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UW Students Engage Wyoming K-12 Students in Science ‘Roadshow’

April 12, 2019
man with room full of children with string
University of Wyoming student Jess Oldham, from Lander, helps Moorcroft second-graders form a food web with a ball of string. Students received hands-on science lessons from UW students and educators in a series of visits around the state this school year. (Rachel Watson Photo)

Elementary school, middle school and high school students in five Wyoming communities have received hands-on science lessons from University of Wyoming students and educators in a series of visits around the state this school year.

The latest was April 5 at Riverton Middle School (RMS), where seventh-graders in Christina Bekken and Nanna Frazier’s classes learned about liquid chromatography with ground-up red cabbage and spinach, nail polish remover and coffee filters; about proportions by using string, a whiteboard and thumbtacks; and calculated the height of a light pole using their own shadows, among other activities.

The science “roadshow” -- a project of the UW Science Initiative’s Learning Actively Mentoring Program (LAMP) and Wyoming Research Scholars Program -- aims to engage Wyoming K-12 students in activities to stimulate interest and excitement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“The roadshow positively impacts all who are involved with the activities. It is great for younger students to get a taste of the scientific method and work through problems as a group,” says Joshua Walmsley, a UW chemistry major from Douglas who helped lead the Riverton activities along with fellow UW student Ella DeWolf, a microbiology and molecular biology double major from Laramie; physics and astronomy Ph.D. student Jessica Sutter, from Portland, Ore.; and LAMP Director Rachel Watson. “Working on problems that can be applied to the real world helps the students understand why science is important. As the roadshow team, it is very rewarding to see the younger students excited about science and to see their minds come together to solve problems.”

The roadshow provided a new opportunity for the students and staff at RMS to work on applying cross-curricular concepts, Frazier says.

“It was educationally beneficial, exciting and fun for the kids and staff. Students participated in hands-on activities, while combining math and science standards,” Frazier says. “They learned a lot from interacting with Rachel, Josh, Jessica and Ella. Also, it created further interest for the students in how they could specialize in science when they go to college, and it widened their perspective on how they can apply science and mathematics.”

One RMS student appreciated UW’s efforts to reach out to Wyoming school-age students.

“The college students that came to RMS explained what they studied or majored in to show us what we could study when we go to college,” one RMS student wrote. “It was nice that they drove all the way here just to work with us.”

The roadshow’s other visits this school year have included:

-- Douglas, where 66 students in grades K-8 learned about the chemistry of ocean acidification, the ecosystems of plant rhizospheres and adaptations of the Asian longhorn beetle.

-- Gillette, where students in two elementary schools learned about root communities in the soil and their potential to mitigate erosion, among other topics.

-- Moorcroft, where second-graders learned about snails and antibiotic resistance in Wyoming waterways.

-- Rock Springs High School, where nearly 240 students in 12 science classrooms took part in active-learning exercises on topics ranging from the biochemistry of oil spills to replication of human papillomavirus.

“Watching students discovering the world is awe inspiring,” says Olivia Croft, a UW biology and secondary science education major from Sundance who helped lead the lessons in Rock Springs, Moorcroft and Gillette. “Whether it’s looking in a microscope for the first time to observe a microbial community, or creating a model ecosystem, the enthusiasm that students have for exploring their world is incredible. We have an amazing group of future scientists in Wyoming.”

DeWolf says working with younger students has been rewarding.

“For me, there is very little more rewarding than seeing the look on a kid’s face when something clicks, and they understand a new idea, or when they see bacteria under the microscope for the first time,” says DeWolf, who participated in all of the visits. “I felt like I was able to open the door to a microscopic world for these students and, in return, their curiosity and excitement inspired me.”

Other UW undergraduate students who have been part of this year’s roadshows, listed by hometown and majors, are:

Cheyenne -- Mercedes Fermelia, microbiology; and Chayse Rowley, microbiology.

Encampment -- Brett Ralston, microbiology.

Lander -- Jess Oldham, microbiology.

Laramie -- Brenna Lindsey, microbiology.

Sheridan -- Tyler Myers, chemistry.

Also participating were Ph.D. students Michelle Mason, physics, from Clayton, Calif.; and Rebecca Upjohn, ecosystem science, from Sacramento, Calif.

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