After spending two hours in a room full of enthusiastic students from Woodstock Union High School and Stevens High School at Dartmouth College on January 23rd, I knew that the 2012-2013 Mercury Project had been another success.
This was WUHS's third year doing the Mercury Project in conjunction with the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Stevens High School, Dartmouth College, schools in Maine, the National Park Foundation, and Acadia National Park. Earlier that day in Mrs. Stainton's classroom I heard the beginnings of the presentations that would impress scientists, parents, and community members that night. Mrs. Stainton and Mr. Marquis' Integrated Environmental Science classes consisting of the entire freshman class of WUHS learned about mercury and its impact on the environment.
The project was hands-on, academic, creative and practical. The students collected dragonfly nymphs, an indicator species, from the Pogue to send to the lab at Dartmouth to be analyzed for mercury concentration. They did research on ways that mercury and its variant methyl-mercury affected the organisms and the environment as a whole. The students got to develop a question and hypothesis to test and then created a poster to explain their results, and indicate whether their hypothesis was supported or not.
"Presentation is a big part of the scientific world," Mrs. Stainton always says. The students were involved in a real world scientific experiment which is a great opportunity for such young scientists. "I liked presenting at Dartmouth because there were people that I did not know, so it was a new experience and it made me more comfortable with presenting in the classroom too," says Shannon Herrick, student, about the presentation night at Dartmouth. The students enjoyed the project and were generally happy that they could learn science in a different and unique way. "We're not doing the project just for us, we're doing it for other people as well," said Dana Burrington on the field trip to collect samples in the national park in the fall. This was an important factor, knowing that a school project could be helpful to people outside of the classroom. It is important for students to see that their work in school can be connected to the world as a whole, and the people who populate it. The students experienced this way of learning for the first semester of the year, and successfully presented at Dartmouth with confidence.