Kansas science teachers visit KU Field Station this week

Teacher participants by Kansas county in the last five years of the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute.

LAWRENCE — This week, 16 middle school science teachers from Kansas have converged at the KU Field Station, just north of Lawrence. They are spending three days together working with University of Kansas scientists to explore resources and gain new ideas to take into their classrooms.

Teachers participating in the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute work with postdoc Laura Podzikowski at the prairie planting outside the Armitage Education Center at the KU Field Station.The teachers — the final group to benefit from a five-year program, the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute — serve in school districts representing a diversity of students, both urban and rural.

During their time together, teachers can choose among many activities, including tours of various collections at the KU Natural History Museum; a field trip searching for reptiles and amphibians; participating in labs to investigate soil respiration, plants and microbiomes; and learning about the development of the interactive website Mapping Kansas Ecosystems. One afternoon will focus on the intersection of art and science. One session, for example, will focus on the use of quadrants to help students make high-quality drawings.

“I’m looking forward to meeting other middle school educators and university researchers to collaborate and learn about key life science practices,” said participant Mallory Beem, a teacher at California Trail Middle School, Olathe. “Having access to current research regarding the ecosystems of Kansas will allow me to provide relevant and timely content to my students next year.”

Teachers visit the KU Field Station’s Cross Reservoir.The summer institute, funded by a National Science Foundation grant-within-a-grant, is overseen by Peggy Schultz, researcher at the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research and a faculty member in KU’s Environmental Studies Program. Schultz modeled the program on one she created in her previous position as a faculty member at Indiana University; that program is ongoing.

“We want to give teachers information and methods they can use, but we also want to show them how important we believe it is to invest in them,” Schultz said.

Participants in the program are selected through an application process, with information available at institute’s KU website.

The four previous years, KU has hosted a five-day program for high school teachers from across the state. The teachers worked with KU scientists to learn about current research and methods that link to K-12 science standards.

They spent mornings outdoors at various field sites, including the KU Field Station’s Rockefeller Native Prairie, a nearby stream and the Free State Prairie site at Lawrence Free State High School. Morning field studies focused on three areas: aquatic invertebrate ecology, terrestrial ecology, and the interactions of plants and the organisms that live within them. In the afternoons, the groups worked at the Field Station’s Armitage Education Center, developing inquiry-based curriculum for their classrooms. The program also included a GIS component.

During this final year of the Summer Institute, Schultz and her team wanted to offer resources to middle school teachers.

The Summer Institute began in 2018 and was on hold in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions. The NSF allowed an additional year for the program to be completed. During the five years of the institute, 55 teachers have participated. Some have continued to work with KU researchers through ongoing teaching or research collaborations.

Teachers participating in the 2023 Summer Institute:

  • Aline Hoey, West Middle School, Lawrence
  • Brenda Hahn, French Middle School, Topeka
  • Christopher Hines, Woodland Spring Middle School, Olathe
  • Connie Merz, Billy Mills Middle School, Lawrence
  • Cory Lewis, Summit Trail Middle School, Olathe
  • Darla Belt, Aubry Bend Middle School, Overland Park
  • Eric Conner III, French Middle School, Topeka
  • Jessica Sadler, Oregon Trail Middle School, Olathe
  • Jordan Blackman, Oxford Middle School, Overland Park
  • Kelsey Potter, Andover Central Middle School, Andover
  • Mallory Beem, California Trail Middle School, Olathe
  • Nicole Bishop, Oregon Trail Middle School, Olathe
  • Rene Gloshen, Pioneer Trail Middle School, Olathe
  • Ruth Frye, Summit Trail Middle School, Olathe
  • Tamara Brinckman, Landon Middle School, Topeka
  • Lacie Beth Weishaar, Spring Hill Middle School, Spring Hill.

Participating researchers and staff, in addition to Schultz:

  • Amanda Gehin, KU graduate student in ecology & evolutionary biology
  • Wendy Holman, education program coordinator for the KU Field Station
  • Terra Lubin, researcher in the Bever/Schultz Lab at KU
  • Jennifer Moody, botanist, Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research
  • Dana Peterson, assistant research professor, Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research
  • Laura Podzikowski, postdoctoral researcher in the Bever/Schultz Lab
  • Ben Reed, assistant professor of biology, Washburn University.

The Summer Institute is part of an NSF EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) project funded through a $20 million grant announced in 2017. The NSF project, “Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS),” RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006, is a collaboration among five Kansas universities. Matching support comes from the state of Kansas through the Kansas Board of Regents.

The MAPS project’s principal investigator is Kristin Bowman-James, KU Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. Four other professors lead and supervise specific parts of the research: Jim Bever, senior scientist at the Biological Survey and Foundation Distinguished Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology; Sharon Billings, senior scientist at the Biological Survey and Dean’s Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; and K-State professors Chuck Rice and Walter Dodds.

The Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research, a KU research center, houses a variety of environmental research labs and remote sensing/GIS programs in Takeru Higuchi Hall and the West District greenhouse. It also manages the 3,300-acre KU Field Station, a site for study in the sciences, arts and humanities.

Top right photo: Teachers participating in the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute work with postdoc Laura Podzikowski at the prairie planting outside the Armitage Education Center at the KU Field Station.

Bottom right photo: Teachers visit the KU Field Station’s Cross Reservoir.

Tue, 06/06/2023


Kirsten Bosnak

Media Contacts

Kirsten Bosnak

Kansas Biological Survey