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.
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!
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.
Dr. Laura Huenneke's Address to the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative's Annual Teacher Awards in Sustainability Curriculum in May of 2017
Introduction: The SEDI TASC awards recognize our outstanding educators and their exemplary projects focused on sustainability. At the TASC celebration in May 2017, Dr. Laura Huenneke, Professor Emeritus, School of Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, discussed building our future by strengthening the educational ecosystem.
Dr. Laura Huenneke's address:
Back in the spring, I jumped at the chance to be part of the presentation of SEDI's Teacher Awards for Sustainable Curriculum, celebrating some of our fantastic teachers. Teachers are one of our community's most precious resources – truly changing lives and creating the future, both for individuals and for society as a whole. The SEDI TASC awards recognize our outstanding educators and their exemplary projects focused on sustainability. I’d like to take a moment to flip this on its head and reflect on the sustainability of outstanding teachers and education. That is, how can we build a future where we have many such teachers and many such schools, and where all our students over the long-term can benefit from these kinds of experiences?
Awards like the SEDI sustainability awards do bring peer and community recognition to the individuals who have done inspired and inspiring work. We hope that recognitions like this make some of the effort and sacrifices worthwhile. Such recognition is valuable and necessary; but by itself it is not sufficient to ensure that these same teachers will stay with us in the years to come and will continue to succeed. Nor will these awards guarantee that future teachers are able to provide equivalent high-quality experiences.
My academic background is as an ecosystem scientist, trained to think about entire systems and how individual pieces and processes are connected -- how they interact both positively and negatively. So I tend to think about education as a system – not just the individual teachers and students in a given classroom, but the larger context in which they operate. Many of those attending the spring awards ceremony know far more than I do about K-12 education, so what I say here is pretty general – but I’d like to ask you to think through some of the parts of this educational ecosystem and how more of us can help support the system as a whole.
There are teachers at a single grade level within a school, learning from and supporting one another. There are connections among the teachers within a school as students move up through the grades, deliberately attending to how curriculum, experiences, and human relationships link together and build through a student’s journey through that school.
The connections among teachers, as well as the working environment within a school, are facilitated and shaped by a principal and the culture in a school. Is the principal able to connect the teachers, and is there support for that school and that principal from the families and from neighboring institutions? Is there room and support for creative approaches?
In turn, the connections among teachers, principals, and schools in a district are all shaped by the district and its professional leadership. What resources does the district have to invest in and attend to professional development, to career development, to communication, and to supporting equity of opportunities across schools? How much support do district leaders receive in their role as liaison or interface - or buffer! - with state and federal requirements and opportunities?
The state shapes this complex environment with its policies and funding. Arizona of course sets policies around teacher qualifications and expectations, and calls for adoption of the Common Core (Arizona Career and College Readiness) or other standards – I probably don’t need to say much more about what many perceive as a lack of leadership in this arena. State funding patterns result not just in our teacher pay scales falling behind those of other states (limiting our ability to recruit and retain), but also in severe infrastructure gaps (e.g., for rural schools) and also instability caused by episodic RIFS or last-minute changes in teaching assignments. State universities like our own Northern Arizona University are our primary sources of new or early career teachers; state policies shape their curriculum and training which then influences the teachers' success in the first few years of their career.
At the overarching federal level, we currently seem to be moving away from expectations of education as a pathway for social mobility, innovation, and opportunity.
Finally, I must acknowledge – I personally am motivated by our location and the very special history of this area: remembering that some of our neighbors (the southwestern tribes) are the original inhabitants of these landscapes and have a truly long-term perspective. Remembering this reminds me to commit to ensuring access to excellent education and preparation for those who will build the future of all our communities.
This complex nest of multiple levels is our educational ecosystem; how can we best sustain it? How should we add to or build on recognitions like the SEDI awards for individual teachers, to help ensure that teachers are operating within the most supportive system possible? Many of us often feel frustrated at the seeming impossibility of shifting state or federal policies, funding, or the like. But as a community, I would challenge us to get creative about filling in or substituting for weaknesses in the current ecosystem. Of course, individuals in our community do support schools financially through the Education Tax Credit program, and so do our local businesses (e.g., the school supplies drives at the start of each year). But -- what else might we doing?
Could we provide opportunities for teachers in the summer that would help counteract the impact of low salaries while providing professional development? These might include teacher development experiences, internships or short-term employment opportunities, or scholarship support for graduate courses.
What could we as a community provide in terms of facilitation for planning? Community groups, employers or industry associations could create more open forums for discussion about local workforce needs and how skills or knowledge relevant to them might fit into the curriculum at various levels. And then those groups could follow up with some of the information, experts, and resources to supplement what schools and teachers already have to develop those skills.
What could we as a community provide in terms of the larger policy framework for schools or for the district? Members of the collaborative group LAUNCH Flagstaff are keeping an eye on national and international best practices and standards, while STEM City works to expand high-quality experiences in the science, engineering, and technology arena. These groups can serve as resources and collaborators for curriculum specialists in our districts and schools, figuring out together how to align the community’s educational objectives with external policy or state standards.
These are just a few starting points – to get your creative juices flowing. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it well: “A surplus of effort could overcome a deficit of confidence.” Even if we think our educational ecosystem has some deficits, we can – and we absolutely should – make the effort to change parts of that system for the better. In closing, I hope all of us as individuals, and the organizations we represent – LAUNCH Flagstaff, SEDI, STEM City, the schools and the district, the business community, our residents and neighbors – will find ways to collaborate in strengthening the entire ecosystem within which our outstanding teachers work. Thanks again for joining SEDI in celebrating some of the outstanding teaching in our region – and congratulations to the fantastic educators being recognized.
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!
Dawn Pfeffer, Killip STEM Academy, STEM Curriculum
I graduated from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. I fell in love with Flagstaff when my environmental engineering design teams traveled here in 2014 and 2015 and I knew then that I wanted to move here. When I graduated in May of 2015, I worked at an automation company called Rovisys in Ohio for two years. I was a Lead Systems Engineer for various customers and industries. In April of 2017 I was finally able to make my move to Flagstaff and I couldn’t be happier.
I spent my first four months in Flagstaff working on a trail maintenance crew with Arizona Conservation Corps, an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. I got to know the people and places that surround Flagstaff and it deepened my love for this amazing city. At the end of those four months I wanted to use my skills as an engineer to help this community grow, so I applied to the AmeriCorps VISTA position at Killip Elementary. I will build and modify the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) curriculum to better prepare students for the years to come. This is yet another experience that I will cherish forever. I am dedicated to the Flagstaff community and I consider this place my home, so please say hello to me; I would love to meet you!
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator