Industrial Extension Service
Campus Box 7902
Raleigh, NC 27695-7902
“Connecting” Chowan County High School Students to Bennett’s Millpond Through STEM
It’s serious science - not recreation - that each year brings Chowan County high school students to Bennett’s Millpond, which is one of North Carolina’s exquisite coastal swamp ecosystems. For the past seven years, students have been working with the Science House at North Carolina University to conduct experiments at the millpond - monitoring the health of the ecosystem, identifying the microorganisms that thrive there and learning about the delicate balance of chemicals and nutrients that sustain life.
The Bennett’s Millpond Project is a collaborative program for aquatic environmental learning in a highly unique and historic space - the colonial-era millpond near Edenton, North Carolina. The program aims to facilitate research and data collection on water quality, hydrology of the area, meteorology and aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna.
Bringing together four partners - The Science House, the Albermarle Learning Center, Chowan County and NC State University, the project initially took place through the Northeast Office of The Science House and later evolved into a collaborative partnership with the Northeast STEM Consortium.
The consortium was recently renamed ‘STEM Connect’ and itself includes five community partners, including the Perquimans County Schools, Edenton-Chowan County Schools, College of The Albermarle, Town of Edenton, and Chowan County, as well as a range of local industry partners (Nucor Steel, Avoca Farms, PCS Phosphate, etc.). The Connect initiative is a rural school approach to increasing student engagement and participation in STEM career preparation. It also provides teacher professional development for the implementation of inquiry-based K-12 classroom STEM projects. The initiative even provides learning opportunities for youth-serving community organizations; for instance, 4-H students and their leaders have used GPS to investigate the historic Native American settlements near Edenton.
What makes Connect programs like the millpond so exciting is that they represent an emerging form of scientific inquiry that engages students, teachers, youth and laypeople in the creation of new knowledge. This kind of hands-on learning has been shown to both provide rewarding experiences for teachers and enhance outcomes for students.
Take Collen Karl’s experience for instance. Karl has been a teacher with the Bennett’s Millpond Project for over six years. She observes a significant change in students as they progress through the program. According to her, they gain valuable knowledge about their natural environments, as well as confidence in asking intelligent questions and find informed answers.
“At first,” she says, “the kids are very inexperienced with the outdoor environment, but as they start to work on their projects and learn about things like oxygen levels and ph, they become more acclimated to working and thinking about the outdoor environment.”
Even more remarkable than a transformation to students’ general understanding of the environment, perhaps, is their evolution into critical STEM thinkers. Karl notes that participation in the program “propagates lots of natural questions. It sets the stage for them to ask their own questions, and that’s a role they grow into throughout the program.”
As a result of the work of The Science House, STEM Connect is documenting the impact of teacher change and student achievement through implemented, project-based learning classroom experiences. The Science House facilitates direct connections and collaboration between school personnel and local STEM industries to support workforce preparation. And so far, more than 90 percent of the high school students who have participated in the project have attendied a four-year college, compared to the area’s average of 54 percent. The teachers at The Science House can point to a dozen studies that prove that hands-on activities improve student achievement.
That finding is certainly on full display during any visit to Bennett’s Millpond and the work is being shared at educational STEM conferences.