EarthEd Institute brings teachers to UB, Penn Dixie and other sites

A person in a red tee holds up a length of transparent plastic tubing with dirt at one end.

Heather Thuman, earth sciences teacher at Williamsville North High School, shows off a sediment core. As part of the EarthEd Institute at UB, K-12 teachers took a trip to Bizer Creek on UB’s North Campus to collect sediment cores, which they later analyzed in the lab — hands-on science that can be replicated in K-12 classrooms. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo

The free summer program was hosted by the departments of geology and environment and sustainability

Release Date: July 22, 2021

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — On a hot July afternoon, with silver clouds hanging in the sky and mud underfoot, a group of high school science teachers perched at the edge of Bizer Creek on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus.

Stands of wild garlic, prickly teasel plants and cattails rose around them. Swallows flew overhead.

But the educators weren’t here to take in the scenery; they’d come to work. Swinging rock and sledgehammers, they pounded sections of sturdy plastic tubing into the creek bed, removing cylindrical samples of sediment, called cores, that revealed the geology beneath the water: layers of soil, rocks and clay, extending a few inches down.

A group of people stands under a road bridge.

Kimberly Meehan (in white T-shirt and gray pants), UB clinical assistant professor of geology, speaks with teachers in the EarthEd Institute. The group journeyed to Bizer Creek on UB’s North Campus on July 12 to collect sediment cores, which they later analyzed in the lab. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo

“If you spread out over a small area and each member of a class pulls one core or one data point, you could easily have 15 data points,” said Kimberly Meehan, PhD, UB clinical assistant professor of geology, who was leading the activity — a hands-on project that would translate well in a middle or high school class.

Later in the week, the group learned to digitally map coring sites, document the sediment cores’ appearance, and process samples to identify rocks and minerals.

Two people stand before a concrete wall, examining information on a digital device, with the green of plants blurred in the foreground.

From left: Sara Rockwood-Klute, biology and earth sciences teacher at Eden High School, and Paul Parrinello, chemistry and earth sciences teacher at Depew High School, examine information on a tablet. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo

The activities were part of the EarthEd Institute, a free professional development program for science teachers launched this year by the Department of Geology and the Department of Environment and Sustainability, both in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. The agenda is geared toward content for teaching grades 6-12.

Taking place from July 12-16, the institute had two tracks: One for geology, and one for ecology. Teachers heard from experts about the latest earth and environmental research, and on ways to engage students with different learning styles. Expeditions included an afternoon at Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve; a visit to UB’s Letchworth Woods centering on the evolution and adaptations of local botanicals; and tours of post-industrial sites along the Buffalo River, where they got to see firsthand how they could use ecological restoration techniques with students; among others.

A group of people at the edge of a shallow pond or puddle of water, under a cloudy sky with mounds covered in plastic sheeting in the background.

Teachers in the EarthEd Institute visited Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve on July 14 to learn about fossils and rocks that can be found in Western New York. Plastic sheeting protects piles of fresh rock for future programs in the background. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo

A follow-up program will pair some attendees with graduate students and professors to craft lessons and labs aligned with state standards, integrating EarthEd concepts into K-12 classrooms during the school year. Long-term goals include bringing new learning experiences to local students and encouraging young people from diverse communities to consider a future at UB in STEM fields.

Meehan and Nicholas Henshue, PhD, clinical assistant professor of environment and sustainability, organized the institute in collaboration with community partners and many faculty and staff members.

“The EarthEd Institute allows our departments to pool our resources and have a greater impact for K-12 students in the area,” Meehan says. “Faculty members wanted to offer a program that was meaningful, impactful and real.”

A group of people listens to a presentation.

Teachers in the EarthEd Institute visited Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve on July 14 to learn about fossils and rocks that can be found in Western New York. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo

The summer program included 13 teachers from urban, suburban and rural communities in Western New York, and one who took part virtually from Brooklyn, New York.

Among them was Jerry Krajna, who teaches conservation and aquaculture at Riverside Academy as part of the Buffalo Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education program.

He liked the EarthEd Institute’s focus on hands-on science, including a session on measuring groundwater flow in a creek, stream or pond using simple, easy-to-make tools.

Two people examine a fossil in one of their hands.

Paul Parrinello (left), Depew High School teacher, and Jerome Krajna, Riverside Academy teacher, investigate a specimen at Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve. Credit: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo

“It’s almost like they’re teaching us hacks, per se. We got information on how to make the tools to do it instead of going out and buying expensive scientific equipment,” Krajna says.

Of the EarthEd Institute as a whole, he adds, “I thought it was really great. It was an extremely challenging year for us teachers, and the EarthEd Institute didn’t feel like a chore — we wanted to go to the training. They did a good job with timing of sessions and the variety of information that they provided to us. They had a lot of good hands-on experiences, so a lot of the things that our students really like about classes, we were able to experience.”

Meehan and Henshue anticipate running the EarthEd Institute again in summer of 2022. Teachers in Western New York who would like to apply to attend can contact the program at any time of year at earthed@buffalo.edu or 716-645-4864.

Media Contact Information

Charlotte Hsu
News Content Manager
Sciences, Economic Development
Tel: 716-645-4655
chsu22@buffalo.edu
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