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Students explore glacier science with researcher Clara Deck

On a field trip well-suited to a December day, elementary students from Glenwood Academy learned about glaciers and conducted a glacier flow experiment with climate scientist Clara Deck at Homewood Science Center.

Deck is an earth science researcher and educator whose fieldwork includes exploration of glaciers in Alaska and the North Cascades mountains of Washington state. Deck shared photos and videos of her work with the Glenwood Academy students as she explained what glaciers are made of, how they move, and why they’re important to water resources, climate, and animal life.

She then guided the students through the scientific method as they performed a glacier flow experiment. Students used homemade slime, a viscous mixture of Borax and glue, to represent glacier flow.

Hands-on learning

“Exploring glacier flow with slime is something I did on a regular basis to test ideas during my graduate research,” Deck said. “Hands-on activities are helpful at all levels to make sense of the science in the world around us.”

Students handled the slime and recorded their observations about it, then hypothesized how temperature and the surface of the glacial bed affect glacier movement. They experimented by placing cold, room temperature, and warm slime “glaciers” on smooth, sandy, and rocky slopes and measured how far the glacier goo traveled in six minutes. Then they replicated the experiment to verify their results.

“The students had great ideas about the scientific process during the experiment. They made well-informed hypotheses and thoughtfully analyzed their results,” said Deck. “It was fun to see that they were interested in learning about glaciers and ice, and then also able to apply the knowledge to their experiment.”

The Glenwood Academy students’ field trip was sponsored by the South Cook Section of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). “It’s great for the kids to get out of the school environment and participate in new and different programs,” said NCJW member Jennifer Dreyfuss.

“Science is all about exploration and experience,” said Deck. “It’s very important for students of all ages to learn by doing, so they can feel more connected to the science. We need students to understand the link between people and science, and teaching exclusively from a book or a lecture can’t always get that message across.”

Phenomenal experience

Working directly with a scientist is a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” for her students, said Mariah Kraus, 4th and 5th grade science teacher at Glenwood Academy. “That’s something they don’t have exposure to—the person who’s actively doing the work,” Kraus said. “This is phenomenal.”

Want to see Deck’s work yourself? Check out her blog, Science Isn’t So Scary (Instagram: @scienceisntsoscary), to share in her passion for science and discovery. And come meet her at Spotlight On…Glacier Exploration, featuring the work of Clara Deck, at Homewood Science Center Thursday, January 16, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Register for this free event, suitable for families (there may be slime!), online or at the door.

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