By Tyler Wieland
As part of its mission, the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) Education Team strives to integrate polar science-related topics into classrooms and educational conferences nationwide. Their goal is always to promote knowledge and research of glaciers, remote sensing of ice sheets, polar ecosystems, and ultimately the effects that climate change will have on these regions. They accomplish this by incorporating these topics into science, math, and technology courses via in-class workshops and presenting at educational conferences across the nation to promote early learning and interest in science.
Middle School Programs
One of the Center’s educational enrichment programs delivers polar-related lessons to middle schools, focusing primarily on schools with minority enrollment. CReSIS staff supervises weekly activities and develops an online collaboration with educators throughout the nation – providing students and teachers with information about projects in the field, giving them free access to lessons and data, discussing current news on polar ecosystems, and experimenting with interactive climate demonstrations.
In September, CReSIS welcomed Levi Houk to the education team as the Student Outreach Assistant. Houk, who has a Master’s of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Mexico, is currently enrolled in the UKAN Teach Program at the University of Kansas.
Lawrence West Middle School students engaged in an experiment. (Photo courtesy of Levi Houk)
This semester Houk is focusing on the middle school outreach program and has taught three different lessons and four Freezing Friday’s lessons in total during his short time at CReSIS. The schools he has taught include a 7th grade class at Topeka Robinson Middle School and a 6th grade class at Lawrence West Middle School.
“The educational outreach at CReSIS is amazing, from the outreach staff to the scientist to the engineers that help with the lesson plans by giving us photos [from the field],” said Houk. “I have been involved with other outreach programs at other universities and CReSIS puts such an emphasis of sharing and getting involved with the community.”
The first lesson he taught this semester involved remote sensing – teaching students the basics of radar and demonstrating the methods for which CReSIS is internationally known.
Houk said the students developed their own radar method by using a tennis ball as the signal, lining up against a wall in the classroom to represent the bedrock, and tossing the ball back and forth. Using a stop watch students could calculate the ice thickness and see what the landscape looked like beneath the ice from the time and length intervals that emerged as the ball was thrown across the room.
The second lesson was about CReSIS’ glacier goo. Houk discussed types of glaciers, models and limits of models, as well as why scientists and engineers need models.
“By seeing the glacier goo in action, the students could see how real glaciers move – on both level and angled surfaces,” said Houk.
Two students observing their ice cubes - the fresh water ice, on the left of the photo, didn’t absorb any food coloring, the salt water ice, on the right, absorbed the food coloring due to the channels the salt created when the ice crystals froze. (Photo courtesy of Levi Houk)
The third lesson was over the biology and wildlife of the Polar Regions. Houk discussed animals in poles, the food chain and how important the role of ice is in the food chain. The students then participated in a hands-on investigation by adding food coloring to different ice cubes.
Some ice cubes had salt added and this created channels for the food coloring. He then connected the salt to the algae that lives in the channels, discussing how they are the primary producers in the food chain, which gives life to all the penguins, bears and rabbits in the region.
He said the students didn’t understand the differences in the ice cubes at first and they were told to observe and postulate why the ice cubes didn’t react to the food coloring in the same way.
“The community is very receptive to what we are doing here at CReSIS. They care about what is happening at the poles and they want to better the environment,” said Houk. “This makes my job of getting into the classroom to teach the students about science and STEM careers much easier.”
In support of CReSIS’ continued commitment to educating the next generation of researchers and scientists, Cheri Hamilton, CReSIS K-12 Educational Outreach Coordinator, attended and presented at the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The conference, which took place November 7-9, 2013, promoted science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to teachers nationwide. According to Hamilton, she improved her knowledge on engineering education by attending several sessions and promoted the work at CReSIS to instructors across the nation.
Cheri Hamilton and Teri Fulton (Elementary Science Coordinator for Kansas City, Kansas) at the NSTA conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Cheri Hamilton)
On the last day of the conference, Hamilton and Teri Fulton, Elementary Science Coordinator for the Kansas City, Kansas school system, presented a session to educators that introduces 4th through 9th graders to remote sensing with a hands-on activity. The activity used radar methodologies similar to the lesson Houk taught to the middle school class using tennis balls.
While at the conference, Hamilton said she continued to promote scientific questioning, which she said is the cornerstone to increasing the number of future researchers. She has previously presented her new lesson, Question Formula Technique, to two large groups of educators in the last several months.
“The lesson teaches students how to formulate questions, evaluate them and take responsibility for their own learning,” Hamilton said.
Overall, she said the conference was a great learning and teaching experience for her. “No matter how many people you reach at a conference, those teachers take what they learn home and it spreads from there,” Hamilton said. “That’s why these conferences are so important to getting the [Center’s educational outreach] lessons out there.”