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Platte County Teachers Hone STEM Skills at UW

July 14, 2015
two women and a man talking at a table
Wheatland High School science teacher Janet Jorgensen, center, shares a laugh with Crystal Grady, fifth-grade teacher from Cheyenne, left, and Calvin Dobesh, fifth-grade teacher from Sundance, during the Launching Astronomy: Standards and STEM Integration program at the University of Wyoming.

Two teachers from Platte County are among nearly two dozen educators who will return to their classrooms this fall with new skills and ideas to stimulate young people’s interest in science, after spending two weeks this summer working with astronomy and education experts at the University of Wyoming.

Wheatland High School science teacher Janet Jorgensen and Guernsey Elementary School teacher Tesha Frederick were on the UW campus as part of something called Launching Astronomy: Standards and STEM Integration (LASSI). It’s one of several UW programs aimed at helping K-12 educators improve their instruction in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I want to do everything I can to get my students excited about science, even at a young age,” says Frederick, who’s been a teacher for 22 years. “It’s all about having fun and keeping kids interested so they can learn what they need to.”

“It has really been nice to be at the university and have access to experts, as well as the ability to collaborate with other teachers,” Jorgensen says. “The expert advice has provided the scaffolding to put some really good projects together.”

Taught by faculty members in UW’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the College of Education, the LASSI participants learned about planets, stars, quasars, light spectra, gravity and galaxies -- and how to teach those topics to students from kindergarten through high school. The teachers built telescopes called Galileoscopes, visited UW’s Wyoming Infrared Observatory on Jelm Mountain, participated in research projects, and developed lesson plans to use in their classrooms in the coming school year and beyond.

“A program like LASSI makes something that’s non-attainable, attainable for K-12 teachers,” says Andrea Burrows, UW assistant professor of secondary science education who runs LASSI. “If you had asked any of them three weeks ago if they could explain spectra of stars or quasars, they would have said ‘no.’ If you had asked them if they could use the moons of Jupiter to figure out the density of Jupiter, they would have said ‘no.’ It’s not that the resources aren’t out there, but I think sometimes teachers aren’t sure of where to go to start asking questions. Because we have the experts here, we’re fortunate that we’re able to ask the right questions and help them see how to use that in the classroom.”

In addition to developing specific plans for hands-on astronomy projects in their classrooms, the LASSI participants say they benefited from their interactions with fellow educators around the state -- and beyond. Three of the teachers were from New Hampshire, recruited to the UW program by Ryan Hickox, professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College.

K-12 educators around the country are adjusting to new science standards that raise the bar on what is expected of students in STEM areas, including astronomy and physics. The LASSI experience allows the participants to exchange ideas on how to help their students meet those standards through hands-on learning in real-world scenarios. A website with LASSI information and the teachers' lesson plans can be found at

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