Finding ways to make scientific research accessible to the non scientist is important, if not essential, especially on topics related to environmental issues. I thought I’d take today to review one of my favorite educational tools that makes science accessible to middle schoolers, The Natural Inquirer. The Natural Inquirer is a middle school science education journal, published by the USDA Forest Service, that shares research published in scientific journals and conducted by Forest Service scientists. Each article include an introduction, method, findings, discussion and associated tables and graphs as in a real research article, but written at a middle school reading level. One of the things I like about the journal, is that each scientist is introduced in the beginning with a photo and why they enjoy science. The journal also include a glossary of terms, questions for reflection, and a lesson plan with suggestions of how to integrate the journal into the classroom. Students are even introduced to peer review because each edition is reviewed by a middle school class “editorial review board.” Topics covered in the journals are all related to environmental science, and they have an entire library of climate change related research articles.
The Natural Inquirer is a great resource for middle school classrooms not only because of the opportunity to learn about complex environmental science topics at a middle school level, but because of the introduction to how scientific research is done and communicated. I think that it could easily be used beyond middle schoolers, at a high school, and even college level. Challenging upper level students to look at the primary source first, compare how it was “translated,” and then asking them to do a translation of their own of another research article would be a great addition to an environmental science course.