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July 18, 2013 — Two University of Wyoming students received a leg up on their teaching skills this week.
During a July 16 outing, Rebekah Taylor and Katie Guerrieri helped elementary school students explore a wind farm near Medicine Bow and guided the youngsters in creating a state map that shows where renewable and non-renewable energy sources are located in Wyoming.
Serving as patient instructors and encouraging cheerleaders, Taylor, of Kelly, and Guerrieri, of Jackson, are two of four UW students who were named George B. Storer Foundation Scholars earlier this year. The two, along with Jennifer Anderson of Laramie and Andrea Leiferman of Casper, are helping teach an outdoor science enrichment program this week as part of Carbon County School District 2’s summer school program.
With experienced instructors from Teton Science Schools, the four UW students taught in teams. Taylor and Guerrieri taught third- and fourth-graders, referred to as “brown trout.” Anderson spent the day with students going into grades 5-8 (referred to as “red-tailed hawks”) at a wind farm near Rawlins. Leiferman spent the week working with the youngest students -- first- and second-graders -- given the moniker of “pronghorns.”
“This is my absolute favorite age group,” Taylor says, during a short lunch break at Seven Mile Wind Farm. “They ask questions you don’t expect them to. They really teach me.”
“They’re so much smarter than we give them credit for,” says Guerrieri, who received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UW this spring. “We don’t need to water things down. They ask very advanced, inquiring questions.”
In all, 35 students from Encampment, Elk Mountain, Medicine Bow and Saratoga visited the wind farm and participated in activities at Hanna Elementary School.
Experience for the Future
The program provides Taylor experience toward her ultimate goal of teaching at the university level. For Guerrieri, the training is a precursor to her first job -- teaching third-graders who are primarily Inuit children in Barrow, Alaska, beginning next month.
Taylor will receive her master’s degree in natural science education from UW in May 2014. She is this year’s outstanding graduate student in UW’s Science and Mathematics Teaching Center (SMTC) Natural Science Education Program. Taylor received two bachelor’s degrees -- one in outdoor recreation, parks and tourism, and the other in psychology -- both from Southern Utah University. She also is a graduate of the Teton Science Schools’ yearlong graduate program.
“Rebekah has really taken a leadership role in the Storer Scholars team,” says Leslie Cook, a faculty member of Teton Science Schools’ Teacher Learning Center. “She’s made sure they’re (undergraduate Storer Scholars) prepared for this experience.”
“Katie is trying to learn as much as she can to prepare for her classroom in Alaska,” Cook adds. “She’s student taught before. She’s coming in very confident.”
During her student teaching semester at Wyoming Indian Middle School, Guerrieri taught in an after-school robotics program geared toward students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. Guerrieri, along with Andersen and Leiferman, received the UW College of Education’s outstanding undergraduate awards for their leadership in excellence and teaching.
As part of their Storer Scholarship, the UW students received a financial award and attended a science education training course at Teton Science Schools in Grand Teton National Park May 13-17. There, the students focused on learning place-based education; how to teach science to children in the outdoors; and outdoor leadership.
Place-based education immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences. Students use these as a foundation for the study of subjects such as language, math, science and social studies.
Guerrieri and Taylor praised Teton Science Schools for its focus on getting the Storer Scholars to not only ask questions, but then work to find answers and solve problems.
“If you can do that, you can teach yourself anything,” Guerrieri says. “It’s really cool to get ideas for teaching in my classroom. It’s important to learn history and places. Culture is part of place-based education.”
Wyoming’s diversifying energy culture was one topic of discussion in Medicine Bow. A day after touring the Sinclair Oil Refinery near Rawlins, the group visited the Seven Mile Hill Wind Farm west of Medicine Bow. Robert Booth, the site supervisor there, and Aron Anderson, the site supervisor at the nearby Dunlap Wind Farm, explained how wind farms work and why they are important.
Students learned that wind is a renewable energy resource; that each turbine blade is one-third the length of a football field; and that wind only has to be blowing 4.5 miles per hour for the blades to turn. They also were surprised to learn that the top portion of the turbine, which includes the blades, weighs as much as a train locomotive, according to Anderson, a 2012 UW graduate with a degree in energy resource science.
The youngsters also found out that a safety harness belt with equipment -- worn by maintenance workers who go up to the top of the turbine to repair the gear box -- can be pretty heavy. Taylor tried on the harness belt for size.
“If you are on top of a ladder and it begins to wobble, that’s equipment to keep them (workers) safe so they don’t fall,” Taylor told the children.
After lunch, the students traveled to Hanna Elementary, where they began creating a map of Wyoming. Taylor and Guerrieri helped students plot the places they had visited thus far during the week, and mark areas where they saw renewable and nonrenewable energy sources.
In addition, the “brown trout” pulled out their journals and each wrote three new facts they learned about Wyoming that week. The facts will be used to create a brochure, Taylor says.
“Awesome” and “perfect” were the terms Taylor and Guerrieri often used to commend the students when they came up with interesting journal entries.
“I see a lot of hot and tired faces,” Taylor told the youngsters at the end of the day. “I’m very proud of you all. Good job!”
Other outdoor enrichment activities planned included learning about water, energy and food webs on the North Platte River; a field research project that uses science to explore the students’ immediate world; and a human community celebration in Saratoga that explores how students can make a difference in their communities.
(from left) Katie Guerrieri and Rebekah Taylor, UW students who were named Storer Scholars, talk to elementary school students from Carbon County School District 2 at the Seven Mile Hill Wind Farm, located west of Medicine Bow. (UW Photo)