GPS provides cross-cultural experience for young scientists

GPS provides cross-cultural experience for young scientists

URBANA — A lesson on GPS units might have taught local fourth-graders how the technology can be used in scientific fields.

But it also resulted in a multilayered lesson that included science, language, working with high school students and an appreciation of different cultures.

The classes participating were Katie Hutchison's integrated physical science class from Urbana High School and Shalonda Carr's fourth-grade class at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Urbana.

The students gathered in Carr's classroom to learn about the basics of GPS, then went to King Park, where they looked for groundwater and took coordinates in order to make their own maps. High school students helped teach the fourth-graders, after learning about the satellite-based navigation systems in their own classes.

Both classes are English as a Second Language classes.

Because of that distinction, the lesson also included some emphasis on language and culture during the collaboration.

In the classroom, high school students led groups of three or four fourth-graders, helping them define and use vocabulary words, such as latitude, longitude and elevation.

They did so in English, which Hutchison said is important, because it's her goal for all her students to take mainstream science classes next year.

Urbana High sophomore Tania Ramirez said she enjoyed teaching the fourth-graders, as well as hearing about what they know.

"They're really, really smart," she said of students in Carr's class. She also liked hearing about the fourth-graders' cultural backgrounds.

Some elementary students took time during their research into GPS vocabulary to find the countries of their heritage on maps and globes, and Hutchison helped them figure out the coordinates of those countries, as well.

Once they were outside, they looked for water in low-lying areas of the park, after learning about groundwater and the Mahomet Aquifer. Carr encouraged her students to focus on low areas, rather than higher ground.

Fourth-grader Nisa Maharani said she liked working outside and with the high school students.

"It's educational and fun," she said. Plus, she said she feels like she got to find out what the high schoolers learn in their classes, which might better prepare her for when she's in high school.

Both Hutchison and Carr both participate in Entreprenuerial Leadership in STEM Teaching and learning at the University of Illinois, which encourages teacher collaboration.

Hutchison's students will also present a poster with their research on GPS units at the Urbana Middle School STEM Night, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the middle school at 1201 S. Vine St., U.

Hutchison bought the GPS units with grant money from the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation, after being inspired by her mom, who is also a science teacher. She thought it would be an opportunity to work outdoors with her students and teach them "science with a purpose," she said.

The GPS units require students to learn new vocabulary, but then apply it, as well, she said.

"It's a lot of critical thinking," she said.

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