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Monday, April 22, 2019

The 2018 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute leads to a continued partnership with MAPS faculty and a collaborative research project for high school students and teachers across Kansas

Pam Lucas
Science Teacher
Skyline Schools
     Last summer, Pam Lucas attended the 2018 MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute. The summer institute is part of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) education and outreach initiatives and is under the direction of Dr. Peggy Schultz, Associate Specialist, Environmental Studies Program at the Kansas Biological Survey. During the 2018 MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute, teachers participated in whole group field activities and small group curriculum development exercises in the areas of aquatic, plant, soil and geographical information systems. The activities were designed to mirror the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Science and Engineering Practices.
     Pam’s curricular interest during the institute focused on developing activities related to the MAPS terrestrial (plant) systems research; however, she could easily see how many of the institute's activities could be taught to all her science classes. One of the first whole group activities was called Asking Good Questions. This exercise was led by Dr. Helen Alexander, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and part of the MAPS Plant Systems research team at the University of Kansas (KU)Pam saw this exercise as a student-centered approach to doing science, a key factor in designing project based lessons, so she incorporated it into her lesson plans. She started all of her science classes this year with this activity. Pam said she decided to teach the Asking Good Questions exercise, because it was a good way to teach her students how “to ask good questions and to realize the importance of doing so in science. Plus, this activity encourages a skill that applies to all of the NGSS standards and practices....” In addition, she said “I used the Pepper Population Simulation activity that Michael Ralph, Master Teacher from the KU UKan Teach program, shared with us to help my students model logistic and exponential population growth and to understand the differences between them;" As for the other activities presented, she said "I'm using the majority of what I have learned from the summer institute in my advanced class.”
    One of the projects that the teachers developed at the workshop involved collaborating with fellow participants from across the state. Pam explained their project as follows: I am working “with a group of teachers to design a cooperative project for our students to do utilizing little blue stem seeds collected from each of our home areas, plus, some from Indiana, Missouri, and Minnesota. We will be looking for variation of growth in little blue stem plants that have been inoculated with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). We suspect that the seed from south central Kansas will do better than that from the other states. At this point, my students helped collect blue stem seeds and those seeds were then planted and stored on campus, at KU. Later in the spring, some of the MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute terrestrial faculty will deliver the plants to us and help us plant them. We will take some initial measurements on a group of plants that we will plant in a plot at our school. There also will be some blue stems that we don't plant. With the plants we do not plant, we will do a small study to see how well AMF vs non-AMF inoculated plants grow by comparing plant size and root size.” With this lesson, she hopes to show students “the benefit of evolving symbiotic relationships, showing that natural selection leads to adaptation, and also show that those organisms with a heritable, advantageous trait will increase in proportion.” Pam admitted she is still developing some objectives for this lesson as well as for future lessons related to this experiment. She knows that all of the lessons she develops from this project "will fit nicely with the NGSS HS-LS4 standards dealing with evolution." This project will also incorporate teaching students many of the skills outlined in the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices such as collecting and analyzing data. Pam plans to use this collaborative lesson to serve as a foundation for several other project based learning lessons she plans to develop.
Pam with some of her students
     When asked what was the impact on students who experienced the MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute lessons, she said “Overall, I think that the lessons I have used so far have been beneficial to my students. They have learned the concepts and are better at applying them, which will help them do well on assessments.” And she was quick to add, “The kids that have participated in these lessons, so far, have done well connecting what they have learned to past lessons. I think that once our little blue stem study gets underway, I will see more of these connections being made. I'm excited to see this happen!”
     As for her thoughts about what she has gained from her participation in the MAPS Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute, she said “attending the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute has really helped me get a start at becoming more project based in my classes. My school is one that is currently in the re-design process and doing more project based learning is part of that re-design. I feel that the summer institute has given me a good foundation to build on for this new approach.” Over this academic school year, Pam has maintained contact Drs. Helen Alexander, Peggy Schultz, and Jim Bever, Distinguished Foundation Professor in EEB at KU, Senior Scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey, and Co-PI for the MAPS project, “because we have had to plan quite a bit for our blue stem project. We actually had a zoom meeting with them and the other three teachers to discuss how and when to get our project underway this spring.  I'm looking forward to them coming to work with my students and I this spring. They have been great to work with!” Just last week, the MAPS research team traveled to Medicine Lodge, Pratt, Goddard, and Hutchinson KS to help each teacher and their students get this collaborative project started.
  Pam Lucas teaches at Skyline Schools in Pratt, KS. Skyline Schools is a PreK-12 school all in one building, and Pam is the high school science teacher. Approximately 100 students attend the high school section of the school. This is Pam's third year teaching at Skyline Schools.

Other teachers who participated in the 2018 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute and who are also involved in the collaborative blue stem project are Jake Bjostad, Medicine Lodge HS; Marylee Ramsay, Goddard HS; and T.J. Williams, Hutchinson HS.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the HERS 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.