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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Girl Scouts of the Kansas Heartland learn about fungi

     On Saturday, November 3, 2018, Theo Michaels and Jacob Hopkins presented a lesson module on fungi to the Girls Scouts of the Kansas Heartland during the 2018 Girl Scout STEM Expo at Camp Tongawood in Tonganoxie, KS.  Both Michaels and Hopkins are Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) PhD candidates at the University of Kansas (KU) working in the Sikes Microbial Laboratory with Dr. Benjamin Sikes, Assistant Professor of EEB at KU, Assistant Scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS), and Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) plant systems research team member. Michaels is also a member of the MAPS research team.
     About two years ago, Andrew Mongue and Kaila Colyott, two KU EEB Graduate Student Organization (GSO) members, and some local girl scout troops collaborated to create this event. Hopkins added, “Due to their fantastic efforts and the success of the first event, the event was held again this year." Both Michaels and Hopkins were invited to participate by Anna Klompen, the current KU EEB GSO outreach committee chair, who was instrumental in planning this year's event.
Jacob Hopkins and Theo Michaels
teaching Girl Scouts about fungi
    The 2018 STEM Expo presenters were asked to develop “a module that educated scouts in particular STEM fields.” Hopkins explained, “The modules were designed to be an informative and interactive way to get scouts interested in science.” In addition, some of the modules were designed to meet badge requirements. Hopkins described the module he and Michaels taught as follows: “In our module, we taught the girls about the basics of fungi, what mushrooms are, mushroom anatomy, basic microscopy, how to recognize Kansas mushrooms, mushroom safety, and how to grow their own fungi. The fungi basics and safety sections were composed of light lecture. The mushroom anatomy was a hands-on activity where scouts identified parts of a provided mushroom (purchased at the grocery store). The Recognizing mushrooms portion relied on KU herbarium specimens to teach the scouts about edible mushrooms in Kansas and their poisonous look-a-likes. The Grow your own fungi activity allowed the girls to plate fungi from different sources (i.e. fingers, leaves, sticks, rocks, shoes) on a petri dish that they got to take home and record what grew.”
     When Hopkins and Michaels were asked why they wanted to participate in the Girl Scout STEM Expo, Hopkins said “We participated because scientific outreach opportunities are key for: a) educating the general public about what scientists do, b) showing off how wonderful the world around us is, and c) providing a strong platform for getting scouts interested in STEM fields at a young age. Also, developing and presenting outreach modules is a lot of fun.” Michaels went on to add that the activity provided “a good chance for the girl scouts to talk to real live scientists about science, what it takes to be a scientist, and how to foster their interests moving forward. It also gives them a chance to see how science is a lens by which to explore our world and ask questions that can both directly and indirectly pertain to our daily lives.”
     In addition to Hopkins’ and Michaels’ module, “there were several other STEM modules presented by KU EEB GSO students at the event.”  Multiple troops from across Kansas, made up of about 80 Girl Scouts, attended the 2018 STEM Expo.