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Think like a scientist

A class of curious sixth-graders arguing over moist, mucky jars may represent the future of science education

1:56pm, June 5, 2009

Fresh-faced researchers swarm around Deborah Lucas, buzzing with enthusiasm and frustration. They have gathered to appraise terrarium-style models of a local pond ecosystem that groups of two or three have painstakingly assembled in large jars. Lucas leads a discussion that includes how to determine the causes of unanticipated die-offs of plants and animals in some jars, what hypotheses to test in sustainable models, the usefulness of quantitative measures of plant growth devised by some teams, and the extent to which each model corresponds to an actual pond ecosystem.

Despite having launched ambitious projects, none of the assembled investigators will publish research papers or present posters at scientific meetings. Cut them some slack — they’re sixth-graders. Deborah Lucas is their teacher.

These 11- and 12-year-olds are getting anything but a typical grade school science education. And that suits them just fine. Lucas’ class vividly illustrates h

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