28 November 2016

Engaging middle school students through science videos

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Jil Callaghan


“Driving” the CTD casts involves communicating with both the scientists and the winch operator.

I teach sixth grade science in Salem, Oregon. One day I got an e-mail that was asking for applications from teachers to join scientists from Oregon State University (OSU) on an arctic research cruise for the entire month of September. OSU had received a grant for creating an science outreach video and brought along a teacher and a videographer for this purpose.  Personally, I was extremely excited to be able to go out in the middle of the ocean and be in the midst of scientific research.  As an educator, what I was passionate about was trying to give my students a sense of what it really means to be a scientist.  My students often ask why they need science and tell me that they don’t plan on being a scientist.  Yet I know that they have a very limited view of a scientist – the stereotypical white lab coat and test tubes.  This was a fantastic opportunity for me to show my students through first-hand experience a field of science they weren’t familiar with, and to hopefully give them a sense of the adventure and excitement that can be a part of science. It bothers me that students write off science as a career simply due to ignorance of what careers are actually out there and the myriad of subjects and fields of interest they cover.


Helping to guide the Multi-Corer onto the deck after it has collected sediment samples.

While on board the NSF vessel the Sikuliaq, I made videos (with the help of Kim Kenny) to send back to my classroom.  I was able to show them the equipment that we were using, describe the science operations, and have Oregon State University scientists explain their research. I wanted my students to relate to these scientists and see that scientists are regular people too.  Students at my school often lack a firm plan for their future – where they can go with their lives and how to even get there.  While interviewing scientists on the ship, I really wanted to convey to students the fact that life paths can take unexpected turns.  I loved hearing that one of the scientists used to hate chemistry until they realized how necessary it was to understanding what they wanted to research.  Or that after undergraduate school another scientist wanted to be done with school…but ended up in grad school anyway.  I wanted to share with them what these scientists love about their job and have students not only think that maybe science would be interesting as a career, but to also think, “Hey, I could do that!”

-Jil Callaghan is a 6th grade science teacher at Houck Middle School in Salem, Oregon and is interested in sharing with students behind the scenes views of what real scientists do.