Euan Hunter, a chemistry teacher at Vanguard High School in Ocala, is proving to his 12th graders that science is a universal language, whether you’re conducting soil experiments in Florida or 4,500 miles away in the land of bagpipes and Nessie.
Hunter is using funding he received from the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Blue School Grant Program to engage his advanced chemistry students in the study of soil and water at the Silver River in Ocala. In the process he’s building a bridge between his students and chemistry students at two schools in his native Scotland.
The mission of the Blue School Grant Program is for students to develop an appreciation for Florida’s waters, an understanding of the limited nature of Florida’s water and a water ethic that they can foster through their lifetime. The program is open to 6th through 12th grade public and charter school teachers within the District’s 18 counties.
Hunter, who has received Blue School funding three times, says the $2,000 grant this year made it possible for his students to put environmental chemistry to practical use while learning firsthand how pure science transcends language barriers and geography.
Blue School Grant recipient Vanguard High School science teacher Euan Hunter visits District headquarters in December 2019. Hunter talks with District Lab Manager Chuck Faulk and Chemist Courtney Rickett.
“It’s exciting for the students and me,” Hunter says. “Collaborating with students in Scotland gives our students a context. If we’re all doing the same experiments, we can compare results to see similarities and differences in soil and water chemistry from across the Atlantic.”
As in past years, Hunter’s program includes field trips to the Silver River, where his students collected soil and water samples. In the lab, they test samples for nitrates, carbonates and other parameters. His 2019 chemistry class even published a report, “Chemical Analysis of Silver Springs,” in which Hunter described how the students spent many hours beyond the school day “filtering, drying, eluting, probing, dissolving, titrating, baking, weighing and spectrally analyzing their samples.”
Students from Vanguard High School in Marion County collect water samples on the Silver River in January 2020. The school is a Blue School Grant recipient.
This year, Hunter decided to add a twist to the program: Create a transatlantic chemistry lesson by conducting soil and water experiments with students at Kinross High School and Perth Academy in Scotland.
“My students have been set up in pairs and students in Scotland are also working in pairs,” says Hunter, who is a 2021 Teacher of the Year finalist. “Using Zoom, they work together and compare results 4,500 miles apart.”
District Public Communications Coordinator Jennifer Mitchell, who administers the agency’s Blue School Grant Program, says Hunter has a keen understanding of the purpose of Blue School.
“He does a great job of making science relatable and challenges students to figure out the solutions to problems themselves,” Mitchell says. “He also inspires the students to share what they’re learning with the community. For example, he had the students set up displays at the annual Springfest at Silver Springs for the past two years. His hands-on projects really fulfill the intentions of the Blue School funding program, which is to get students excited about water-related science.”
Hunter has also taken his students on field trips to the District’s laboratory, where they could interact with District scientists and learn about careers in science, Mitchell says.
Figuring out how to make online learning workable with students across the Atlantic is more than just a novelty, Hunter says.
“As we move forward in time, jobs are going to be globalized and online work is going to be normalized,” he says. “If we can teach students those skills in high school, it will help them beyond high school.”
Not only are students learning about water resources, they are learning how to communicate their work to others in their community and across the world.