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Monday, July 22, 2019

Kansas Science Teachers Explore the Konza Prairie with the KSU MAPS Team

Teachers conducting fieldwork
Pictures courtesy of  Tom Platt and Peggy Schultz

      The 2019 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute was held June 17-21, 2019 at the Konza Prairie Biological Station as part of the Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil Systems (MAPS) across Kansas education and outreach initiatives. Ten high school science teachers from across the state were invited to attend. The teachers participated in activities related to aquatic, terrestrial and soil ecosystems. Kansas State University (KSU) MAPS faculty, staff, and graduate students led field experiments, facilitated group discussions, and guided lesson planning. The MAPS faculty leading the activities included Peggy Schultz, Director of the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute and Associate Specialist with the Environmental Studies Program at the Unversity of Kansas (KU); Walter Dodds, University Distinguished Professor of Biology at KSU and Co-PI of the MAPS project; Tom Platt, Assistant Professor of Biology and MAPS Plant Research Team Lead at KSU; and Lydia Zeglin, Assistant Professor of Biology and MAPS Aquatic Team Lead at KSU. Other KSU Biology Department facilitators included Teacher Assistant Professor Anna Larimer, Research Assistant Professor Mark Mayfield and graduate students Jaide Allenbrand and Ashlee Herken. Jill Haukos, Director of the Konza Environmental Education Program (KEEP) also led group discussions and outdoor activities.
     Each day began with a whole group aquatic, plant or soil activity which was followed by afternoon breakout sessions focusing on the teachers’ area of interest (aquatic, terrestrial, or soil systems). During the lunch hour, teachers participated in open discussions related to the current issues Kansas science teachers are facing.
Teachers conducting experiments
Pictures courtesy of Evan Brandt and Tom Platt
     When the participants were asked about their overall impression of the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute experience, one teacher said, "The summer institute gave me time to reflect on my curriculum and develop meaningful methods for helping my students grasp important ecological concepts." Another teacher added “I feel I'm walking away with great information to apply to my classroom, specifically, data related to the prairie. I know more about the prairie than I ever have, and I can share that with students. I will love creating a smaller version of a restored prairie on our school grounds, and getting my students to be active with researching what happens." When asked what was their favorite part or activity of the institute, one teacher shared, "There were so many great activities. It is hard to pick just one," and another indicated, "Listening to the professors and learning about their research and how it relates to the hands-on activities we participated in was the most valuable and will help us develop lessons for our kids." Collectively, the participants agreed the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute was a great learning experience that will have a positive impact on their teaching, and they would definitely recommend Kansas science teachers apply for next year's institute.

2019 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute Participants
Picture courtesy of Jill Haukos

Teachers attending the 2019 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute: 

  1. Eric Beckman, Russell HS
  2. Evan Brandt, Shawnee Mission North HS
  3. Brian Gahagan, Chanute HS  
  4. Ruth Hudson, Blue Valley HS
  5. Michelle Loeffler, Leavenworth HS  
  6. Jennifer Karr, Manhattan HS
  7. Chris Morrison, South HS  
  8. Walter Pitts, Onaga HS
  9. Pesha Ptacek, Southeast of Saline HS
  10. Anna Thornton, Eureka HS

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.