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Get Connected!
Teachers, please consider hooking up to The Albatross Project, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.  It's FREE! To register your class, send the message subscribe albatross in the first line of an email message to listserv@wfu.edu (click on this blue address to send it right now).  Daily data deliveries will reach you at your email address; we send them to you automaticallyThat's all it takes!  If you get an error message when you try to subscribe, send it by clicking here instead or compose a new message in your mail application to da@wfu.edu and indicate you'd like to be subscribed to the list!

Generation of Scientists
We all know that too many kids feel queasy about science beginning in middle school.   For that reason, this project is targeted at late elementary and middle school students, and the package is appealing.

  • Using satellites, a big and athletic animal can be followed as it lives its life out on the open ocean, literally moving around over the surface of the Earth.  At the end of tracking season, we are going to know a lot more about albatross behavior.
  • The importance of computers and communication as research tools is apparent.  When the class receives those data by email, they are only 1/10,000th of a second away from the satellites at the electrons' speed!
  • The students have the same experience as the professional scientists, and we hope that the students come to feel that they are scientists themselves.  When they test hypotheses about albatross movements, they become their own role models as scientists.  That effect will be powerful.
  • The skills required to make sense of the tracking information are age-appropriate for fifth and sixth graders.  At this age they are learning the Pythagorean Theorem; this project shows them a real-world application (I'll bet Pythagoras never saw an albatross).  Plotting the satellite tracks gives plenty of experience with two-dimensional X-Y spaces.

Our lives are becoming increasingly affected by science and technology.  When our children become adults, they will be making decisions about a society and planet (hey, maybe other planets too!) that must incorporate significant scientific background and savvy, especially among non-scientist citizens.  It is our clear responsibility as educators to bring our students onto this train, because at the middle school years it is pulling out of the station.  One needs to get on to avoid being left behind.

Scientists know, but too much of the public does not, that the job of scientists is not just to know a lot of facts.  More important, it is to use the scientific method of hypothesis testing.   Kids need to know that scientists pose a conjecture, or hypothesis, and then collect data to try to disprove the hypothesis.  When hypotheses survive these attacks, we have increasing confidence in them, and if they do not survive, well, they were lousy hypotheses and are wisely discarded.  This is the birthing process of facts.  This Project emphasizes science as a process and a tool to get reliable answers to questions.

Development of these critical thinking skills is what The Albatross Project is trying to help you, as a teacher, to do.

Help for Teachers
The Albatross Project is a more-or-less complete curricular package that you can boot up and let run over the several months of a tracking season.  This web site has a number of areas that will suggest paths of inquiry and methods to use.  The kids can explore these suggestions and follow our links to other related types of data that might help all of us understand why albatrosses make the travel choices that they do.  Your students will find on-line information on weather patterns that could affect flight patterns, on water conditions that could indicate food levels in different parts of the ocean, and lots of basic information about albatross biology.  Material on the history and geography of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands is provided.  Mathematical techniques to calculate speed and distance of movements are clearly explained.

Although the data arrive every day, you certainly do not have to use part of every day to handle the data (although your students may want to!).  As it fits your schedule, you can go to the data in your email box on a regular or irregular basis, depending on your situation at the time.  The data won't go anywhere while you wait for the right time.

We know of some schools that have decided to organize a grade-wide theme for several months around this project.  During the tracking season, they work on Pacific history and geography, read some of the literature about the voyages of exploration in that ocean, and write essays on the isolated experience of a field biologist and poems about comets cruising over the sleeping albatross on the water.  It's an idea...

Our hope is that the Project will enhance your curriculum without a burdensome investment of effort on your part.  We'd welcome your suggestions.  How did it work for you?  Send reactions to albatross@wfu.edu.

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This page last updated on January 20, 1999 05:48 PM