Quarantine Idea Turns into Science Project

FALLowing Fall: Quarantine Idea Turns into a Year-Long Science Project
Posted on 10/25/2021
This is the image for the news article titled FALLowing Fall: Quarantine Idea Turns into a Year-Long Science Projectstudents outside and three girls sitting in classQuarantines aren’t just impacting students. Sometimes a teacher is quarantined, too. Last fall, that’s the situation Fritz Prior, a science teacher at Ridge Junior School found himself in. “I would Zoom into my classes from my deck,” he recalled. “During that time, the leaves were changing colors and I came up with an idea for my students.” From that, ‘FALLowing FALL’ was born.

Every week, weather permitting, Prior’s students find themselves outside to observe changes in the ecosystem around the school. “It’s really cool to get to see the trees change color before winter,” noted Catie Kruger, a seventh-grader in Prior’s class. “It’s pretty exciting because we’re trying something new that I haven’t done before.”

Prior wants to give the students hands-on learning opportunities. “The carbon, water and nitrogen cycle are a huge part of seventh grade (science),” he said. “This project covers all of those cycles with first-hand experience.”

The students agree. “Last year, we could only do online experiments,” recalled Mackenzie Whitaker. “Mr. Prior still makes it work that we can go outside and do experiments.” 

The students use the school’s weather station to record the temperature, hours of daylight, sunrise and sunset and general weather conditions. Each time they venture outside to make observations, students are focused on the same location, using their Chromebook to capture their view with a photo. When they return to the classroom, they document their findings, including writing a paragraph about their observations. “It’s neat to be able to see in the pictures how the light is changing,” said student Aubree Hinkle. Other observations have included the shortening of daylight hours, the decreasing number of leaves on trees and changes in the sky’s appearance.

Students will continue their observations throughout the first semester and then start again in the spring. Once leaves reappear and birds return, students will put the photographs they’ve been taking to another use. “We will create a time-lapse movie of our documenting pictures so we can sequentially watch these transitions in the forests as the seasons come and go,” explained Prior.

Although this is a year-long project, Prior notes that most of his students have already grasped its main objectives. “They have learned the importance of documenting the same exact area to reduce variables (and) are noticing the changes more than they would if we did not document (them).” 

Kruger can attest to that. “When you come to school, you don’t really pay attention to the changes (of the landscape) and now we are.” This acknowledgement is something that Prior was hoping to see. A bonus to the assignment is the built-in mask break the students are able to take, providing they stay more than six feet apart. 

“This project fits into the seventh-grade curriculum in...a million ways,” Prior said. “It’s a first-hand account of real biome ecology in their own home region. Therefore, data and observations could not be any more real since they are using real-time information they observe.”