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Valerie Wright, Diane McGrath, K-State education technology professor, and John Blair, K-State biology professor, received a $47,000 Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Grant in 2001 from the Kansas Board of Regents for a new project, "Hands-on Ecological Science With Internet Connectivity at Konza Prairie Biological Station."

The two-year project has expanded the Konza Schoolyard LTER program via the Internet so teachers and classes everywhere can access data about the tallgrass prairie.

 

Konza Schoolyard LTER program invites students to observe and discover

Program targets 4th through 11th graders.

By Kay Garrett

 

 

The Konza Prairie Biological Station is part of the national network of 24 research sites funded by the National Science Foundation for Long-Term Ecological Research, or LTER.

In 1998, NSF offered its LTER sites supplemental funds to develop environmental education programs for grades K-12, and Konza, the only tallgrass prairie LTER, is one of 12 sites chosen.

Valerie Wright, Konza environmental educator and naturalist, directs the Konza Schoolyard LTER program, which targets fourth, fifth and sixth graders, middle school, and high school sophomores and juniors.

Teacher-training workshops are held in June each year to prepare new teachers to bring their students to Konza for the research activities. Konza Prairie researchers and Kansas State University graduate students help teachers complete field activities and better understand research methods unique to long-term research ecologists.

During the first workshop, teachers, researchers and staff developed nine kinds of activities that are suitable for students. Activities parallel the ecological research work going on at Konza, and sometimes students are involved in research that adds to that of a Konza Prairie ecologist.

Broadly speaking, activities include creating a long-term inventory of stream invertebrates and monitoring the long-term changes in stream channels themselves; developing long-term inventories and collecting tallgrass prairie insects: specifically grasshoppers and gall insects; and monitoring the effects of fire on plant diversity.

A unique feature of the Konza LTER program: students are compiling their research data in special databases that are linked to the Konza Web site. As the student-generated dataset builds through the years, future classes will be able to recognize patterns of change taking place on the prairie.

"The reactions of the students to their role as researchers have been exciting to see," Wright said. "They are making a real contribution to science."

As of 2002, 22 teachers from Manhattan, Junction City, Topeka, Harveyville, Minneapolis, Westmoreland and Wamego have completed training workshops. Teachers have brought 1,898 students to Konza Prairie to participate in the research activities.

"We are hoping to train 10 or more teachers each year," said Wright, "and potentially, we'll bring 500 new students into the program annually."

The students have made some surprising discoveries, she said.

 

* The first Schoolyard LTER class was a Biology II class at Junction City High School that came to collect and identify insects. One lucky student captured a butterfly that had never been recorded before on Konza.

* Harveyville Elementary School students collected a species of Mayfly, that had not been recordedon Konza, during a project on the invertebrates that live in streams.

* Schoolyard LTER students discovered three species of grasshoppers not listed before.

Databases now being compiled by the students will become accessible to many other classrooms, and, for the first time, the long-term scientific datasets from research projects at Konza Prairie Biological Station will be streamlined for use by school classes.

"When the Internet connection is complete, classes everywhere will be able to compare two types of long-term data sets," said Wright, " the student-generated databases and researcher-generated databases. Having these two types of databases accessible for classroom use will offer teachers an incredible array of scientific information about the tallgrass prairie."

Teachers will be able to use the scientific databases in many ways. For example, math teachers who do not typically bring their students to Konza Prairie will be able to use these datasets, too. Students can do basic statistics like averages and percentages or graph the data.

"When students come to Konza, they are really excited about what they are doing, and they take good memories back to the classroom," Wright said. "We hope that if we can tie that excitement back to classroom projects later on, their good feeling about doing science will keep rolling along for months after they visit.

"That's what we are really after," she said. "We want students to feel that science is something they can do and can be excited about for more than just a couple of days."

June 2002