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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The MAPS KEES program teaches seed dispersal to third graders at Scott Dual Language Magnet School

    The Kansas Ecosystems for Elementary Students (KEES) program finished the Fall 2018 semester teaching an interactive seed dispersal lesson to Ms. Charlotte Muñoz’s third grade class at Scott Dual Language Magnet School in Topeka, KS. The KEES program is one of the education and workforce development initiatives funded by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) and is under the direction of Dr. Peggy Schultz, Associate Specialist for the Kansas Biological Survey Environmental Studies Program. As part of Scott's curricular focus, science is taught in Spanish, so Dr. Schultz hired Ms. Tita Hernandez-Soberon to write and teach the KEES curriculum in Spanish. Dr. Shultz also enlisted the help of University of Kansas (KU) Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) PhD students, Laura Jimenez, Claudia Nunez-Penichet, Fernando Machado-Stredel, and Javier Torres-Lopez as well as program volunteer, Dr. Gaby Valverde-Muñoz to lead the small group activities within each KEES lesson.
Students discovering how seeds might disperse
    The seed dispersal lesson began with a brief discussion on how seeds can be dispersed by wind, water, explosions, and animals. Then, the third graders viewed a video showing how chipmunks store and transport acorns. Students were also shown a video, in slow motion, that explained how a "Jewelweed" or "Touch-Me-Not" seed capsule explodes in order to disperse its seeds. Following the introduction, students were split into small groups that rotated through activity stations led by the KEES instructors. At the first station, students were introduced to different types of seeds, and they conducted experiments to discover how each seed might be dispersed in an ecosystem. At the second station, students wore tape on their hands and crawled through oatmeal spread on the ground to simulate how seeds can be spread by sticking to animal fur. In the third activity, students pretended to be squirrels storing acorns for the winter. In this exercise, students wore socks on their hands and then crawled, hopped and ran from their trees, or home base to 1.) collect wooden acorns that were spread out on the ground; 2) dodge predators (KEES instructors); and 3.) bring the acorns back to their home tree. Through this activity, students learned how squirrels eat, gather, store, and drop acorns in order to help oak trees disperse their seeds. The final activity provided the students with the opportunity to create their own seed dispersal mechanisms and then test their mechanisms' effectiveness using water, wind, and gravity.
Students constructing their own seed transports and testing their efficiency
     When asked about the impact the MAPS KEES program has had on her students, so far, Ms. Muñoz said, the KEES program "has covered many of our Life Science standards. I love that the program is engaging for students. It brings in resources that we do not have access to as a public school and opens the eyes of our students to things they normally would not be able to experience.” Her students also echo her enthusiasm for the program as Ms. Muñoz describes, “My students LOVE when the 'science people' come visit us. They are always asking when they will come again.” Ms. Muñoz shared some of the comments her students have made about the KEES program below:
  • "It is really fun. We learned about plants and seeds." (Isaac)
  • "It's fun because they show us new things that we might not learn here." (Bryan)
  • "I think it's fun when they come because we do exciting experiments. I learn exciting things that I didn't know about before." (Zaylee)
In addition, Ms Muñoz said that although most of her students already love science, “the ones that do not change their perspective when the science teachers from KU are here. They become lovers of learning.” Furthermore, Ms. Muñoz has seen evidence that her students are retaining the information they are learning. She explained, “My students talk to each other about what they learn. When we talk about similar things in class, students are able to tell me and compare what they learned then to what they are learning now.” When Ms. Muñoz was asked what activity has been her students' favorite, so far, she said they really liked the squirrel game that taught them about seed dispersal (see video below). 

     Parents are also expressing their enthusiasm for the KEES program. Ms. Muñoz shared, “I post pictures of my students in their activities on Class Dojo for parents to see. Many of the parents have expressed excitement that their child is learning in a hands-on style. One parent in particular has a gifted student in my classroom and has had concerns that her child needs to be working in a challenging and engaging environment. She feels that this program fulfills those needs for him."
    The KEES program is also engaging third grade students at Jardine Elementary in Topeka, KS as well as Hillcrest Elementary and New York Elementary in Lawrence, KS. These additional classes are taught in English by undergraduate student instructors. In the Spring of 2019, three more MAPS related lessons will be taught, and the KEES program is expected to reach over 250 third grade students during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the KEES program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The award'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.