Adventures in STEM: Lessons in Water Chemistry From Elementary School to Graduate School

Monday, 15 December 2014: 3:10 PM
Timothy M Dittrich, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, United States
I will present the accumulation of over 10 years of experience teaching STEM subjects to students ranging from 1st grade to graduate school. I was fortunate to gain a lot of valuable teaching experience while in graduate school in Boulder, CO and so many of my experiences center on opportunities for connecting with students in the field in CO.
  1. 3rd-5th grade field hikes – While helping at Jamestown Elementary School, I led hikes with a 3-5th grade class to an abandoned flourospar mine where the students were able to pick up beautiful purple fluorite crystals from the ground while discussing how mining works. During the hike back, we used field meters to measure the pH and conductivity of the stream and discussed the need to balance society’s need for metals with the harmful effects of acid mine drainage.

  2. 9th, 10th grade STEM Academy at Skyline High School – During an NSF-sponsored fellowship, I had the opportunity to teach a STEM class to 9th and 10th graders where we used the engineering design process to a) design a tool to help a handicapped 3rd grader use the drinking fountain by herself and b) design a treatment system for cleaning up acid mine drainage.

  3. Undergraduate and Graduate Environmental Water Chemistry Field Trip – Students had the opportunity to tour two local mine sites to collect contaminated water that would be used in class for alkalinity titrations and pH, sulfate, and hardness measurements. They also collected water samples upstream and at multiple points downstream of a wastewater treatment plan and measured and graphed the dissolved oxygen “sag” in the river.

My main teaching philosophy has two parts: 1) assume the students know nothing and 2) assume the students are even smarter than you think you are. This informs my approach to field trips by always starting from the beginning, but also not oversimplifying the topic. 1st graders on their best day can be very similar to graduate students on their worst.