By Garrett Neese, Daily Mining Gazette, June 2, 2017
HOUGHTON – For the sixth year, Houghton High School biology students conducted research projects in the school forest and presented their results to their peers as part of the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative.
Teacher Lauri Davis, who is involved with the project along with biology teacher Alex Geborkoff, said the original goal was to accumulate data to track changes in the forest over time. She said the quality of the research has grown over the years.
“They’re looking at more components and really tying it back into what should be happening better,” she said. “I think that’s a combination of how the classes run, and after doing this for six years, we’re getting better at it.”
Student projects cover everything from water chemistry to the worms found in different parts of the forest. At the start of the year, students spend a day observing the school forest, then learn about how to design an experiment. Davis gives students a list of prior projects; students can choose from that list or design their own. Last year, she said, one group studied whether colored cups attracted insects differently.
“Some kids build it from the ground up – they have something they actually really want to do,” she said. “Other kids take an idea that has been worked on in the past, and they have to start over. They can’t use someone from a previous year’s project, they can only use the idea. They still have to do all the background work and design the procedure and dig up information on the topic.”
Over the winter, students learn how to write a research paper, assembling their preliminary results from the fall.
Students told Davis the experience had taught them how to work in a group, how to do field work and the importance of the environment, particularly water quality.
“They’ve learned things academically, but they’ve also learned things environmentally, which is sort of the point,” she said.
Tenth-graders Kaylin Heikkila and Beth Campbell did a project testing water quality at the Isle Royale Pond. They tested eight times in the fall and six times in the spring.
“It was really informational about how the water quality is in the area, and we learned a lot about how it affects wildlife and other things in Houghton,” Heikkila said.
If they’d done it over again, Campbell said, they would have kept the same testing device, added more sites and added measurements such as temperature and turbidity.
Davis has presented the program to other teachers in the U.S. and Canada.
“You run across teachers doing research projects with their kids outdoors, but you seldom run across a project where the kids have the control,” she said. “I tell them all the time that they know it better than anybody else in this room.”
Photo caption: Houghton High School 10th-graders Beth Campbell, left, and Kaylin Heikkila give a presentation on research conducted at Houghton’s school forest Thursday.