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Sundance, Hulett Teachers Hone STEM Skills at UW

July 14, 2015
a man and two women at a table, looking at a laptop computer
Participants in the Launching Astronomy: Standards and STEM Integration program at the University of Wyoming are, from left: Calvin Dobesh, fifth-grade teacher from Sundance; Crystal Grady, fifth-grade teacher from Cheyenne; and Mariah Haas, second-grade teacher from Sundance. (UW Photo)

Four teachers from Crook 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.

Sundance Elementary School teachers Calvin Dobesh, Mariah Haas and Tina Inghram, along with Hulett Elementary School teacher Marti Brown, 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 enjoy learning more -- I always want to learn more to help my students,” says Inghram, who will teach second grade next year in a career of more than 20 years. “Astronomy is something that’s a little out of my comfort zone, and this was an opportunity to learn some things from experts to implement in the classroom.”

“I have learned more about stars, planets and galaxies to help meet our new fifth-grade science standards,” says Dobesh, who will begin his second year teaching fifth grade. “And I have gained some ideas of how to use this information in the classroom in hands-on ways. Hands-on is what kids like most.”

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

Brown, who will begin her second year as a kindergarten teacher, says she expects to be able to better teach her students about rainbows and objects in the sky after learning more about the light spectrum.

Haas, meanwhile, plans to teach a lesson about constellations to her second-graders.

LASSI is funded through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Mathematics and Science Partnership grant awarded by the Wyoming Department of Education to Burrows. Additional aspects of the program were funded by an NSF astronomy grant awarded jointly to UW's Adam Myers, Department of Physics and Astronomy assistant professor, and Hickox of Dartmouth College. A range of consultants and graduate assistants from an outside company, and UW's secondary education and physics and astronomy departments, helped provide expert guidance along with the faculty organizers.

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