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Article Published February 26, 2019
Solving Problems with the Scientist in Residence
Karena Garrity

It was an exciting day for 5th graders at Essex Elementary School when they got a visit from Scientist in Residence Heather Kordula who got them out of their seats to engage in a hands-on science experiment teaching about water filtration.

“It’s been a while since we have had a scientist in residence at the school and I think it is an amazing program,” said Essex Elementary School Principal Jennifer Tousignant. “We are very grateful for the funding for this program, which engages students in hands-on inquiry based lessons that pertain to the real world and gives them the opportunity to think about science differently.”

Kordula, the education program manager at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center in Old Lyme, met with the teachers at Essex Elementary School in early January to map out the dates and lesson plans for the program. Since then, she has been busy working with each grade, doing activities that relate to earth and life sciences, ecology, conservation, and citizenship. Funding for this unique program is through the Essex Elementary School Foundation in alignment with Next Generation Science Standards.

“This program also allows our teachers to engage in professional development as well, and take instructional strategies from Heather and use them on an ongoing basis,” Tousignant said.

However, for the students in Jayne Armstrong’s 5th grade science class, the most important aspect of the science-based program is making learning fun and interesting.

“I really liked this (water filtration experiment) because usually when we do science experiments, it’s the teacher doing the experiment and we have to just watch. This time we got to do the experiment ourselves, which made it more interesting,” said Eleanor Beichner.

Nia Marchese added, “This was really fun getting to do our own experiment.”

Kordula, who is used to teaching out in the field, said that working with the students and teachers in their own classrooms has been a whole new experiment—one she likes a lot.

“It’s great to see this side of teaching and learning and to have the experience of collaborating with the different teachers, as well as getting the back and forth of the students,” Kordula said.

Adorned in safety glasses and furnished with coffee filters, water, dirt, cut-up plastic bottles, rocks, and other filtration instruments, the students set off to brainstorm and create an effective water filter.

“This is a way for the students to learn by doing, which is great. It gets them thinking and collaborating together to come up with ideas and solutions to real world problems,” said Armstrong. “It’s been an invaluable experience to have Heather in our classroom.”

The program will culminate in late spring with field trips to Rocky Neck or Hammonasset State Park.

Funding for the scientist-in-residence program is for the 2018-’19 school year. Tousignant hopes that the Essex Elementary School Foundation will fund this program again next year.