From fish DNA to Mars: STEM pro­grammes in­spire kids

The Borneo Post - Good English - - Short Story Section -

LIV­ING on Mars would be “the coolest thing ever,” says Taryn Langtry, a stu­dent at Mo­ravia High School. On a trip to Cor­nell’s Space­craft Plan­e­tary Imag­ing Fa­cil­ity last year with her eighth-grade sci­ence class, she was as­ton­ished to learn that the red planet might ac­tu­ally be within reach in her life­time.

“I al­ways thought it was su­per im­pos­si­ble to get to Mars, but af­ter that work­shop I thought maybe we’ll ac­tu­ally get there some day,” says Langtry. “We learned about how we could die on Mars, then we got to brain­storm ways to sur­vive, and we put all our ideas to­gether in groups.”

Mo­ravia Mid­dle School teacher Me­gan Ne­w­house used the Cor­nell Univer­sity pro­gramme, bet­ter known as “SPIF” to its would-be space­men and space­women, as the key­stone of a se­mes­ter-long project about Mars. Chil­dren here on Earth have been ex­plor­ing space through SPIF’s pro­grammes for al­most 40 years, says SPIF data man­ager Zoe Learner Pon­te­rio. With pro­grammes on Cor­nell’s cam­pus and in school class­rooms all over the re­gion, SPIF shares im­ages and data from Nasa’s past and present plan­e­tary mis­sions, arte­facts and space-ex­plo­ration tech­nol­ogy with roughly 4,000 school-age chil­dren ev­ery year – en­rich­ment pro­grammes that help bring the ex­cite­ment and pos­si­bil­ity of space to New York state’s next gen­er­a­tion.

“One of my favourite parts of the job is hear­ing the amaz­ing re­sponse from kids,” says Pon­te­rio. “You can see it in their faces – they can sud­denly see them­selves be­ing a part of this some­day. Some kids – es­pe­cially young girls – come up and hug me af­ter these work­shops. There’s the feel­ing you’ve made this im­pact; it’s an amaz­ing thing to see.”

SPIF’s out­reach pro­grammes are just one ex­am­ple of sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math (STEM) pro­grammes Cor­nell car­ries out all over New York state that help chil­dren get a leg up in a wide va­ri­ety of fields. From space ex­plo­ration to com­puter cod­ing work­shops to molec­u­lar bi­ol­ogy lessons in the field, these pro­grammes en­hance the ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and open up new ca­reer pos­si­bil­i­ties for thou­sands of stu­dents rang­ing from preschool age up through high school.

“Pub­lic en­gage­ment is a core value of Cor­nell,” says Kather­ine McCo­mas, vice provost for en­gage­ment and land-grant af­fairs. “These STEM pro­grammes en­able us to con­nect with ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents across New York state and be­yond.”

From the Grass River near the bor­der with Canada to the Hud­son to the trib­u­taries of the Al­legheny River in the South­ern Tier, the FishTracker pro­gramme gets chil­dren out of the class­room for hands-on sci­ence in the great out­doors. Par­tic­i­pat­ing stu­dents sam­ple sur­face wa­ter in the search for traces of DNA from in­va­sive fish species, es­sen­tially be­com­ing cit­i­zen sci­en­tists who help Cor­nell track the lo­ca­tions of in­va­sive fish in New York’s wa­ter­ways.

“The idea that they were doing some­thing mean­ing­ful and col­lect­ing sam­ples that would be used and are part of sci­ence hap­pen­ing now made the stu­dents much more en­gaged than if we just talked about in­va­sive fish species or an­a­lysed data that had noth­ing to do with them,” says Laura Austen, a bi­ol­ogy teacher at Ernie Davis Academy in Elmira, which draws stu­dents mostly from ur­ban neigh­bour­hoods. Austen took her ninth­grade bi­ol­ogy stu­dents on a field trip to Cayuga Lake to sam­ple wa­ter at Taugh­an­nock Falls State Park. “Kids love doing ‘real’ sci­ence. They were able to see what and where in­va­sive fish were on the web­site map, and now our re­sults are there as well.”

– Cor­nell News

Stu­dents from Lough­lin Me­mo­rial High School in New York City sam­ple wa­ter from the Hud­son River to help iden­tify in­va­sive species for the FishTracker pro­gramme.

Taryn Langtry at Cor­nell’s Space­craft Plan­e­tary Imag­ing Fa­cil­ity.

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