Secret Life Revealed: BU Scientist Visits 4th Grade via Video Conference

Filed Under (Collaboration, Erika Ebbel, science, Secret Life of Scientists) by Lee Kolbert on 06-03-2010

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my plans to bring in special guest, bio-chemist Erika Ebbel, to our class. Well, today all three of my classes had the unique experience of having this video conversation with Erika. Erika was profiled on The Secret Life of Scientists which is a wonderful site where students can learn about many different types of science and the real people who live it daily. Additionally, Secret Life of Scientists provides video snippets into the “secret lives” of these brilliant folks allowing students to get a glimpse of the diverse interests and hobbies that even “really smart” people enjoy!

Leading up to our conversation today, I prepared my students by watching Erika’s videos (each one is no more than a few minutes) and having some conversations in class about the context. It was very good for the students to see Erika speak to the fact that she studied very hard and did well in school, continues to study science (and loves it) and entered and won beauty pageants. Perhaps the most interesting to the students was the video, Whiz Kids, where Erika explains how, when she was in 11 years old, she got her idea for a project to see if cells commit suicide when diseased. She got her idea from visiting a crocodile farm where she learned that when crocodiles become fatally wounded, they roll over in the water and commit suicide. She goes on to describe how she set and achieved her goal to conduct this experiment. The challenges she faced with her experiment were not much unlike some of the challenges my students are facing with their own Science Fair experiments. Some of my students are also finding their results to be inconclusive or that the resources they need are not readily available and so they need to change their plans.

This was a great opportunity for my students to ask Erika questions about their projects, science, the beauty pageant or anything really. The students prepared questions and we were ready to go.

Erika graciously agreed to do this video conference with me three times (so that each of my classes could benefit). I didn’t want to consume too much of Erika’s time, so I vetted the questions in advance and only a few students in each class asked their questions.

A couple of highlights:

  • Hearing Erika talk about her successes was fascinating, but listening to her talk about the many times she failed was pretty important too. It’s easy to set a goal and get started. It’s also easy to turn away and give up at the first sight of resistance. It is good for my students to see that being successful doesn’t usually come easily.
  • Jack speaking about his project on growing crystals and how the paper clips used for weights kept rusting causing the crystals not to grow. He and Erika discussed running more trials and some possible solutions.
  • Jordana asking Erika about the diseases she is working on curing.
  • Santiago asking Erika about how to measure centipedes without getting bit.
  • Eriel wondering what people want to talk to Erika about more; science or the beauty pageants.
  • Noah, whose experiment requires exerting the same force on a hovercraft to measure on which surface it will travel the farthest, wanted to know how to make sure he was exerting the same amount of force each time he ran his trials.
  • Erika responding to a question about her daily routine. She described how she is in a PhD program and only recently stopped attending classes and taking tests, but now goes to a lab every day. She also described her routine when she has days off and the activities she enjoys doing such as SCUBA diving.

Erika is incredibly engaging and developed a lovely rapport with the students right away. She obliged us with talk of her awards and achievements, but you could tell she was much more comfortable talking about where she/we still needs to go. It’s clear how passionate she is about her work and how much she wants young students to develop the same love for science and math that she’s embraced.

There were many messages to be gleaned from the conversations and I’ll be spending some time next week debriefing with the students and having them work on their own “Secret Life of Students” profiles where they will identify their own areas of expertise to share with others.

I want to thank Erika for spending so much time with me and my students. Additionally, I’d like to thank Tom Miller and Karen Laverty (some behind-the-scenes folks from The Secret Life of Scientists) who helped facilitate this wonderful instructional experience that my students will surely remember always.

Special thanks to Ms. New, university student from FAU, for all her EXTRA help that day!

Update: Secret Life invited me to be a post a guest blogpost. Check it out here!

25 Comments Already, Leave Yours Too

Ellen Wilke on 7 March, 2010 at 1:02 am #

To Ms. Kolbert’s 4th grade science students:
I really enjoyed reading about the conversations you were having with Erika Ebbel. Sounds like you asked her some really good questions! I know you are going to have fun working on the “Secret Life of Students” and I’ll look forward to hearing more about that in the future.
Keep up the good work as science students, and good luck finishing your science fair projects. Many of my high school students in Physics are getting ready to go off to college to study engineering, medicine, and other science related fields. One of them just won $1000 as a finalist in the Greater St. Louis Science Fair! I bet my students would enjoy reading about your “Secret Lives” too! 🙂

Mrs. Ellen Wilke
Parkway West High School
St. Louis, MO

Lee Kolbert Reply:

To Mrs. Wilke,
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. How exciting for your student who won the Greater St.Louis Science Fair! I think my students would be interested in what sort of topics your students do for their Science Fair projects. What was the $1000 winning topic? Was it conclusive?

Thanks so much for your comment.
Lee Kolbert

Jessica :) on 7 March, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

it waz really fun

Leo K. Reply:

True! It was fun.

Jordana C. on 8 March, 2010 at 10:06 am #

I participated in this activity ad it was fun and i had a great expirience!!!

Noah on 8 March, 2010 at 10:11 am #

I learned what i can do to measure the amount of force I exert on an object!

raegan on 8 March, 2010 at 10:13 am #

Hi Everyone!
Im from Mrs.Kolberts class. Talking with Mrs.Ebbel was a great experience and I’m really glad I got to meet her. Erika Ebbel was very inspiring , her work is greatly appreciated and she really shows that hard work pays off and that even hard workers can find time to do what they enjoy most.

maria.c on 8 March, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

Im from Mrs.Kolberts class and I had an amazing experience meeting Erika!

Leo K. Reply:

Your right Maria! It was amazing to meet Erika Ebbel.

Ben K on 8 March, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

I enjoyed talking to Mrs. Ebbel; she was nice and smart. I felt more intelligent after talking to her.
I hope to be as successfull as her someday.

Leo K. on 9 March, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

When we were talking to Erika Ebbel, I enjoyed talking to her. Even though my question wasn’t picked, she answered all my question.

Maria C Reply:

I also had a question but someone alse asked it and now I have the answer.

Eriel on 9 March, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

I also asked two other questions but they weren’t picked!!!!!!! 😮 🙂 🙁

Katie G. on 9 March, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

I thought it was a great expierence talking to a real live scientist and knowing about her “secret life”. I’m so happy I could do this (most likely I would not do this in any other class). I hope everyone had as good as a time as me. THANK YOU MRS. KOLBERT!!!!!!!!!!

Sarah L. on 9 March, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

I was really excited when my question was picked!!!!!!!! I realy enjoyed this!!

Frankie R Reply:

what was your question

Zack on 9 March, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

It was really cool how we got to talk to a biochemist from Boston.I bet that almost all of the other 4th graders in Florida don’t get to video chat with a biochemist

Sam on 9 March, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

I was never able to ask my question, yet if I did then i would be the only person (other then Jack) to ask about my science project.

Jack S. on 9 March, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

In my class I was the first one to speak even though I didn’t write a question. As you might know my science experiment totally screwed up and i got to ask Erika Ebbel what might have went wrong. She said I might have not added enough alum or it was that one experiment. She said that I should have tried it a couple more time, I did and it did not work. Talking to Erika Ebbel was really fun and it was also fun listening to her responses.

Rishi S. on 9 March, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

I was a bit dissapointed when my question wasn’t picked:[

Langwitches Blog » links for 2010-03-29 on 29 March, 2010 at 6:01 am #

[…] Mrs. Kolbert’s Class Blog » Blog Archive » Secret Life Revealed: BU Scientist Visits 4th Grade v… today all three of my classes had the unique experience of having this video conversation with Erika. Erika was profiled on The Secret Life of Scientists which is a wonderful site where students can learn about many different types of science and the real people who live it daily. (tags: skype_in_classroom expert_voices) […]

gabbyg on 15 April, 2010 at 8:08 pm #

I was there and I asked her a question. It was an experience I will never forget.:) 🙂 🙂 🙂

Blogging To The Bank on 4 August, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

I’ve seen a lot of sites in this niche, but I must say that his is one of the best. I’ll definitely be checking back for more good posts. Thanks

Kaitlyn on 23 November, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

The “Spoil the soil” one was awsome. We are also doing videos, but about the water cycle. Please come and look at our videos on our school website in our LEEP section.

Anastasia on 23 November, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

I am Anastasia from Berwick Lodge PS in Victoria, Australia. Thankyou for posting films, it has inspired us to film some movies. If you would like to look at our films.