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.
I’m Mallory Schaefer and I will be working at STAR School as a part of the AmeriCorps VISTA Flagstaff STEM Education Project team. I moved to Flagstaff in 2013 to attend NAU where I received a Bachelors degree in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and a minor in Sustainable Community Development. For the past four years I have been working at Willow Spring Program Center, a Girl Scout camp located in Prescott, AZ. Working there is what really made me passionate about working with children in an outdoor setting and allowing them to interact with nature in fun and developmental ways! I would love to pursue a career in Outdoor Education in the future where I can continue to inspire a love for nature in today's youth. I am excited to be back in Flagstaff and to have the opportunity to work with and learn from Native youth and Native communities.
At my site I will be working on developing the schools existing STEM program to meet the needs and wants of the teachers. I hope to develop after school activities with a STEM focus that are both fun and engaging for the students. I will also be working on a special water project that includes setting up an aquaponics system to get the students involved in the importance of water as well as assisting with the implementation of a water testing and filtration project for the near by community. I am looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish in our year of service!
Hey there! My name is Charlie Humphrey and for the next year I will work in Flagstaff with Grand Canyon Youth as their Office Manager through the Flagstaff STEM Education AmeriCorps VISTA Project. I will devote my efforts towards smoothing office processes, coordinating volunteers, and engaging in community events.
I grew up among the copper sunsets, vast deserts, and jagged mountains of Phoenix and Sierra Vista. I inherited my love for nature from my father, who taught me early on that we can recognize that we are part of something more when we spend time outdoors. I traded Saguaros for Ponderosas when I moved to Flagstaff in 2013 so that I could study at Northern Arizona University. In May of 2017, I graduated with a BS in Parks and Recreation with an emphasis in Outdoor Education.
GCY works hard to ensure that diverse populations of youth have an opportunity to participate in outdoor immersion programs. That is what I am so proud to member of the Grand Canyon Youth team. I am very excited about this chance to help connect the youth of America to the best that the southwest has to offer.
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 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!
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 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.
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.
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator