By Teal Barmore
For 26 years, Prince William Sound Science Center’s education staff has been partnering with Cordova schools to bring place-based science learning into the classroom. This year, students from second through sixth grade will explore the biology of the region’s most important species, the habitats they depend on, and the food webs that tie them all together. According to Education Director Lauren Bien, “The idea of Discovery Room is to introduce students to their sense of ‘place’”.
For each Discovery Room session, Lauren will spend 1.5 to 2 hours of classroom time with the students. Her curriculum involves a lot of hands-on activities and they almost always take Discovery Room outside for a theme-based game. Lauren’s favorite part is the field trips. “We get to go all over. We go to the glacier, we go to the rainforest, we go look at shorebirds out on the mud flats, and we get to bring them to the Science Center.”
Lauren kicked off this school year with a visit to Mt. Eccles’ fourth-grade class for their first Discovery Room ever. Lauren had the students “draw a scientist” before showing a video. The results ranged from several scientists adorned in white lab coats mixing exploding potions, to a woman looking at the DNA of “unusual creatures” to discover new species, to a pair of scientists looking through telescopes and making observations about outer space. With the video, Lauren introduces the students to a real scientist from the Science Center, Rob Campbell, who talks about plankton. Plankton are the base of the marine food webs that this grade will focus on for the rest of the school year in Discovery Room.
Since Lauren started the job in 2015 she has been slowly trying to add more grades to the program. Discovery Room used to be a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Science Center and they had it in every grade in the elementary school. “We are trying to build back up that relationship and get these students more accustomed to having scientists and science in their classes.”
Each grade has a different theme starting with habitats in second grade. The newest addition to Discovery Room is the third-grade class who will be focusing on birds. Lauren created the curriculum for this class because Cordova is a great place for bird watching. She adds that “birds are a really neat way to learn about all the different ecosystems we have access to here in Cordova.”
For the final year of Discovery Room, Lauren tries to bring all the students to the Science Center. “Even though the sixth graders might have heard of the Science Center, most of them have never been here.” The class will likely get to go on the research vessel New Wave and see and talk with a scientist. “Anne will do some birding stuff, or Caitlin will take them into the lab and talk about plankton.” The students get to see what really goes on at the Science Center. This year’s sixth-grade class is the first class that Lauren Bien has done the full Discovery Room program with. At the end of the year, this class will also “draw a scientist” to compare to the drawings that they did in fourth grade. Will their perceptions of scientists have changed?