The 2001 Environmental Science Summer Research Experience for Young Women ran from July 9 to July 25. Seventeen 9th and 10th grade girls from the community participated in this inaugural year, exploring key types of ecological research, and while we had the usual snags that occur whenever something happens for the first time, the program overall went extremely well. Everyone was enthusiastic, often arriving before and staying after the official start and stop times of the program each day to work on the projects, and even though "there was no room in the inn" because of the construction of Roland Park Country School's new science wing, we all survived working out of a garage and trekking down the street to get to the woods for the summer. After all, they don't call it "field studies" for nothing!
During the course of the program, the workload was intense, but we all learned a lot about how to analyze and present experimental findings according to standard scientific community protocols. Working in teams of 3-5, everyone spent the first half of our time learning how to perform a general biodiversity survey and collecting data on four microenvironments that are all located along a stream that runs through the school property. These preliminary surveys were then used to look for unusual or interesting patterns and/or discrepancies from traditionally observed values (e.g. excess active aluminum in soil with a neutral pH), and from the findings, each group spent the second half of the program learning how to perform controlled, multi-variable ecology experiments, including:
- looking for a potential correlation between soil pH, calcium levels, and the number of mollusks at the various sites (web lesson 1 & research paper 1);
- exploring whether unusual clay levels or some other factor accounted for unusually high levels of active aluminum in two of the sites (web lesson 2 & research paper 2);
- determining whether differences in the amount of sunlight two sites received influenced the levels of fungi in their respective soils (web lesson 3 & research paper 3); and
- searching for whether there is a correlation between population levels of soil protozoa and the amount of organic matter available to them (web lesson 4 & research paper 4).
In addition to performing all these investigations, everyone also learned:
--how to use a variety of statistical algorithms to evaluate our findings for significance;
--how to write formal science research papers to share our investigations;
--how to complete a literature search and prepare an annotated bibliography of what was found; and
--how to develop web-based lesson plans to teach others about their projects.
Obviously, we all stayed very busy, and a typical day consisted of mornings spent doing the primary research each team had chosen and of afternoons spent learning statistics, web lesson design, science writing, etc. But all of us enjoyed the hard work, including our unofficial mascot, "Sparkles" (who spent all most as much time in the garage as we did!).
Click here for a short slide show of our adventures (4.1 MB)
For More Information on any aspect of the Environmental Science Summer Research Experience for Young Women, click on the appropriate key word below, or contact the Project Director, David Brock, directly at 410/323-5500 ext 3064 or brockda@RPCS.ORG.