Students from Eastern Kentucky University’s Honors Program and Madison Middle School will be “SEEing Science” together, thanks to a National Science Foundation-funded project.
EKU recently secured an approximately $200,000 grant from the NSF to establish “SEEing Science in Appalachia: Serving, Exploring and Engaging in an Honors Interdisciplinary Science Course at Eastern Kentucky University.”
The benefits of the University’s first interdisciplinary general education science course, to be team-taught by faculty from the physical and biological sciences, will extend into the local community when EKU Honors students partner with Madison Middle students during the course’s field, laboratory and service-learning activities. Together, the students will monitor project sites and collect, record, analyze and publicize data via course-developed web sites.
The collaborative research will contribute to new and ongoing environmental projects related to water quality, watershed management, bee and pollinator health, and sustainability. These include those developed by the Watershed Planning Project of Madison County and the apiforestation initiatives of Coal Country Beeworks, an outreach project that seeks to reinstate beekeeping at surface mining reclamation sites under the umbrella of the Eastern Kentucky Environmental Research Institute at EKU.
Dr. Linda Frost, director of EKU’s Honors Program and project director for the NSF grant, said “SEEing Science in Appalachia” will:
• Bring relevant and innovative STEM instruction to the EKU Honors Program and address three central standards in the Kentucky Core Content for middle school instruction: “The Earth and the Universe,” “Biological Change,” and “Energy and Energy Transformations.”
• Engage high-achieving undergraduates not majoring in STEM areas in relevant, real-world, regional scientific research. “We hope the course will increase the interest that excellent undergraduates and middle school students have in the STEM areas in general.”
• Provide an avenue for outstanding and highly-motivated college students to mentor middle school students and “illustrate what is possible for them as they prepare to move through their secondary education.”
• Collect, record, analyze and publicize scientific data about projects focused on EKU’s service region. Drs. Walter Borowski (geology), Malcolm Frisbie (biology) and Dr. Tara Shepperson (education) will offer the pilot version of “SEEing Science in Appalachia: The Tates Creek Watershed Project” in Spring 2013. Bel and Robbie Riley, seventh-grade teachers at Madison Middle, will partner with the EKU faculty team, which will also include Dr. Alice Jones, director of the Eastern Kentucky Environmental Research Institute and research project coordinator. Each “SEEing Science” course will conclude with a mini-conference in which the Madison Middle students and EKU Honors students co-present their research findings – “real research, gathered during the course in the field” – to a team of responders who are experts in their fields.
• Create, pilot and disseminate a model for relevant, place-based general education STEM instruction for the campus overall and for honors education specifically, in Kentucky, the region and nation. “Given the newly energized interdisciplinary STEM research activity on our campus … EKU is poised to transform STEM instruction across our campus in ways not imaginable in the past,” Frost said.
Madison Middle Principal Steve Evans said the “awesome opportunity greatly benefits our seventh-grade students through being involved with hands-on, real-world, authentic research practices that they will remember for a lifetime. Our seventh-grade teachers have been working with the professors at EKU to not only ensure that every aspect of the project meets our core content criteria for the seventh-grade curriculum but also far exceeds every academic expectation that our students will need … to reach their academic potential.
“We pride ourselves at Madison Middle in being involved with our community,” Evans added, “and we encourage every opportunity to work with EKU.”
The second iteration of the class, “SEEing Science in Appalachia: The Bee Sustainability Project,” will team Project Coordinator Dr. Tammy Horn (author of several books about beekeeping), Dr. Martin Brock from Chemistry, and a biology faculty member in Fall 2013. The bee course will involve the university’s new outdoor classroom, the Taylor Fork Ecological Area (which, said Frost, was established largely due to “the footwork and prompting” of Emily Gilbreath, “one of my finest EKU Honors alumni” and a winner of the Dean’s Award for the College of Arts and Sciences when she graduated in 2010). Dr. David Brown of EKU’s biology faculty oversees the outdoor classroom.
Founded in 1988, EKU’s Honors Program offers up to 34 hours of academically rigorous coursework to its approximately 400 members, who are selected through a competitive process. Eastern routinely leads all other colleges and universities in the number of honors student participants at regional and national honors conferences.