Eleven high school students in the CAVIAT iCREATE bioscience class publicly presented their unique solutions to the authentic problem of tracking and reporting influenza-like illnesses in Coconino County. The presentations were held on March 7th at NAU's Center for Science Teaching and Learning. The students are in the second semester of this college-level course that earns credits from both Coconino Community College plus from Coconino High School or Flagstaff High School. The class meets after school for 2.5 hours each day from Monday to Thursday to learn the CTE (career and technical education) bioscience standards through an epidemiologic lens and with rich community involvement. Community partners include Coconino County Public Health Services District, North Country HealthCare, Northern Arizona Area Health Education Center, Northern Arizona Healthcare and TGen North. The students also gained assistance from Corryn Smith in using GIS technology for their reports.
Instructors Dr. Aaron Tabor and Robert (Bobby) Woodruff co-teach the class at NAU. Both have extensive experience in research and education. They also include additional community partners for in-class presentations and field trips. Students have toured the Science and Health Building at NAU, the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (ECOSS) laboratories, the Clinical and Pathology Laboratory at Flagstaff Medical Center, and more!
The students study disease-causing agents as then use the tools necessary to determine what microbes cause the illnesses. The class includes biosafety skills, microbiology techniques, DNA extraction, separation and analysis. Students take an end-of-year test to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
Congratulations to all the students! And thank you to the community members that attended their presentations! NAU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Kain (Left), FUSD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Mary K Walton (Center), and FUSD Superintendent Mike Penca (Right), all came to hear the student presentations and ask them questions about their unique solutions to this authentic community problem.
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 Erin O’Keefe, Events & Outreach Coordinator with Flagstaff's Open Space Program through the STEM Education VISTA Project
The Indigenous Youth STEM Academy Completes its Pilot Year
This past summer, the City of Flagstaff Open Space Program implemented a pilot year of the Indigenous Youth STEM Academy (IYSA) at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. As Native Americans are one of the most underrepresented groups within STEM careers and among STEM degree-holders, I recognized a need for focused programming with Indigenous youth on these topics. As such, the goal of this program is to provide Indigenous youth in Flagstaff and the surrounding communities with an opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in connection to culture, community, and stewardship while providing resources for pursuing higher education and professional careers in STEM fields.
Programming took place at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve as it provides a unique opportunity for learning about Northern Sinagua petroglyphs and habitation sites, has an outdoor classroom area, interpretive signs throughout the Preserve, and represents a place of cultural importance for many surrounding tribal communities. The Academy consists of daylong sessions with various Indigenous youth groups. The key components of each session include an interpretive tour of the Preserve, a panel discussion with local STEM professionals and students, followed by an interactive learning project.
This year, we programmed with three different groups: the National Indian Youth Leadership Project (Gallup, New Mexico), Native Americans for Community Action (Flagstaff, Arizona), and Kinlani Bordertown Dormitory (Flagstaff, Arizona). Youth participants ranged from middle school to high school age, and represented tribes including Navajo, Zuni, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Hopi, and Apache. The learning projects included rock art documentation and plant identification. Our panelists represented STEM fields from organizations including the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Natural Channel Design, Friends of the Rio de Flag, Museum of Northern Arizona, and Departments from Northern Arizona University including Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Communication, Forestry, and Applied Indigenous Studies. Panelists discussed their experiences in STEM, why they are passionate about their field and their advice for young people pursuing education and careers in those areas.
In order to gauge response to the programming as well as any changes in interest to pursue STEM in college or careers, our youth participants filled out pre- and post- survey questionnaires. The surveys included questions such as, “How interested are you in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) as a potential career?”, “How interested are you in going to college?”, and “How important do you feel it is for Native Americans to work in STEM fields?” One participant expressed, “It is extremely important for Native Americans to work in STEM careers. I feel Native Americans are extremely overlooked as we are seen to not be well-educated.” Another participant stated, “One of the biggest barriers [to Native Americans pursuing careers in STEM] is poor education in our home towns.”
Overall, we identified increased interest in pursuing college as well as learning more about various STEM areas and topics. There was a large number of positive responses to the programming activities, and many of our participants expressed that they found great value in the panel discussions specifically.
As this is the first year of the Indigenous Youth STEM Academy, we plan to incorporate lessons learned into year two of programming in 2018. We plan to focus on enhanced collaboration with a specific youth group in order to provide continuous and more focused programming to build upon each session rather than providing only one-time sessions with various youth groups. We will also be transitioning our program schedule from summer sessions to sessions taking place during the school year to be able to engage youth more consistently throughout the year.
It is extremely exciting and rewarding to have these types of experiences where we are learning alongside Indigenous youth and witnessing their strength, intelligence, leadership and potential. We greatly look forward to continuing these efforts into the next year and the future.
My name is Julia Sullivan, and I am currently working as the AmeriCorps VISTA Youth Engagement Coordinator at Grand Canyon Trust. I grew up in the beautiful Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts before moving to Washington, DC to attend American University, where I earned degrees in Environmental Studies and International Development. I also spent much of my time as a college student training and competing as a member of American University’s cross country/track team. I graduated in 2014 and, after a stint working on international policy with The Nature Conservancy and coaching high school cross country in my hometown, decided to join the Peace Corps. During my two years as a Community Environmental Conservation Volunteer in Panama, I lived in a rural coffee-farming area and worked closely with community members to bring a number of conservation projects to fruition. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with teachers at the community school to facilitate sexual health workshops, leadership trainings, and camping trips with local youth.
Now back in the States, I’m thrilled to have made the move to Flagstaff and to be working in a position that combines my two great passions – environmental conservation and working with youth. This year, I look forward to connecting diverse young people to the natural splendor of the Colorado Plateau, inspiring them towards environmental stewardship and advocacy, and creating opportunities for them to step into leadership roles in the field of conservation.
My name is Sally Henkel and this year I’m working with the Grand Canyon Trust as their Citizen Science Volunteer Coordinator. I will be working towards engaging underrepresented youth in citizen science and making conservation more accessible. I just recently found my way down to Arizona from Missoula, Montana. While Montana has been home for several years, I fell in love with the Colorado plateau on an impromptu river trip a few years back.
I graduated with a BA in forensic anthropology and mountain studies. I have since moved all around working as an international trip leader, a field instructor in Yellowstone, a wildlife biologist, a teacher, a beer slinger, and adventure snack extraordinaire. Upon moving to Montana roughly five years ago, I began to discover the depth of my love for conservation and ecology. I’m passionate about connecting people to the landscape, wolverine conservation, and teaching ecological knowledge as a means to understand systems. When I’m not in the office, I can usually be found running around the woods, telling corny jokes or seeking winter- usually they all happen at once!
Guest Blog Post by Vicki Anderson, VISTA Member, STEM Educator and Curriculum Developer at Flagstaff Bordertown Dormitory
Kinlani Flagstaff Bordertown Dormitory has a Robotics/AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society)/STEM Club with 15 members so far! They are making robots with our Lego Robotics Coach-Mentor Larry Marek. They began using the NAU Cline Library MakerLab on September 14th with Bryan Johnson, the Tech Services Coordinator. Club members will learn TinkerCAD to use NAU’s 3D printer for their Engineering STEM Challenges prototypes.
On September 9th, nine high school students participated in an Indigenous Youth STEM Academy with the Flagstaff Open Space Program. This program aims to connect Indigenous youth with cultural and natural resources at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. The Preserve provides a unique opportunity for learning about the connection between culture, community, and stewardship as it is home to Northern Sinagua petroglyphs and habitation sites, and represents a place of cultural importance for many surrounding tribal communities. Each session encompasses a full day of activities, including an interpretive tour of the Preserve, a lunch panel discussion with local STEM professionals and students, and a hands-on service-learning project. This program is organized by STEM VISTA Member Erin O'Keefe.
STEM Engineering Challenges competitions are also open to all students biweekly. All STEM activities are coordinated by AmeriCorps VISTA educator Vicki Anderson, and our motivated FBD staff. As you can see, we are “steaming” ahead in our STEM Education projects!
The students attended the Flagstaff Festival of Science “Engineering Solutions” kick off with keynote speaker Kyle Maynard on September 22nd at NAU’s Ardrey Auditorium. He was born without a complete set of arms and legs. With engineering solutions from Kahtoola, a Flagstaff company, and serious determination, he has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mt. Aconcagua in South America.
Get out for some of the 100 free events at the 28th Annual Flagstaff Festival of Science and you will see the Kinlani STEM students!
The 2nd graders at Killip Elementary School are designing a pond for the Luna Park area at their school. To learn more about what the students need to consider for their design, educators Kim Edison, Mable Goodwin, and Wendy Tucker took their young students on a field trip to the Arboretum at Flagstaff on Wednesday, August 23rd. There they met experts from the Arboretum and Natural Channel Design to learn about forest health, as well as the differences between man-made ponds and natural ponds.
Teacher Wendy Tucker and her students observe the pond with Allen Haden
Allen Haden, the lead at Natural Channel Design, shared his expertise on aquatic ecosystems with the students. Allen asked the students to think about what they need to survive, and joked that the fish in the pond can't walk to the grocery store to get what they need. The students observed and then discussed what man-made ponds need to successfully keep organisms alive.
Coreen Walsh and Shannon Benjamin of the Arboretum at Flagstaff engaged students with information on lichens, plants, birds and beetles that make the forest their home.
Shannon Benjamin has the students guess what bird they are hearing and looking at,
and then she passed around a small vial with pine bark beetles inside.
Stay posted for more updates as the pond designs are developed and the pond gets built! Thank you to Allen Haden of Natural Channel Design, and the Arboretum for contributing to a successful educational field trip! If your school is interested in a field trip to the Arboretum before they close on October 31st, please contact: email@example.com
Guest Blog Post by Lisa Winters, Research and Stewardship Volunteer Coordinator, Grand Canyon Trust
Did you know springs support more than 20% of the endangered species in the United States?
Despite being small areas compared to lakes or oceans, springs are really diverse! However, springs are also one of the most threatened ecosystems: the Springs Stewardship Institute reports that a lack of information and attention to springs has resulted in over 90% of springs lost in some areas.
Earlier this year, Kathryn Wertz’s 6th graders at Sinagua Middle School, Kesava’s 4-6th graders at Haven Montessori, and the Centennial Forest Outdoor Leadership Academy with Manager Cheryl Miller got the chance to contribute to springs research. Students traveled to different springs, defined as emerging groundwater, and measured water quality, water flow, identified plants and animals, and collected information on the source and extent of the spring. Afterwards, they discussed why springs might be threatened: human water use, livestock grazing, mining, or pollution are just some of the threats to our springs. “Use less water!” “Practice leave no trace principles!” and “stay on the trail!” rang out when prompted for suggestions on how we could become stewards of the springs.
These data collected help support a large forest restoration project in northern Arizona. The Four Forest Restoration Initiative is a collaborative effort across 2.4 million acres, to bring natural fire regimes, plant and animal diversity, and healthy forests back to the area. The project focuses on thinning small diameter trees, small prescribed fires, and also protecting water in the forests.
Springs are critical water sources for the diversity of animals that call forests home, and also for a variety of plant life. When forests become overcrowded (a healthy acre of forest should have about 30 trees or less, whereas now we might see 300 trees/acre), all those trees send deep roots down to suck up the available water. By thinning some of the trees, we will hopefully raise the water table, and provide access to surface water for the other species. The trees that are left to grow also have more space, more nutrients, and an easier time staying strong and healthy. A win-win for everyone!
Not only did these students collect important information that will be useful for forest management, but they also proved to be capable and enthusiastic citizen scientists! We can’t wait to do it again! Thank you to Joseph Holway from the Spring Stewardship Institute, Cheryl Miller from Centennial Forest, and Grand Canyon Trust for helping make this project a success. Thank you also to Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Heritage Fund for providing financial support to help get students outside doing real life STEM!
Teachers can apply for field trip funding through the Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Grant program. Link to the Heritage Grant site above and/or download the pdf here! The grant proposal is due by October 31, 2017.
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator