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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Kansas Teachers Conduct Field Research and Write Lesson Plans at The 2018 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute

Teachers participate in field research and write related lesson plans to take back to their home schools.
     As part of the Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil Systems (MAPS) across Kansas outreach initiatives, high school biology teachers from across the state the participated in the The 2018 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute at the University of Kansas (KU) Field Station on June 4-8, 2018.  Eleven high school teachers were invited to attend.  The teachers participated in activities related to Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecosystems and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  Prior to the workshop, teachers selected Aquatics, Terrestrial or GIS as an area of interest they wished to focus on for the week. University of Kansas (KU) MAPS faculty Helen Alexander, Jim Bever, and Peggy Schultz; Kansas Biological Survey faculty and staff, Jerry DeNoyelles, Ted Harris and Dana Peterson; UKan Teach faculty Steve Obenhaus and Michael Ralph; and Sarah Abeita, a biology teachers at Free State High School , led field activities, facilitated group discussions, and guided lesson planning.
     Each day began with a whole group field or water activity at either the KU Field Station or at the Free State High School Prairie Restoration Project, and was followed by afternoon breakout sessions focusing on the teachers’ area of interest.  The goal of each focus group was to create Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) biology lessons and experiments that connected the teacher’s curriculum with MAPS current research.  Teachers were then asked to share their lessons with colleagues from across the state through in-service opportunities or by creating blog posts on the Kansas Association of Biological Teachers website. The institute also provided the opportunity for teachers to apply for funding to purchase the supplies needed to implement the lessons at their home campuses.  Faculty focus group leaders will continue to work with the teachers throughout the 2018-2019 school year by visiting schools and Skype conferencing.
     As for the comments on the overall Institute experience, one teacher said, “I loved the connections, both with teachers and facilitators, the most. The arrangements were well planned and organized.” Another teacher added “I think that it was fun to learn from the professors and understand what kind of research is being done.” All the teachers thought the morning field and aquatic activities were the highlight of the Institute.  In addition, teachers were asked to reflect on their focus group experience and one teacher commented “My focus group was great. The facilitators always were asking what WE wanted to get out of the experience,” and another shared, our focus group “came up with a great experimental design and all of the members in my group added their own twist or expertise.”  One teacher summed up the whole institute experience by saying, “I very much appreciated the flexibility … [the institute] … offered to allow us to choose our own professional development whilst also directing us to the relevant research they do. It was a transformative experience.”

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The grant's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.