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Inside teacher Kurk Aegerter's fifth-grade classroom at Beitel Elementary School in Laramie, students gathered around a screen at the front of the room to read the latest dispatches from Mount Everest.
For a couple of weeks, the students have been closely following the expedition involving climbers from National Geographic, Montana State University and The North Face. They're particularly interested in hearing from Laramie's Mark Jenkins, who's on the trip as a National Geographic field staff writer. He's also a University of Wyoming graduate and writer-in-residence for UW's master's degree program in creative writing.
"He's an incredible resource for this community," says Aegerter, who's been a friend of Jenkins for close to 20 years. "The kids are excited to see if he's able to reach the summit."
Aegerter is among a number of educators in Wyoming and Montana who are taking advantage of the 2012 Everest expedition as a learning opportunity. They're assisted by the Montana and Wyoming EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) offices, programs funded by the National Science Foundation. UW is home to the Wyoming EPSCoR office.
On Thursday, Aegerter's class received a kit of materials -- including a GPS unit, a time-lapse camera, a magnifying glass, a geologist's hammer and an oxygen-saturation monitor -- made available through the EPSCoR offices. Those are tools being used by members of the climbing expedition. Students took turns checking their own oxygen saturation, with rates ranging from 94 to 97 percent, and noted lack of oxygen is one of the big challenges facing the Everest climbers.
In one of the dispatches they read Thursday on a projected computer screen, the Beitel students learned that one of the climbers - MSU geology professor Dave Lageson, who also is a UW graduate - was struggling with fatigue as he reached an elevation of 21,200 feet.
"Why is he so tired?" Aegerter asked the class.
Several students answered that lack of oxygen was likely the major reason, and Aegerter noted that the climbers were at an elevation more than twice that of nearby Medicine Bow Peak in Wyoming's Snowy Range.
Jenkins' first blog entry from Everest appeared Friday at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/everest/blog. In it, he describes the dangerous trek across the Khumbu Icefall, one of the major obstacles between the base camp at an elevation of 17,500 feet and the series of camps that lead to the 29,035-foot summit. The climbers are moving up and down between the camps to acclimate themselves to the high elevation before attempting to reach the top.
Blog entries from other climbers may be found at http://www.montana.edu/everest/, a website established by Montana EPSCoR.
Anne Sylvester, a UW molecular biology professor who heads Wyoming EPSCoR, says she hopes other Wyoming teachers will allow their students to follow Jenkins and the Everest expedition. Those interested may contact Sylvester at email@example.com or Beth Cable at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Aegerter says the Everest expedition gives him a platform to engage students in a number of subjects, including science, social studies, reading and writing. On a couple of occasions Thursday, he asked students to identify synonyms -- including "mammoth," describing the peaks overhead, and "rickety," describing some of the ladders used to cross the Khumbu Icefall -- for words used by Lageson in his blog. Aegerter plans to take his class on a field trip later in the spring to link the Everest expedition to student experiences.
"The best lab we have is just outside our door," he says.
He also hopes to have Jenkins -- who has spoken across Wyoming about his adventures around the globe -- speak to his class after he returns.
"I love listening to his stories and seeing his slideshows," Aegerter says. "He's a great gift."