Guest Blog Post by Ben Koch, Senior Research Associate, NAU
Researchers at NAU’s Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (ECOSS) have partnered for the second year with one of Kathryn Wertz's 6th grade science classes at Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff as part of the ‘Scientists in the Classroom’ program founded by Jillian Worssam, and assisted by STEM City. In November, ECOSS scientists worked with students to begin a 5-month-long decomposition experiment in the forest near the school. The students learned that decomposition is the process by which living things are broken down into simpler and simpler pieces, and that decomposers like invertebrates, bacteria, and fungi accomplish this feat by consuming dead organisms in order to get the energy they need to survive, grow, and reproduce. The students considered which kinds of dead organisms decompose quickly, and which kinds decompose more slowly, depending on their chemical composition (i.e., a deer skeleton will take longer to decompose than an earthworm because it is made of bone, not soft tissue).
The students are investigating these ideas with a field experiment in which they are comparing the decomposition rates of leaves from two different species of trees: Oak and Ponderosa Pine. The students deployed set amounts of each of these leaf species in mesh bags on the forest floor near their school, and they used bags with two different sizes of mesh: coarse (the black bags in the photos) and fine (the white bags in the photos). When placing the leaf-bags in the forest, the students made observations and predictions about which leaf type and which bag type will yield the fastest decomposition. In April, ECOSS scientists and the students will retrieve their leaf-litter experiment to measure the mass loss of the leaves in each bag. The students will then take a field trip to the ECOSS laboratories on the NAU campus, where, among other activities, they will be able to weigh their leaf-bags and create a graph of their experimental results.
The 12 CAVIAT students in the iCREATE high school bioscience class at NAU are learning some basic Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills to help track patient health for their epidemiology projects. Corryn Smith patiently teaches the students the basics of GIS. Corryn has presented to the class twice this fall, and will certainly be helping them again as they prepare their group projects.
Corryn is an Instructor for the Geography, Planning, and Recreation department at NAU. She received her MS in Applied Geospatial Sciences with a Planning and Recreation Emphasis in May 2017. Her Master's thesis research looked at using geospatial technologies to locate travel networks (Forest Service roads and trails) in Flagstaff. Her interests include: geospatial technologies and recreation, geospatial technologies and sustainable land management, GIS in education, and Python Programming for Women and Minorities.
Thank you Corryn for your friendly and professional help!
NAU Seniors Kara McAlister, Isabella McCormick, Abby Rulison, Danna Durney, and Darlene Escobedo, organized a career fair for the students in the Kinlani Bordertown Dormitory for their Social Work 423 Course taught by Dr. Anne Medill. They raised funds for pizza for the Flagstaff High School students who live at the dorm.
The five students worked together to invite different professionals to the Career Fair. A partial list includes: Rick Wright from the City of Flagstaff Wastewater Treatment; Jennifer Dunivn from Empire Beauty School; Jessica Garard and Matt Brydenthal from Re/Max Peak Properties; Efeleina Yazzie from Coconino County Adult Probation; Owner and Personal trainer Jesse Coddington from New Roots; Doug Hatch from Hatch Plumbing; Highland Fire Department firefighters Casey Wood, Chris Thomas and Earl Callendar; Mark Cox from the Boys and Girls Club; Hannah Ris, Matt Dyer, Norria Brice, Regina Eddie and Sophia Maceira from NAU Nursing; Danny Gutierrez and Howard Coldwell from the US Forest Service; Marina Xoc Vasquez from Applied Indigenous Studies; and Sonny Lomadofkie, a Native Initiatives Mentor. Thank you all!
Dr. Medill has student groups from both sections of this class form teams to create a meaningful project in the community. Thank you, Dr. Medill and students. And thank you to all the community members that gave their time and energy to this wonderful event! Also, thanks to STEM VISTA Member Vicki Anderson for her support of this project!
Guest blog post by Julia Sullivan and Sally Henkel, AmeriCorps VISTA Members at the Grand Canyon Trust
Scientists in the Classroom is a STEM mentorship program that facilitates the collaboration between an entire class and a local organization committed to STEM education. For the Grand Canyon Trust, this partnership takes place once a month with sixth graders at Sinagua Middle School. Lead by Lisa Winters, Research and Stewardship Volunteer Coordinator at the Trust, this partnership is now heading into its second year. Americorps VISTA Members Sally Henkel and Julia Sullivan have joined the partnership as well. In October, students learned about the different types of public lands on the Colorado Plateau, how federal agencies work together, and that everyone has ownership in public lands. This month, they learned about uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region and potential changes to the present rules on the mining of uranium in this area.
Uranium mining is a complex topic. In order to break it down, we first discussed the differences between renewable and nonrenewable energy and the ways in which we consume energy on a daily basis. Then, students got a sneak peek of the Trust’s new film on the status of uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region. The film highlights the recent review of the 20-year moratorium on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon and gives voice to the communities that could be affected if the ban were to be lifted. After digesting the film, students identified some major themes and were encouraged to think critically about the issue and discuss further questions they would like to know more about. It was uplifting to see young people think critically about the use of public lands and to use their young voices to advocate for the places that they care about!
Guest Blog Post by Tessa Palazzolo, Mechanical Engineering at NAU
On November 13th, three schools competed in the second ever KidWind Challenge wind turbine design competition. Little Singer Community School, Coconino High School and Northland Preparatory Academy arrived with a total of 14 teams eager and ready to compete. The students were scored based on their wind turbine power output and their overall knowledge on wind energy, along with real life applications of the wind farm industry.
The event consisted of other ongoing challenges such as sail car designs, energy principle questions in jeopardy, and testing out the Human Powered Vehicle (HVP) designed by NAU’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The NAU ASME volunteers were also present at the competition to engage in questions related to college and the guidelines of becoming an engineer with the students. The overall experience of the KidWind Challenge provides a learning experience in hands-on creativity and allowing the students to be inspired with science, engineering and renewable energy.
The Little Singer 5th and 6th grade students were led by teacher Tom Tomas, and were doing an entire unit that incorporated literacy as well as engineering. Students are reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba (with Bryan Mealer) that shares the remarkable story of his youth in Malawi, Africa—a nation crippled by intense poverty - and how, with tenacity and imagination, he built a better life for himself, his family, and his village.
The students are also studying biomimicry, an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies. You can see the biologic patterns in their blade designs above and below.
A big STEM City Thank you to Project Director Karin Wadsack, Lead Organizer Tessa Palazzolo and all the ASME students at NAU that came out to help! Also, thank you to the Boys and Girls Club of Flagstaff for hosting the KidWind Challenge again!
Dr. Darlene Lee, an anatomical and clinical pathologist with Northern Arizona Healthcare, led a tour of Clinical and Pathology Laboratory at Flagstaff Medical Center to the high school iCREATE students. The iCREATE class is unique in the pronounced role of community members to the success of the class. Dr. Lee gave a tour last year, highlighted here, and it was one of the most memorable tours for the class. She made this one even more hands-on with additional partners from FMC.
Garn Bailey, Pathology Assistant, once again thoroughly engaged the students with a variety of human organs that he prepares for the pathologist to more critically analyze as needed. He dissected a gall bladder to show the gall stones, as well as a kidney that showed a cancerous area. He also went through the entire process of preparing thin sections from larger tissues and organs for analysis.
The surgeons in the hospital rely on the Clinical and Pathology Laboratory to rapidly prepare and assess samples while some patients are in surgery; to make sure they have removed all cancerous cells, or to determine the specific pathogen. When that occurs, tissues are quickly put on ice and are then sliced thinly in a cryostat, which keeps the tissues frozen. They are then rapidly stained and assessed by the pathologist. This entire process can occur in 20 minutes so the surgeon is able to receive the information during surgery to improve the patient's outcome.
The students then looked at blood samples with Dr. Lee. They were able to identify components of blood including white blood cells (leukocytes), red blood cells (erythrocytes), and platelets (thrombocytes). Platelets are tiny blood cells that help your body form clots to stop bleeding. She also showed them the image of the cancerous kidney tissue from the kidney Garn had shown them earlier.
Students observed the hospital's blood supply with Jordan Ippolito, a Medical Lab Scientist at FMC. She told the students that the shelf life of platelets is only 5 days, while frozen plasma is good for a year. Red blood cells are only functionally sound for 40 days because their ability to carry oxygen (their primary role) is impaired after that. The importance of donating blood cannot be overstated!
Two students volunteered to have their blood drawn so they could determine what blood type they are. Phlebotomist Troy Schafer cracked jokes with the students to put them at ease.
Jordan then had the remaining students look at blood sample directly through the microscope so they could put their earlier practice to use.
The final activity was to discuss what having blood types A,B, AB, or O really means, and then to complete the analysis of the blood types using the antigens that can cause blood to clot, depending on what the blood type is.
Thank you again for the fascinating and educational tour of the Clinical and Pathology Laboratory at FMC! Special thanks to Dr. Darlene Lee, Garn Bailey, Jordan Ippolito and Troy Schafer! You are living up to your mission and goal; you definitely wowed us!
Melissa (Lissy) Enright, a graduate student in ECOSS at NAU, shared her research on the hydraulics (water movement) of giant redwood trees with the high school students in the iCREATE class at NAU.
Lissy shared some of her background with the students including working on an oceanographic vessel with the Sea Education Association, working for the National Park Service in Hawaii, and for American Conservation Experience as an AmeriCorps Member in both Flagstaff and Alaska! She also worked with Honko, an NGO (non-governmental organization) working in partnership with the coastal communities of Madagascar on mangrove conservation. She showed the students the website for the Student Conservation Association where you can search through their list of opportunities, including those for students under 18 years old!
Lissy's experience helped her to get a "real job" working with the US Forest Service in Alaska doing a Forest Inventory and Assessment. She also worked in Northern California where she now has her research area studying water stress at the top of Redwood trees.
Lissy illustrated how the stems of the tree branches can get embolisms (air bubbles) from high water stress. She climbs the trees using a jumar system and then brings the branches home to Flagstaff to study the hydraulic conductivity of the tree.
Lissy asked the students why the pine needles and branches might be ore water stressed at the top of the trees than down below. Even though the base of the redwood is in an often moist environment, the tops of the trees are more exposed to sun; but the primary reason is that water is pulled all the way up the xylem (water tubes) of the tree from the ground to 250-400 feet! So the top of the tree is more like a dry climate.
Lissy took the students into the laboratory where she measures the hydraulic conductivity of the branches. She had them assist her with several experimental procedures she uses to determine levels of water stress in the redwood trees.
She told us: We measure hydraulic conductivity on the hydraulic line, a system of tubes that connects a stem segment to an upstream reservoir of solution (water with a tiny bit of potassium chloride)suspended a meter above the sample, and a downstream balance. The water flowing through the sample is measured as it gets to the balance. We use this measurement to infer about the degree of embolism, or air bubbles blocking the flow of water, present in the xylem cells. If the conductivity is very low, for example, we presume that there are a lot of embolisms, and the tree the sample came from was subject to a lot of water stress.
In the image above, a student measures pressure for another experiment. Lissy explains: When a piece of a plant is clipped off, the water inside sucks back away from the cut surface. This is because there is tension in the water in plants. If the plant is more water stressed, the tension is greater. We can measure this in units of pressure with a pressure chamber. We first cut a sample, then insert it into the chamber with the cut end extending out of the hole in the top. When we turn up the pressure in the chamber, the water will be forced back to the cut surface. We measure the pressure at which the water reaches the surface, and know that that number is equal to the tension that existed in the water in the plant before we cut it. If it takes a lot of pressure, then the plant was very water stressed.
Thank you, Lissy, for the wonderful presentation and the engaging hands-on research in your lab!
Guest Blog Post by Dawn Pfeffer, STEM VISTA at Killip STEM Academy
Girls Teaching Girls is a mentorship program between NAU students and young girls in Flagstaff at select locations. Girls Teaching Girls provide lessons and hands-on activities to promote leadership, community activism, empowerment, and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) related skills with the goal of fostering female leaders of the future.
We kicked off the first week of the after school program at Killip Elementary with four girls participating on day one and ended the week with eight Killip students! The NAU girls seemed just as excited as the Killip girls to see this program get started. The first week included drawing pictures, talking about important problems they see and starting to ask the question "how can we fix these problems?"
Project Questions posed by NAU students that the Killip students selected from are listed below:
1. How can we become sustainable citizens?
2. How can we create a positive change through art?
3. How do we destroy stereotypes and stigmas?
4. Why is it important that we are all diverse and different?
5. How can we maintain a happy brain?
6. How can we get adults to better understand kids? What does it mean to be bilingual?
This problem based learning mentorship is just getting started and we here at Killip cannot wait to see what these Girls accomplish!
Note: Girls Teaching Girls is also mentoring at the Boys and Girls Club in Flagstaff so stay tuned for more updates!
Guest Blog Post by Dawn Pfeffer, STEM VISTA at Killip STEM Academy
During the start of Killip Elementary School’s fall break, some 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students spent time using the engineering design process to design gloves for astronauts in space! We spent the week working in teams to test different materials against the dangers in space, including space dust, cold temperatures, and potential impacts from flying objects. Using the results from their tests, students chose the materials provided to ensure safety for the astronauts. They also had to make sure their astronauts could complete tasks after exposure to these dangers. Preliminary tests led to ingenious designs by these clever engineers!
Students persevered through tough challenges when the materials didn’t function as planned, but we worked together to develop solutions, improve designs and complete testing. At the end of the week, the students were able to showcase their designs and demonstrate the tests to future engineering students at Killip. Way to go engineers!
The Engineering Space Gloves curriculum is being developed through a collaborative project with NAU's Center for Science Teaching and Learning, the Flagstaff USGS Astrogeology Center, the Museum of Science Boston, and other collaborators including STEM City. The PLANETS (Planetary Learning that Advances the Nexus of Engineering, Technology, and Science) project is creating space-themed educational resources for out-of-school-time programs.
The 5-year grant is supported by NASA under cooperative agreement NNX16AC53A. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
My name is Madison Ledgerwood. I am currently a STEM VISTA at NAU's Rethink Possible. I was raised and shaped in the Southwest which nurtured my love for the land, and of all species. I relocated to indigenous land, Flagstaff, in 2010. This is where earned my degree in Environmental Studies, engaged with the community around the intersection of social and environmental issues in the Action Research Teams (ARTs), and began to uncover my own power and potential. Before long, I realized I wanted to more deeply understand what diverse experiences and understandings led individuals to begin fostering a thriving and harmonious world and what it took for them to devote themselves to such engagement and maintain their well-being. I researched this and earned my MA in Sustainable Communities. I also created Community and University Public Inquiry, an interdisciplinary community-based research program, while in graduate school.
Now, I yearn for a world in which people do not feel powerless but utterly capable; a world in which people dream of more sustainable, thriving futures and find their unique way to contribute to creating such a world. When I tune into the earth, the plants, the rocks, the wind at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, I know that hope is found in more of us finding our niche, in more of us finding the unique work we have to offer and that is needed now on the planet. I am committed to mentoring others who are searching for their skills, power and potential. I aim to spread light by blooming emerging seeds into empowered leaders. My STEM VISTA position cultivates my dream by providing me the opportunity to design curriculum, connect to volunteers in diverse fields, and expand the reach of a program that engages students around the “big questions” of college, such as what they want to major in and contribute to the world.
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator