Students learn how to think like a scientist

2014-01-18T18:30:00Z 2014-01-19T17:06:09Z Students learn how to think like a scientistBy MIKE FERGUSON The Billings Gazette

Pat Lowthian and John Pulasky had one task Saturday: to get area students to think like a scientist or an engineer.

The two did precisely that during a 90-minute workshop designed to prepare students to enter the 26th Annual Billings Clinic Research Center’s Science Expo, which will be held March 28-29 at Montana State University-Billings.

Lowthian is a fourth-grade teacher at McKinley School. Pulasky is a weathercaster for the Northern Ag Network and education director for Our Montana, a Billings-based conservation group.

Before a crowd of about a dozen students and their parents at the Billings Public Library, Lowthian described, step by step, the scientific method, including the question, hypothesis (“an educated guess you make based on all the knowledge you have learned in your life,” she said), material-gathering, the procedure itself, the results and the conclusion.

Science “is everywhere,” she said, including in bird nests and snowflakes, each of them unique; the distinctive spiral shape of some seashells (“I wonder why they’re that way,” she asked students); and even in precipitation predictions. She recently had her students gather a cup of snow from different locations around McKinley School, then had them measure the melting snow to determine how much precipitation is in snow. Students discovered that the snow melted down to about 3 centimeters of water, she said.

Following her talk, Lowthian answered questions posed by students. Asked what was the coolest science project she’d experienced, Lowthian — a longtime teacher — said she’s “seen some of the coolest stuff ever. Nothing is too cool to do. If you’re a creative thinker, don’t be afraid to try something really cool.”

Pulasky told students that if their project involves creating something new, they’ll want to follow the steps of the engineering design project. Similar to the scientific method, the process includes building a prototype; testing and redesigning, if necessary; and communicating the results.

“I never did a science project when I was your age because I was scared,” Pulasky said.

“You’ve got to take failure out of your consideration, because if you fail, it means you have learned something about how not to do that again.”

He reminded students that Thomas Edison tried more than 10,000 filaments before finally succeeding with the incandescent light bulb.

“That,” he said, “is thinking like an engineer.”

The Science Expo will run from 1-8:30 p.m. Friday, March 28, and 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. Saturday, March 29, at the MSU-Billings Alterowitz Gym. More information is at

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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