Project inquiry class turns sixth graders into citizen scientists - Mid-Pacific Institute

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Project inquiry class turns sixth graders into citizen scientists

Mid-Pacific sixth grade students delve into the world of the invasive fire ant

Posted on January 8, 2018 by Julie Funasaki Yuen

At Mid-Pacific, "project-based inquiry" is a well known term. It is practiced from a student's earliest beginnings in the Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool, all the way through graduation day in a variety of courses and disciplines. Through project-based learning, students gain a deep understanding of the subject matter by working at length to investigate an authentic and engaging question. Earlier in the fall 2017 semester, sixth graders in Sumoha Min's project inquiry class became citizen scientists and assisted with the Oʻahu Invasive Species Committee's work in documenting and eradicating the threat of the fire ant that made its way to Mililani Mauka, and other areas on the neighbor islands.

"Students gained a deeper understanding of the impact of invasive species in Hawaiʻi," says Min. "They also gained important skills in organizing information, conducting an experiment, completing a lab report, and all the while, adding to a rich body of research and testing for the Oʻahu Invasive Species Committee."

The beauty of Wood Hall's co-learning spaces, where sixth grade classes are held, allowed Min and fellow sixth grade science teacher Todd Jinbo to easily collaborate on the fire ants project. Jinbo was illustramental in building in hands-on, laboratory learning as part of the students' research and incorporating this as part of the science curriculum.

"This project was one of the bigger projects in project inquiry," says sixth grader Ereyn Iwamoto. "We tested the area that we live in for fire ants. We took a popsicle stick and we dipped it in mayo or a fatty substance and we would make sure it was a thin coat. And we would label them to make sure that we know where they are. And we'd stick them in our neighborhood or our house or condo where we lived and we'd make a map of where it is."

"Students also conducted research and learned about our library system at Mid-Pacific," says Min. "They also learned the important skill of mind-mapping information and writing algorithms to help assist them in their research process."


Sixth graders in Sumoha Min's project inquiry class brainstorm ideas about the role of the citizen scientist.

As part of the project inquiry process, the sixth graders participated in discussions and laboratory work with Chris Frolich from the Oʻahu Invasive Species Committee who shared information about the fire ant and invasive species in general as it relates to ecosystems in Hawaiʻi and around the world. The students learned how invasive species researchers have determined that, second only to habitat destruction, the introduction of invasive species causes the most extinctions worldwide.

"The most surprising thing I learned is even though they (fire ants) live in trees, they can't stay on trees well," shares Iwamoto. "So when it's windy, they'll come raining down on you if you're outside. And if they sting you in the eye, you can become blind."

When asked about what she learns from the project inquiry class, Iwamoto shares "I think it's more inspiring than anything because it teaches you about these global problems and how to fix them. And teaches you how to organize your thoughts so that one day you could become something powerful and organized."

"We hoped for the students to recognize their ability to make an impact and make a difference now, at the age of 11, instead of waiting for 'that one day,'" shares Min. "The truth is, we can make a difference now."