Area science teachers visit KU Field Station this week

Nine middle school science teachers from Kansas converged at the KU Field Station, just north of Lawrence, this week. They took part in the Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute, an immersive program that gives secondary educators the chance to work with KU scientists to explore resources and gain new ideas for their classrooms.

“I didn’t realize how this program would make me look at Kansas differently,” said Elizabeth Meredith, 8th grade science teacher at Landon Middle School in Topeka. “Education is a process—we’re continuously learning. I want to give my students excitement for learning and investigating. I’ve learned so many ways I can bring them out to look a little closer and ask the most important question: Why?”

The teachers are the sixth group to take part in the Summer Institute, a program of the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research, which manages the Field Station.

Guided by KU researchers, the teachers spent each morning on whole-group activities focused on a different Kansas ecosystem. They visited various field sites, including the KU Field Station’s Rockefeller Native Prairie, Cross Reservoir, and Baldwin Woods Forest Preserve, as well as a stream near Field Station headquarters. They returned to the Field Station’s Armitage Education Center during the afternoons to work indoors in small groups based on areas of interest.

th and 8th grade science at Indian Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kansas, has participated in field study programs for teachers at other sites.

“Experiences like this—seeing the research that’s being done—help me better think about how I can create a unit that allows my students to be problem-solvers,” Lawrence said. “This program helps me brainstorm ways I can get the students outside and become more aware of their surroundings and the amazing things here in Kansas.”

The Summer Institute was created by Peggy Schultz, a researcher at the Kansas Biological Survey and a faculty member in KU’s Environmental Studies Program. Schultz developed the program as the outreach component of a five-year National Science Foundation research grant. The program is similar to one Schultz created in her previous position as a faculty member at Indiana University.

The KU program continues with support from the Kansas Biological Survey’s funds at KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. It is now led by Wendy Holman, education program coordinator for the KU Field Station and a former middle school science teacher.

“We want to connect teachers with local ecosystems and researchers who study them so that they can bring these firsthand experiences back their classrooms to share with their students,” Holman said. “We also want teachers to be able to take some time to relax, enjoy learning, and invest in themselves while feeling appreciated for their hard work and dedication to their students.”

Participants in the program are selected through an application process, with information available on the website of the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research.

• Kristin O’Connor Barkus, West Middle School, Lawrence;
• Julie Battaglia, Lawrence High School, Lawrence;
• Brooke Bernacki, Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, Lawrence;
• Barnabas Hawkinson, Eisenhower High School, Goddard;
• Christopher Heatwole, Billy Mills Middle School, Lawrence;
• Betsy Lawrence, Indian Trail Middle School, Olathe;
• Shari McDougal, Shawnee Heights High School, Tecumseh;
• Elizabeth Meredith, Landon Middle School, Topeka;
• Andrea Palmer, Eisenhower Middle School, Topeka.

Participating researchers,nearly all based at the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research (the research center,)are:

• Sara Baer, director and senior scientist, and KU professor of ecology and evolutionary biology;
• Debbie Baker, an aquatics researcher at the research center;
• Thomas Coole, a 2024 KU graduate and a member of the Harris aquatic lab at the research center;
• Eric Duell, postdoctoral researcher in the Bever/Schultz Lab at the research center;
• Bryan Foster, senior scientist, KU professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and director of the KU Field Station;
• Kathy Denning, program coordinator for the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at KU; she holds a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from KU;
• Ted Harris, associate research professor and head of the Harris Lab, which focuses on harmful algal blooms, at the research center;
• Jaide Hawkins, lab manager for the Bever/Schultz Lab at the research center;
• Kaylyn Hobelman, biology laboratory superviser at Washburn University in Topeka;
• Liz Koziol, assistant research professor at the research center;
• Terra Lubin, associate curator of the International Collection of Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi, held by the Bever/Schultz Lab;
• Tom McKenna, assistant research professor at the research center;
• Caleb Morse, senior collection manager at the R.L. McGregor Herbarium;
• Ryan Rastok, owner of Lawrence Aborists;
• Dana Peterson, assistant research professor at the research center;
• Peggy Schultz, researcher and a faculty member in KU’s Environmental Studies Program.

During its first four years, the Summer Institute was structured as a five-day program for high school teachers from across Kansas. The teachers worked with KU scientists to learn about current research and methods that link to K-12 science standards. Last year, Schultz and her team offered resources to middle school teachers, and this year, the program was opened to teachers from either Kansas or outside the state. During the first five years, 55 teachers participated. Some have continued to work with KU researchers through ongoing teaching or research collaborations.

The Summer Institute was developed as part of an NSF EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) project funded through a $20 million grant announced in 2017. The NSF project, “Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS),” RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006, was a collaboration among five Kansas universities. Matching support came from the state of Kansas through the Kansas Board of Regents.

The Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research, a KU designated research center, houses a diverse group of ecological research and remote sensing/GIS programs on KU’s West Campus in Takeru Higuchi Hall, the Smissman Laboratories building and the West District greenhouse. It also manages the 3,200-acre KU Field Station, a site for study in the sciences, arts and humanities.