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Kansas teachers and students benefit from biofuel research

Monday, December 12, 2011

This year, students and teachers throughout Kansas have greater access to innovative, lesson plans and lab activities thanks to a unique program at the University of Kansas.

Eight Kansas science teachers spent six weeks doing research at KU and the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis last summer as part of a program funded by the National Science Foundation.

“When you come here and they have research that’s helping me as a citizen of the state of Kansas, in my view as a taxpayer, that’s what I want my state universities to do,” said SHIFT participant Jennifer Gartner, a chemistry and physics teacher at Labette County High School in Altamont, Kan.

The SHIFT program, ‘Shaping Inquiry from Feedstock to Tailpipe,’ engages high school and community college educators in biofuel research.  For the past two years, the teacher participants have created innovative lesson activities based on their research that integrate engineering with biology, chemistry, ecology and physics.

Amy Johnston, an honors chemistry teacher at Olathe North High School in Olathe Kan., partnered with Gartner in her research on biofuels and helped examine potential applications for its glycerol by-product.  She said the connections made through the RET program are a major benefit to educators.

“Everyone in this program is from a different part of the state, so we all get to talk to each other and find out what works in each person’s classroom,” Johnston said.  “It’s just a great collaboration opportunity and it’s not just during the summer, it’s during the whole school year, since now we’ve made the connections and can all be involved in the conversation.”

This program benefits more than just the handful of teachers who take part in the KU campus activities.  The teachers’ new lesson plans are inspiring high school students as well. 

“I have two senior students that are doing the [algae research] project that I did this summer,” said Shannon Ralph, a biology teacher at Dodge City High School, Dodge City, Kan.

At the end of the summer session, the teachers shared their new lessons with several other educators at a workshop at the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center – Greenbush in Girard, Kan. Each participant took home their own $100 toolkit to teach the new activities.  Greenbush staff continue to teach the lessons throughout the year to children who visit the science center. 

In addition to expanding her knowledge of engineering, Gartner said her time in this program also opened her eyes to just how much KU contributes to the state.

“I want [KU faculty] to help develop the products that Kansas has to offer the world and boost the economy.  To know that KU is doing that makes me a supporter of KU, not just of their basketball program, but their academics and engineering program, too.”

2011 Participants:

Greg Bacon, Pratt Community College
Mary Criss, Wichita North High School
Alan Gleue, Lawrence High School
Jennifer Gartner, Labette County High School
Drew Ising, Junction City High School
Amy Johnston, Olathe North High School
Shannon Ralph, Dodge City High School
Scott Sharp, DeSoto High School

Related news articles:

RET participant's school wins 'Battle of the Brains', Nov, 2011 - CEBC News

Teacher's summer focus is on biodiesel, Sept. 2011 -

Shifting gears to bring biofuels to the classroom, Sept. 2011 - NSF research highlight

Dodge City high school teacher gets fired up about research, July 26 -

Educators brush up on research, July 18, 2011 -

PCC's Bacon serves up classroom experiments, May 6, 2011 -

Connecting biofuels to the classroom, Oct 15, 2010 - CEBC news


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