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Wyoming Teachers Gain STEM Skills at UW

July 14, 2015
two women and two men examining a telescope in an observatory
University of Wyoming astronomy graduate student Will Chick, right, shows the telescope at the Wyoming Infrared Observatory to, from left, seventh-grade teacher Nichole Buczynski, of Cheyenne, Jason Stover and fourth-grade teacher Andrea Hayden, of Laramie. Visits to the observatory were part of the Launching Astronomy: Standards and STEM Integration program at UW. (UW Photo)

After spending two weeks this summer working with astronomy and education experts at the University of Wyoming, nearly two dozen teachers from kindergarten to high school will return to their classrooms this fall with new skills and ideas to stimulate young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The teachers have been on the UW campus as part of something called Launching Astronomy: Standards and STEM Integration (LASSI), one of several UW professional development programs aimed at helping K-12 educators improve their instruction in the STEM fields.

“I’m here to learn how to integrate STEM into all subjects,” says Annie Gripp, who teaches fifth grade at Cloud Peak Elementary School in Buffalo. “I’m excited to go back and try some of this out.”

“This is an opportunity to increase my content knowledge and gain new ideas to make the content more accessible to my students,” says Andrea Hayden, who teaches fourth grade at Laramie’s Spring Creek Elementary School. “It’s also a way to connect with people who really know their stuff and stay at the forefront of what scientists are studying now.”

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 www.UWpd.org/LASSI.

“In the end, we’re going to create a more enriching knowledge base for our students,” says Sam Kramer, an art teacher at Evanston Middle School. “Any time we can broaden the horizons for our students, and make it a bigger world for them to explore, it’s beneficial.”

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. Others who provided expert guidance were: Mike Borowczak, founder and chief scientist of Erebus Labs; Mike DiPompeo, postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy; Will Chick and Cody Minns, physics and astronomy graduate students; Debbie French, science education graduate student; and Andria Schwortz, physics and astronomy and science education graduate student.

The LASSI participants, listed by their hometowns, schools and grade levels, are:

Buffalo -- Annie Gripp, Cloud Peak Elementary School, fifth grade.

Cheyenne -- Nichole Buczynski, McCormick Junior High School, seventh-grade math; Crystal Grady, Hobbs Elementary School, fifth grade; Jason Kinder, Hobbs Elementary School, fifth grade; Chanda Spears, Prairie Wind Elementary School, fourth grade.

Evanston -- Sam Kramer, Evanston Middle School, art.

Guernsey -- Tesha Frederick, Guernsey Elementary School, kindergarten and first grade.

Hulett -- Marti Brown, Hulett Elementary School, kindergarten.

Lander -- Joe Meyer, Lander Valley High School, science.

Laramie -- Andrea Hayden, Spring Creek Elementary School, fourth grade; Lisa Johnson, Beitel Elementary School, first grade; Mary Flynn, Beitel Elementary School, special education; Sarah Turner, Beitel Elementary School, second grade.

Meeteetse -- Christine Horsen, Meeteetse Elementary School, first grade.

Saratoga -- Annette Mason Kelley, Saratoga Elementary School, first grade.

Sundance -- Calvin Dobesh, Sundance Elementary School, fifth grade; Mariah Haas, Sundance Elementary School, second grade; Tina Inghram, Sundance Elementary School, second grade.

Wheatland -- Janet Jorgensen, Wheatland High School, ninth-grade science.

Bethlehem, N.H. -- Chuck Patterson, high school science.

Holderness, N.H. -- Carol Foley, elementary school.

Lebanon, N.H. -- Debbie Groveman, eighth-grade science.


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Chad Baldwin

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