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Kansas MSP: Enhancing Science Education through Inquiry-Based Learning in Ecology


The goal of this Kansas MSP Start Project was to understand how interactions among K-12 students, teachers, and university scientists affect students understanding of science, and to lay the groundwork for these interactions in the future. To support effective STEM learning for all participants, teachers from USD 501 in Topeka partnered with scientists from the University of Kansas and Kansas State University to conduct authentic ecological research. Together, this group established a long-term ecology research site located within Topeka, in close proximity to the public schools.

During the summer of 2011, teachers trained with scientists during the first of what is planned to be an annual event called Summer on the Prairie. This workshop focused on biodiversity sampling methods and different ways in which human activities can affect biodiversity, and how these activities can inform inquiry-based teaching approaches. A baseline biodiversity index was established for the site. Using this index, teachers took their individual classes to the site throughout the fall to begin student led ecological and biodiversity studies. These investigations are ongoing. We focused on the field of ecology because it provides an excellent context for a strong conceptual understanding of a critical area of science and can be used as an excellent model for the development of the practices of science. Additionally, we focused on ecology because a firm grasp of this field is essential for solving some of the most serious problems of this century including climate change, land-use change, and biodiversity decline.