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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA students help teach field research and astronomy atop Mt Lemmon

    Jesus Barrera

    A starry Tucson night sky on display over Rose Canyon Lake on Mount Lemmon on April 18, 2014. The UA Sky School takes participants to Mount Lemmon where they can work in field sites.

    The UA Sky School offers graduate students the opportunity to collaborate with third graders through high school seniors in science outreach activities designed to spark an interest in the STEM fields and help graduate students develop leadership skills.

    The UA Sky School was founded in 2012 by a former doctoral student who worked in a program in Idaho that served K-12 students using undergraduates as teachers. He brought the idea to the UA in hopes of combining teaching younger grades with university happenings. The UA Sky School now has about 25 programs that run throughout the year.

    Undergraduates can also participate in Sky School as Field Study Mentors, collaborating with eighth through 12th graders to plan, develop and conduct field-based research for a regional science fair, which is coordinated by the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation.

    Through participating, the UA students learn to become better educators and science communicators. Additionally, the “engaged learning experience” notation is marked on their transcripts. This means the Sky School mentorship is not noted as course credit, but rather as an involvement the student completed in addition to courses.

    The kids involved in the outreach program receive exposure to science that they may not have ever had.

    Rebecca Lipson, assistant director of education for the UA Sky School, said the goal of the outreach program is to “attract more under-represented students in science to engage in the scientific process by providing expertise via the mentors, transportation and equipment for conducting the projects.”

    Science is often learned out of books; this more interactive and engaging setting serves as what might be the first time students get the opportunity to feel like a scientist, Lipson said. The kids themselves are in charge of collecting data, forming a hypothesis and going through the scientific inquiry process.

    The Field Study Mentor program is the first time that the Sky School has partnered with SARSEF. The mentors, who come from various backgrounds, will be trained and supported throughout the process and will receive input for improving their scientific process and literacy, leadership and teaching skills.

    One activity in the Field Study Mentor program is an exploration activity in which the mentors and science fair participants go to Mount Lemmon to explore field sites and to narrow down topics of study.

    According to Lipson, the project was chosen to be specifically field-based because field research opportunity is under-represented at science fairs. Only 3 percent of science fair winners last year had projects conducted with any outdoor component.

    The program directors hope to take science out into the local environment to teach more about field science.

    Lipson said many kids get excited because they did not know these activities could be part of a scientific career; the Sky School opens up a new world for them. Field science naturally lends itself to a cross-disciplinary approach, and the program allows eighth through 12th grade science fair participants and undergraduates to see these connections in science.

    Dr. Alan Strauss, director of the UA Sky School, said that the program hopes to not only “inspire young people as scientists, but also as good stewards of the land, as they understand the relationship between the natural environment and their own lives.”

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