The salty and sometimes stinky Great Salt Lake became umpteen times more interesting to a couple dozen North Star Elementary School students and about 13 Westminster College graduate students who just completed experiments on one of the state's wonders.
"It's an incredible and unique ecosystem out there that is so unappreciated in the state," said Carolyn Jenkins, professor of Westminster's Elementary Science Methods course. "Most people only know it smells."
As part of a continued collaborative effort by Westminster College, more than a dozen graduate students, all hoping to become teachers, worked with 29 fourth-graders to answer some innovative questions concerning the Great Salt Lake, "to help them gain an appreciation for that wonderful body of water," Jenkins said.
Using scientific experimentation, students answered questions concerning the life-span of brine shrimp, salt water and sand temperatures, salinity, rocks and sand that form from waste, salt crystallization and much more. For most of the students, their favorite part was not visiting the lake in early March but working through the questions and determining how their hypotheses affect everyday life.
"It would take 10 years for the Great Salt Lake to freeze, and the temperature would have to be below freezing for a long time," said Owen Lopez, 9. He said human sweat also contains salt, which helps regulate body temperature. He said learning the hands-on way is "way better than reading a book."
The semesterlong project included two field trips to the Great Salt Lake to provide the Title I school kids experience dealing with practical science and high-tech scientific equipment, property of Westminster. The grad students gained experience in working directly with youths, "learning how they learn," said Brittany Donaldson, originally from Texas.
"They were very into what we were doing," she said. "It was neat seeing them connect it to their lives and building upon what we already knew." The direct focus and individualized attention is unusual for a public school setting.
"We don't have that at our school," said North Star fourth-grade teacher Terry Olsen. "I couldn't keep them in their seats as we started crossing the causeway." The individual attention Westminster's students gave the fourth-graders and the engaging equipment, he said, "changed the way they look at science and the Great Salt Lake."
The massive body of salty water, Olsen said, fits directly into North Star's social studies curriculum, in addition to the scientific study of Utah's forestry, desert and wetlands.
"We went into the water with boots. It wasn't blue, it was all white," said 10-year-old Easter Simbe. She discovered that the water and salt evaporates into the air, making it cooler very quickly. "It's a lot of fun to learn about new stuff," she said.
"Now we know not to live on the shores of the Great Salt Lake," said Jodi Anderson, a Westminster grad student who assisted Simbe and science partner Aylin Gutierrez.
The myriad discoveries were presented via student-made posters that lined the hallway at Westminster's Malouf Hall on Wednesday."They don't know it but we had as much fun as they did" learning about the Great Salt Lake, Anderson said. "It's a huge part of our state, and people take it for granted."