Students examine ecosystems for hands-on science

Students in Lorie Dorroh’s fifth grade science/social studies classes at Phil Campbell Elementary School aren’t just reading and retaining knowledge. They are seeing their lessons in action.

PCES has embraced the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, which focuses on educating students through “activity-based, inquiry approaches consistent with the latest research on effective math and science instruction,” as explained by AMSTI’s website.

For PCES fifth graders, that means instead of reading a chapter on ecosystems, they have spent the first months of school creating their own small ecosystems and observing the components with their own eyes.

Dorroh’s students began creating their ecosystems – housed in 2-liter bottles – the second week of school. “We put the plants and seeds in there first and watched them germinate,” Dorroh explained. Students also added different plants and isopods – more commonly known as “roly-polys” to the terrarium portions of their ecosystems. Separate aquarium portions featured fish. Mid-September, students combined their aquariums and terrariums to create complete ecosystems.

Dorroh said this hands-on lesson has allowed students to observe the mutually-beneficial relationships that exist within an ecosystem and have watched the changes that have occurred as plants and animals in their ecosystems have grown and developed – something the students “have really enjoyed.” Another principle of AMSTI, students record their observations and conclusions in “science journals,” and they use both personal and group observations to understand what is taking place in their small ecosystems.

This is Dorroh’s first year to teach science after 15 years as a reading teacher.

“When you hear the kids talk about what they are doing and the connections they make, I think the hands-on has a lot to do with them seeing the way everything plays out,” Dorroh said. “They like the hands-on, and they absorb more from it than they do just the book.”