Cody Howard
School of Engineering

KU gives high school teachers a summertime dose of engineering research

Thu, 08/28/2014

LAWRENCE — A summer research program at the University of Kansas provides high school science and engineering teachers – and college students training to become teachers – from around Kansas with a wide variety of new skills and resources as they work to enhance the learning experience for their students.

Nine teachers and six education students spent six weeks at KU this summer participating in the Research Experience for Teachers program, sponsored by KU’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis. Educators were split into four groups to conduct research on various aspects of KU’s Feedstock to Tailpipe initiative, including experiments with algae pellets as fuel and converting cooking oil to biodiesel fuel.

“It’s an amazing experience. We get to work with teachers from all over Kansas, so it’s a great way to network and generate ideas for the classroom,” said Kacey Ford, a physics teacher at Great Bend High School in Great Bend. “I’m excited for the new school year and a little overwhelmed, because I have so many ideas for student projects.”

Under the guidance of Chris Depcik, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Ted Peltier, associate professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, Ford’s group conducted research on the combustion properties of pellets made from algae and wood. From this project, she was able to spinoff a new lesson for her class that will center on different wavelengths of light and how these lights impact algae growth for fuels.

Another group’s research, overseen by Susan Williams, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, looked at how frying foods affects oils that can be used in biodiesel production. The experiment involved cooking more than 10 pounds of french fries during the six-week program. The project provided educators with lessons they expect will provide a great classroom experience for students.

“It takes these lessons from theory to something that’s hands-on. Whenever you have a project that students can see and experience, they do much better,” said Tracie Schroeder, science and engineering teacher at Council Grove High School in Council Grove. “It’s a powerful connection and should be really good for students. And on top of that, we’re able to make french fries.”

KU has been active in the Research Experience for Teachers program since 2006. The National Science Foundation announced a roughly $500,000 grant in June to extend the program at KU for another three years. 

Participating students were Jamie Cooper and Levi Houk from the UKanTeach program and Andrew Davids and Cody Smith, Emporia State University.

Participating teachers were James Boyd, Gardner-Edgerton High School; Kacey Ford, Great Bend High School; Brad Greenwood, Free State High School; Sue Hallstrom and Miles Martin, Shawnee Mission East High School; Tracie Schroeder, Council Grove High School; Laura Sixta, De Soto High School, Stan Spurlan, Olathe East High School, and Amanda Stinebaugh, Central Heights High School.

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