little more than a cell
    phone to contribute to ever-expanding bodies of knowledge.”

    my admiration for science is matched by a nearly-learning-disabled-level incapacity for math — thus my inability to pursue anything science-y degree-wise — so i’m in love with this concept.

  4. [curmudgeonlygrumble]  In MY day, we used test tubes and PH strips, none of this fancy-schmancy GPS stuff!  And we were only sixth-graders! [grumblegetoffmylawngrumble]

    (I had some great science classes.  In eighth grade, the class everyone wanted to be in was Aviation, where you got to build and shoot a model rocket, and fly a Cessna.  When I was fourteen, I got to buzz my house!)

  5. F-ing A man!  Yeah, they could have freed up a few more dollars for this stuff, but hey, it’s not like Levi is paying them huge salaries.  With a little luck, maybe some more funding will come his way in the future, maybe even because of the media attention.  I can only hope my son gets a teacher as awesome as Levi at some point in his education.  

  6. There’s no reason why you can’t get meaningful scientific data from 14-year olds

    Do you mean things like:  What is the chemical composition of those 14-year olds?  What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen 14-year old?Things like that?

  7. “No reason why you can’t get meaningful scientific data from 14 year-olds” is something I can totally imagine Cave Johnson saying.

  8. “Teacher Levi Simons: No reason why you can’t get meaningful scientific data from 14-year-olds if you dissect them carefully”

    Fixed that for ya.

  9. Having a good teacher makes all the difference. I practically failed my way through organic chemistry, but because we had an awesome high school teacher, I knew how to do lab reports after a semester-long water quality project.

    Good teachers don’t just need raises. They deserve some effing medals. 

  10. anybody who is capable of independent thought is capable of new/innovative scientific data. the trick is to sic ’em on the right problem or concept. kids, especially.

  11. They’re certainly easier to trick into the lab, and they’re smaller so it’s easier to get them in their restraints.  It’s a lot easier to SCIENCE when they’re not squirming around, making you cut the wrong thing or drop that baboon heart.

  12. Hm. Using kids to perform environmental testing that elsewhere would be performed by Env. techs and GIS grads. Brilliant! It’s not child labour if it’s for Science, right?

    1. It’s the apprenticeship model.  Now everyone put on your pointy felt hats, we’re going to learn how to blacksmith!

  13. @google-83cc6f8949af17b0661be6f86cb90580:disqus – so all learning that possibly could take away a job from someone further along the learning path should be verboten?

    What about research-grade work conducted by hobbyists in their field? Astronomy would be way behind if only professional astronomers were allowed to contribute.

    I guess if your #1 priority, above all, is making sure everyone has a job, then I might could at least wrap my brain around your position.

  14. While 2000 dollars might not seem a lot to us, for a guy like Levi, back in the 1980s, it’s quite a windfall. He could buy several Atari 2600s with that kind of dough. Yes, with the faux wood paneling too.

  15. Purchasing wiki software? Why? Open source is free. Mediawiki, Tikiwiki and others. As schools become increasingly crippled by ideologues open source will have to be part of the mix.

    1. Oh, the open source stuff is free, but it’s gets grouped together with the hardware when the projects are discussed.  Thanks for the link though!
      Speaking of which, http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/proposal.html?id=583642 .  Forgive my asking, but…..

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