Archive for the ‘Expedition 2’ Category

Planning and carrying out investigations

Monday, February 8th, 2016
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Planning and carrying out investigations

If you’ve ever been on a camping trip, you know how much planning and preparation are involved. You might have experienced a time when you brought too much, or even worse, forgot something important. These oversights can impact your goals for the trip by affecting how you will accomplish them, and whether or not they can still be met.

Setting Goals

Kit must clearly define her goals, or criteria, for the trip. “Criterion” (singular) is a term often used in engineering to define a measure for success. Kit will be successful if she meets criteria such as:

  • staying safe and healthy while in the field,
  • reaching her destinations,
  • collecting enough samples,
  • keeping detailed notes,
  • keeping her samples organized and free from damage, and
  • generating data from these samples to answer her research questions.

How will we increase our chance for success?

The task doesn’t end there. Now that her criteria for success are defined, she needs to figure out how to meet them most efficiently.

As observers, we have the luxury of imagining the best ways of accomplishing these goals. However, using jetpacks to get from island to island, or using a handy pre-European human activity detector may not be the most realistic options when it comes to Kit’s available resources.

Things like time, money, people, equipment, and weather conditions are referred to as constraints in engineering. “Constraints” limit us to doing what we can with what we have. Unfortunately for Kit, the life of a field researcher is typically not one of luxury. Operating with limited resources means that careful planning is required, as the room for mistakes is much smaller when you are more than 6500 miles from home on a remote island with no cell phone service. Since Kit must endure harsh weather conditions and will have limited access to local resources, the constraints are significant. An expedition like Kit’s is something that must truly be engineered.

Putting the pieces together

In order to meet the criteria while considering the constraints, Kit must revisit her research question: “How and when did the warrah arrive in the Falkland Islands?” As Kit explains in the video, answering this question involves lots of smaller, but important questions that the team must answer in order to be well prepared.

Long before the first test pit is dug, answers must be carefully considered to questions such as: What are we trying to find out?; What do we think our results might be?; What information will we need to use as evidence that can be used to evaluate our predictions?; Where will these data come from?; How much data do we need?; Where do we need to go?; What do we need to bring?; Should I pack my bathing suit, or my snowsuit?; What will we eat?; How will we cook?; How many days will we need?; and How do we get the samples back home safely?

You, the scientist

In the process of planning and carrying out her investigation, Kit must use additional science and engineering practices. Kit will have to think and act like an engineer by defining problems and creating solutions in order to answer questions she has as a scientist. You may begin to notice that in your science experiences both in and out of school, you too are using multiple practices when planning and carrying out investigations.

What do you think?

Here are some questions to discuss with your class, or to investigate on your own!

  • Why is a field notebook so important? What do you think Kit is writing in her notebook?
  • What kinds of equipment should scientists bring with them on remote expeditions?
  • If Kit doesn’t find data that supports her hypothesis, did she fail? Is the information that we get still important?
  • What would you pack with you on a trip like this?
  • Do we actually plan and carry out investigations like scientists in our daily lives?
  • In what ways have you thought like a scientist lately? An engineer?
  • What are other ways that engineering is incorporated into Kit’s expedition?

Have more questions?

 Join the next live chat on Thursday, February 11 at 1:00 PM (EST) using the hashtag: #umainefar.

How do scientists know what data to gather?

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016
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How do scientists know what data to gather?

Last week we introduced the practice of developing and using models showing different ways the warrah might have reached the Falkland Islands. We will explore how Kit will be using models to help her decide what sorts of data she should collect while she is in the field.

First let’s talk about what mean by “models.”

Models give us simpler ways to represent complicated situations or phenomena from the real world that we might not actually be able to see. Scientists use models as tools for “thinking with, making predictions, and making sense of experience.” Models also help scientists develop questions and explanations, and communicate their ideas and understanding to others (NRC, 2011, pp. 56-57). As you can see, models are involved with lots of scientific practices!

By now you are probably wondering, “What are some examples of models?”

Let’s keep in mind that models simply represent and explain “the real thing.” While we might think of a model as a physical replica like a globe used to model the earth, models exist in many different forms.

Some examples are:

  • diagrams,
  • physical replicas,
  • mathematical representations,
  • analogies,
  • mental models, and
  • computer simulations.

It is important to remember that since no model is exactly like the thing that it describes, all models have their merits (things they are good at describing), as well as their limitations (things they aren’t so good at describing).

Kit is using models too!

In order to help Kit answer her questions, she needs to find out more about what was happening in the Falkland Islands before Europeans arrived in 1690. Luckily, nature has ways of keeping historic records to help us understand the past without relying on human records.

We have seen Kit collecting columns of peat from several feet below the surface of the ground using a metal corer. As she explains, she is looking for evidence of charcoal within the layers of peat. Layers with more charcoal may indicate that humans had been building fires in the area, putting smoke or charcoal particles into the air, eventually falling back to the ground to be covered up by newer layers of material.

Using the peat cores as models of Falkland Islands history, Kit is able to focus on collecting data to tell her about the presence of charcoal. As Kit analyzes these data, she will have more evidence to be used to help her make claims about if humans might have arrived in the islands before European explorers. All those scientific practices are like puzzle pieces fitting together!

What do you think?

Here are some questions to discuss with your class, or to investigate on your own!

  • What were some of the models used by Kit in this video? What did they represent?
  • Why is she using more than one source of data?
  • How does the charcoal record increase her chances of finding evidence of people?
  • What part of her data collection are you most excited about (i.e. test pit survey, coring, bone dating)?
  • What models have you used before in the classroom? Outside of school?
  • Why are models important for both teaching and learning?
  • What might cause a model to change or be improved over time?

Have more questions?

How do scientists know what to test?

Monday, January 25th, 2016
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How do scientists know what to test?

Catching up, looking ahead, and more scientific practices

In last weeks’s video, Kit described the process of asking questions and gathering and evaluating information to try to answer the question: When and how did the warrah make it to the Falkland Islands?

In this week’s video, Kit will be:

  • developing and using models,
  • constructing explanations and theories, and
  • starting to plan an investigation.

Like we have mentioned before, these are all practices of scientists and engineers. You might notice that some of these practices will show up more than once and rarely by themselves. This is because the practices are so connected to one another that it is difficult to imagine using only one without one or more others at the same time.

For example, if you saw a puddle of water in the middle of the floor (hopefully before you stepped in it), you would immediately start thinking about how it got there, coming up with possible explanations, planning some ways of testing those ideas, and more! It’s just what we do! It’s what makes us all scientists!

Like us, Kit is doing what scientists do by using many of these practices to answer questions about the warrah.

Questions, models, and possible explanations

Kit is asking two questions:

  • When did the warrah arrive in the Falkland Islands?  and 
  • How did the warrah get to the Falkland Islands? 

In order to reach answers to these questions, Kit will need to develop some possible models or simulations that will try to explain why the warrah was the only land mammal on the island when European explorers arrived in 1690. Models help us imagine and represent things that we haven’t actually seen. Even though we didn’t see the warrah swim from Argentina to the islands, we can think about what it would have been like for a fox to try and swim 300 miles to the island. Models help us make predictions in the form of “if…then…therefore.” Kit can then test these predictions to get closer to identifying a most likely explanation. The results of the tests will hopefully help Kit decide which explanation the results fit best, or if a different explanation needs to be explored.

In order to find out when the warrah reached the island, Kit needs to know as much about the warrah’s history as possible. From written records and other sources, she was able to find out that the warrah existed when European explorers reached the islands in 1690. She will also need to find out how long the warrah was on the islands before Europeans got there. This answer to this question may help explain how it got there.

Kit describes some possible models for the warrah reaching the island, which were also suggested by you in the latest twitter chat!

The warrah might have:

  • walked across land bridge or ice bridge;
  • swum;
  • been brought by humans.

Developing a hypothesis, and gathering data

Using these models, kit can gather more information to help decide if some of these explanations are more likely than others. Kit will develop a hypothesis or prediction that can be tested by using evidence from prior knowledge and other sources of information to identify the most likely explanation.

Even though we have developed a theory, our work is not done! By identifying her questions and most likely explanations, or hypotheses, Kit can now decide what data she will need to help her make progress towards an answer to her questions. Once she knows what data she will need, she can plan her steps to collecting those data and how she will use them to help her answer her questions. Kit is currently in the Falklands gathering data to use as evidence for either supporting the hypothesis, or indicating that a different explanation is more likely.

Explanations lead to more questions

Another question that Kit will be trying to answer is whether or not there were any humans on the islands before the Europeans got there. If she can find evidence of earlier human activity, that might further suggest that the warrah was brought by early humans. What are some things that might indicate humans living on the islands before Europeans?

Thanks to technology, we are able to see where Kit’s team has been conducting their research and have had her answer the fantastic questions that you have asked! In Kit’s amazing video updates we have been able to observe some of the work she is doing including collecting sediment cores, which you will be hearing more about soon!

Tune in next week to learn more about planning Kit’s investigation and how she will use the data that she gathers to help her tell the story of the warrah.

What do you think?

Here are some questions to discuss with your class, or to investigate on your own!

  • Why is background research so important to developing a hypothesis?
  • If you were the first person in the Falkland Islands what sorts of things would you need to survive? Keeping survival in mind, what parts of the islands would be best for settling?
  • Why are the answers to these questions important to consider for Kit’s research?
  • Can you think of another time when you needed more information before trying to answer a question of your own?

Have more questions?

How do scientists know what to research?

Friday, January 15th, 2016
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How do scientists know what to research?

Throughout our journey, we will be getting more familiar with the things that scientists and engineers do. Not only are these practices central to the life of a scientist but also to your own experiences in the science classroom and beyond. We’ll start by asking questions.

Despite the various work settings of science, one thing is certain: no matter where science is happening, questions are trying to be answered. As Kit describes, she didn’t know what her question was before she started. She did not wake up one day and ask herself, “Kit, what’s the story of that extinct fox in the Falkland Islands?” Kit had never heard of the fox and wasn’t even sure where the Falkland Islands were! Instead, she got the idea after hearing about another scientist’s work in the Falkland Islands. The researcher who would one day become Kit’s advisor mentioned that there was a fox that lived in the islands that nobody knew much about. This information caught Kit’s attention, and she knew that she needed to learn more in order to develop a scientific (testable) question for her research. Scientists often get ideas from one another, which speaks to the importance of sharing their information with other researchers so that someone else might pick up where the first left off.

In order to begin research, you need to figure out what you know through making observations and learning from the knowledge of others. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information is another practice that scientist engage in during their work. These were the steps that Kit took by talking to others and reading science articles and research papers to develop the questions that still needed to be answered

Researchers often find interesting things along the way and share them so that other researchers can seek answers to them. The researcher Kit listened to shared that there was once a fox that was hunted to extinction, but not much else was known about it. This small bit of information brought Kit to where she is now!

What do you think?

Here are some questions to discuss with your class, or to investigate on your own!

Specific questions:   

  • What are possible ways that the warrah got to the islands?
  • Of the possibilities you came up with, are there any that are more likely than others? Why?

Broader questions: 

  • How does a scientist choose what they want to study?
  • What is something that you would like to study?
  • What other interesting questions do you think might develop about Kit’s adventure?

Have more questions?

Join the next live chat on Thursday, January 21 at 1:00 PM (EST) using the hashtag: #umainefar.

Follow a Researcher®: Who Does Science?

Monday, January 4th, 2016
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Welcome to 4-H Follow a Researcher™ at the University of Maine! During the expedition, we will be posting a new video and write-up at the beginning of each week. These materials are meant to provide you with more information about our researcher and how he or she engages in practices common to all scientists and engineers.

We hope that using the materials will help inspire some great questions and ideas that you will share with us!

Who Does Science?

Thanks to popular culture today, we often associate scientists with men in white lab coats surrounded by bubbling flasks and Bunsen burners. While this is certainly an accurate picture of the work that some scientists do, it is a limited representation of the many different people who practice science in many different places.

Meet Kit Hamley, a graduate student and research scientist at the University of Maine conducting a research expedition to the Falkland Islands. Kit is a paleoecologist and archaeologist from Montana. She is studying an extinct species of fox that lived in what are now the Falkland Islands. We will be joining Kit on her adventure to these islands off the southern tip of South America. Learn more about Kit.

Kit and the 4-H Follow a Researcher® team are excited to have you take part in cutting-edge research being done by student scientists right here at the University of Maine!

What do you think?

Here are some questions to discuss with your class, or to investigate on your own!

  • What is Kit hoping to figure out?
  • After watching this video, how did your views of scientists and science change?
  • Did this change how you felt about your ability to do science? (How does this relate to me?)

Have more questions?

Follow a Researcher®: Expedition 2 — Falkland Islands!

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015
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Expedition 2: Falkland Islands!

Located 300 miles off the southeastern coast of South America, the Falklands are home to some of the world’s largest penguin, seal, and sea bird colonies. The islands were also once home to an extinct species of fox called the warrah. How and when did the warrah reach the Falklands? Follow Kit Hamley, Masters student, UMaine Climate Change Institute, as she travels to the Falklands to unravel the mystery. Interact with Kit through the Follow a Researcher™ program and learn about field and laboratory techniques in the fields of paleoecology, paleoanthropoly, and archaeology. The adventure begins December 2015, and continues through January and February!

Join Kit (@UMaineFARKit) live each week throughout her journey. (Archived UMaineFAR Live Chats)

Follow the adventure on Twitter (@UMaineFAR)!

Visit the Follow a Researcher® website.