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Inquiry Science at Dartmouth

Faculty and their graduate students work with the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) to develop inquiry-based science 'modules' related to their research. Ideally, these modules are 1-2 hours in length and incorporate hands-on activities. Training through DCAL is available on the development of effective inquiry-based modules. Once a module is developed it is published on the Dartmouth Outreach website and Sara Riordan, Science Outreach Coordinator, will connect researchers with K-12 teachers in the area who might be interested in adopting the module or having a graduate student or faculty member visit their classroom to present the module.

Inquiry Modules developed by Dartmouth GK-12 Fellows, Faculty and Partner Teachers

Overview: Gravity is the natural phenomenon by which all objects in the universe are attracted to one another. Gravity allows stars to form from clouds of hydrogen gas, planets to form from molecules of cosmic dust, and is responsible for the orbits of all celestial bodies. But, what measurable quantities affect the strength of gravity? In this module, students explore how gravity affects celestial bodies and their orbits.

Supporting Materials: Geology Cupcake Lab Worksheet

Overview: Geologists use rock cores as a means to determine the likely composition of rock beneath us, without having to completely clear the land. In this exercise, students will take multiple “rock” cores of a cupcake, measure and record the different rock types, calculate the age of the core, and create a stratigraphic map. Students will make connections between the abstract concept of geologic time and the physical representation of rock core layers by considering types of geological processes.

Supporting Materials: Where In The World Presentation

Overview: Soils are hidden below our feet, but they are an essential resource for life on earth. This module consists of multiple interactive activities that enable the students to explore, question, and learn about soil characteristics, diversity, and their importance to humans and ecosystems. The activities are designed so that the instructor can pick the activities that fit into the time that they have available.

Supporting Materials: Bacterial Growth Calculations Presentation, Data Table 1, Data Table 2

Overview: Biophysical chemists insert the DNA that encodes a protein of interest into E. coli bacterial cells. These cells can be grown to high density and induced to produce the protein of interest. Once this protein has been produced, it is harvested and purified from the bacteria in order to be used for biochemical and biophysical experiments. This process of growing and harvesting bacteria for protein production is a bread-and-butter procedure for biochemists and is performed on a regular basis. Every step of this process requires monitoring by the scientist, often including on-the-spot calculation of dilutions. This lesson guides students to mimic these on-the-spot calculations and highlights the interconnected nature of the sciences and mathematics.

Overview: Using existing knowledge of computer science, students will design an Arduino robot that stops and turns either left or right upon approaching an obstacle.

  • Water Isotopes Time Machine, developed by Gifford Wong, PhD Candidate; Inspired by David Noone (Oregon State University) and his Summit Station (Greenland) Summer Science Lecture (2014)

Supporting Materials: Isotopes Presentation, Isotopes Teacher Notes, Isotopes d180 Plotting Practice Data

Overview: Ice cores are cylinder-shaped samples of ice drilled from a glacier. Similar to tree rings, ice core records provide a direct and detailed way to study past climate. One reason ice cores present such great records of past climate is the accuracy by which we can date an ice core. Scientists can analyze for soluble and insoluble chemical constituents as well as the isotopic composition of the ice, all of which typically vary depending upon the season in which the snow fell. Stable isotope ratios of water (hydrogen and oxygen), which vary depending on temperature, can reveal warmer (summer) and colder (winter) periods of the year.

In this lesson, students will review the structure of an atom, molecule and isotope. Students will then be introduced to the physical factors controlling heavier and lighter isotopes, developing (or augmenting) a conceptual understanding of the hydrological cycle. Finally, students will apply their newly acquired understanding to interpret stable water isotope data from an ice core taken from the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Supporting Materials: What is an Atom Worksheet

Everything in the universe around us is made up of atoms.  From simple elements to something as complex as the human body, atoms are involved in all of the processes that allow life to happen here on earth.  In this lesson students will build models to explore the structure of atoms and to gain a better understanding of their make-up and structure.

Overview: Colorimetry is a method of determining the concentration of a substance in a solution. This method has wide uses in science including determining the concentration of hemoglobin in blood, of chemicals such as chlorine, cyanide and mercury in water, of glucose and chlorophyll in plants, and of nutrients in the soil. This lesson teaches students to build a standard curve to determine the relationship between the light absorbed by a substance and its concentration in a solution.

Overview: Ants are famous for being able to solve complex problems, but if you watch an individual ant it is remarkable how bumbling and unskilled it may seem – ants get lost, that wander around at random, and they will sometimes follow each other in circles until they starve to death, for example.  So how do they collectively solve complex problems like finding the shortest distances between food sources and home?  They do it by using swarm intelligence – the solving of complex cognitive problems by pooling the knowledge of numerous individuals.  In this lesson we will learn about swarm intelligence, where it appears in nature, and even about how humans unknowingly use swarm intelligence on a day-to-day basis.   

Supporting Materials: Candy Fly Evolution Worksheet

Overview: Heredity, genotype and phenotype, homozygotes and heterozygotes, statistics and probability

Supporting Materials: IRGA Welcome presentation for teachers; IRGA Instructional Video1; IRGA Instructional Video2, IRGA Instructional Video3

This lesson introduces how an instructor may use an Infrared Gas Analyzer (IRGA) to teach students about photosynthesis and cellular respiration by measuring carbon dioxide uptake and release in plants. From CO2 levels, the IRGA calculates the photosynthesis and respiration rates of plants, which allows students to see how these rates change in response to various environmental conditions. For example, students can observe a plant switching from photosynthesis to respiration when sunlight is removed, or can see changes in photosynthetic rate in response to watering with cold versus warm water. This lesson serves well to connect cellular respiration and photosynthesis once the students have understood the concepts of each, and fits well with Science Standards for grades 7 & 8, although the IRGA could easily be used by more advanced students for a research project/science fair project. For instance, I used it for my PhD.

Supporting Materials: Module Introduction Presentation; Climate Data; Using Real Data Module Worksheet; Using Real Data Module Worksheet Answers; Using Excel for Teachers

This module provides data about a number of different climate measurements from around the globe. Students will develop hypotheses about the data that they will test by graphing different variables (or combinations of variables for more advanced students/classes) in Microsoft Excel.

Supporting Materials: Sound Worksheet; Sound Worksheet Key

This module is meant to introduce students to the basic properties of sound (wavelength, frequency, and amplitude). Additionally, it introduces students to local (to VT/NH) frog species and sets the stage for students to monitor frog calls.

  • The Rock Cycle, developed by Laura Levy, PhD Candidate, Department of Earth Sciences

Supporting Materials: Rock Cycle Presentation

The rock cycle is responsible for the continuous recycling of rocks and sediments on our planet. This lab uses crayons as substitutes for rock so that students can gain first hand experience with the rock cycle completing something that usually takes millions of years in 50 minutes.

  • McNuggets Module , developed by Zeb Engberg, PhD Candidate, Department of Mathematics, with Jeanine King

Overview: McNuggets are a chicken-related food sold by McDonalds. In the final decade of the last century, McNuggets could be purchased in boxes of 6, 9, and 20. As a customer, what possible amounts of McNuggets are you able to order from McDonalds? For example, it is possible to order 15 McNuggets because it can be obtained from a box of 6 and a box of 9. On the other hand, it is impossible to order 16 McNuggets. A McNugget number is an integer that can be obtained by adding together a combination of McNuggets coming from boxes of 6, 9, and 20 McNuggets. Conversely, a non-McNugget number is an integer which cannot be obtained from any combination of 6, 9, or 20 McNuggets. In the mathematical community, this sort of problem is generally called the Frobenius problem (see the Mathworld article or Wikipedia entry for more information), and it can be phrased in terms of postage stamp values, coins, points-values in a game of football, etc. There are many interesting unsolved problems connected to the Frobenius problem.

Supporting Materials: Solar Observing Guide Appendix; Solar Observation Worksheet; Solar Observation Worksheet Teacher's Copy; Sunspot Image Day 1; Sunspot Image Day 2

The Sun, the source of all life on Earth, is a dynamic, changing star. With the naked eye, we can tell very little about it. However, with some simple tools, we can start to learn much about its physical properties through the observation of sunspots. In this lesson students will observe the Sun in three different ways, and will determine how fast it rotates.If time or interest permits, students can also graph the Sun's sunspot history to see solar activity over the centuries.

Supporting Material:Video Games, Psychology, and the Brain Presentation

Overview: This module is meant to introduce students to the concept of dual-process theories of the mind and the nature of decision-making in the brain, through the psychological investigation of the Stroop Effect. This module will also serve as an exercise in data collection, interpretation, and presentation.

Overview: In this activity students will gain firsthand experience in the scientific process of discovering a new planet.

Supporting Materials: Power Set Outline for Teachers; Light Switches Activity Sheet-Day 1; StarsCandyBars Activity Sheet-Day 1; Boxes Activity Sheet-Day 1; Stars Activity Sheet-Day 1; Lesson Plan Day 2; Worksheet Day 2; Homework Day 2; Homework Answers Day 2; Group Assessment-Bonus Day; Boxes Handout-Bonus Day; Stars Handout-Bonus Day; Group Assessment Answers

Overview: In this two (or three) day set of lessons, students will explore the concept of a power set of a set X, which is the set of all subsets of the set X. For example, say that X is a set of paint colors: red, green, and blue. Given X, how many color combinations are there? Students will first participate in a hands-on discovery activity on Day One. Then on Day Two, students will formalize their findings from the activity on Day One, through a question and answer lecture session. There is a bonus session where students can use the skills and notation from the previous two days into exploring an extension of the power set.

Overview: This module introduces students to the chemical and physical changes that occur when a chemical reaction has taken place. Students will observe several reactions before being asked to determine which of two experiments leads to a chemical reaction.

Overview: This lesson is an exploration into the mathematical world of tiling. It is an incredible fact that the number of domino tilings of a 2 x n rectangle is precisely the Fibonacci numbers. Students will work in groups to construct the tilings of 2 x n rectangles with dominoes. They will then conjecture how many tilings there are of an arbitrary 2 x n rectangle and work to explain why their conjecture is true.

  • Glacier Flow, developed by Rebecca Williams, PhD Candidate, Thayer School of Engineering

Overview: The focus of this activity is to understand the different aspects of glacier flow and the material parameters that affect flow velocity. This module is appropriate for students studying calculus.

Overview: Bacteria and other microorganisms are everywhere around us, and the discovery of the importance of hygiene and hand-washing was a key advancement in public health in the 19th and early 20th century. With this experiment students will learn to visualize microorganisms on growth plates, and learn about the importance and efficacy of various hand washing techniques.

Overview: This activity focuses on how we distinguish things that are living from those that are not living. Students are encouraged to imagine a new species and to use the six characteristics of life to justify that the organism that they imagine is alive.

  • Math and Music, developed by Megan Martinez, PhD Candidate, Department of Mathematics and Alex Barnett in conjunction with Ilene Kanoff

Overview: This lesson is an exploration into the mathematical world of music. Students will learn about the relationship between pitch, frequency, and period. Students will then apply their knowledge by constructing their own set of pan pipes.

  • The Number Devil, developed by Megan Martinez, PhD Candidate, Department of Mathematics and Ilene Kanoff

Overview: This lesson focuses on incorporating reading, writing, critical thinking, and independence into the math classroom. Students will work in groups to read an assigned chapter from the mathematical fiction book, The Number Devil, by Hans Magnus Enzenberger. Students will then be responsible for the math concepts covered in their assigned chapters, will compose a writing piece detailing the math, and create a technology presentation to share this information with the other students.

Overview: This module explores the concepts of freezing point depression, heat transfer, hydrogen bonding, and material science while asking the question, "why does ice cream have a smooth, soft consistency, while frozen water or milk is hard?" 

  • Building Motions in Earthquakes, developed by Vicki V. May, PhD, Instructional Associate Professor, Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College; Adapted from: FEMA Seismic Sleuths and SDSC TeacherTech Science Series

Overview: During an earthquake, buildings move – or oscillate. If the frequency of this oscillation is close to the natural frequency of the building, resonance may cause severe damage. This lesson encourages students to observe how the mass, stiffness, and height of buildings affect their motion and how buildings respond to resonant motions.

Overview: About 90% of flowering plants rely on bees and other animals for reproduction through pollination. Pollinators, in turn, benefit from plants by receiving food in the form of nectar and pollen. This "win-win" relationship between plants and pollinators is called a mutualism. This lesson encourages students to understand mutualisms from the POV of both plants and pollinators, and gain an intuition for the effects that human disturbance can have on plant- pollinator interactions.

Overview: Mental operations can come into conflict with each other. For example, it is exceedingly difficult to both remember a list of 15 words and count backwards from 500 in multiples of 7. This is because distinct mental processes (remembering, computing a number) can share mental resources. This lesson explores a similar kind of mental conflict directly, by replicating a famous psychological effect discovered by John Ridley Stroop.

Supporting materials: Worksheet for From DNA to Protein

Overview: In this lesson students will become more familiar with the processes of transcription and translation by performing these tasks with puzzle-like pieces that represent DNA, RNA, tRNA, and amino acid molecules.

  • The Pasta Model of the Bone, developed by Justine Hutchinson, PhD Candidate, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; adapted from NIHLooking  Good,  Feeling  Good:  From  the  Inside  Out   Lesson  2:  What  Makes  Bones  Strong?

Supporting materials: Pasta-Bone Model Worksheet

Overview: This  lesson  includes  a  hands-­‐on  exploration  of  the  structure  and  function  of  bone.

  • Introduction to Light, developed by Michael Mastanduno, PhD Candidate, Thayer School of Engineering;  adapted from Kahn Academy

Overview: Students will use a slinky and a microwave to explore the properties of waves (frequency and wavelength) and have a general understanding of electromagnetic radiation.

  • The Brain Game, developed by Olivia Kang, PhD Candidate, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Overview: Our brains are essential for everything that we do, from seeing, to moving, to thinking. This exercise was developed to help students differentiate between the main regions of the brain, and use group- collaboration and critical thinking to discover what kinds of functions these regions are responsible for.

Supporting materials: Spectroscopy Lab  Helium spectrum  Hydrogen spectrum  Neon spectrum  Nitrogen spectrum  Oxygen spectrum

Overview: Astronomers can't go out and do experiments on the stars; the only tool we have to learn about the universe is light. Through this activity, students will discover how astronomers use light to determine what astronomical objects are made of.




Last Updated: 7/21/15