Science grants help students study ecosystems

Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Hands-on science has become the rule at Glacier Valley Elementary since two fifth grade teachers there were awarded $5,000 grants by the Alaska Science & Technology Foundation or ASTF.

Florence Hayward won a grant last year, and Ted Wilson won this year. "We worked as a team together," Wilson said. "Last year we bought a video microscope so when we examine something like a caddis fly under the lens everybody can see it on the television screen or we can record it on the computer." This year's grant was used to hire a Discovery Southeast naturalist to visit the school's science classes.

About 85 Glacier Valley students are now reaping the benefits of the dovetailing grants. Wilson has developed a year-long unit that aims to get fifth graders out in the field. His class of 26 is studying the Jordan Creek ecosystem which is chiefly a temperature rain forest but contains wetlands within it, he said. They pull on their boots and get down and dirty, collecting plants, insects and soil samples, which they then contrast and compare with the flora and fauna of several ecosystems from the Lower 48.

"We are looking generally at what ecosystems are like in different parts of the country. We will compare Jordan Creek with the desert of New Mexico, the New England region, the Pacific Northwest and the Great Plans," Wilson said.

"Students look at the soil, the climate differences, and animal and plant differences. They also look at Native American interaction with each ecosystem, so we are tying social studies aspects in with our reading. We have done a lot of non-fiction reading taking notes, writing reports and learning to make presentations," he said.

Wilson, 34, has taught at Glacier Valley for four years. His ecosystem project will be displayed March 29-30 at the ASTF Fair at Centennial Hall. The fair will be attended by about 30 first-time grantees who haven't finished their projects yet, and 30 second-year grantees like Wilson, who will be displaying what they did with their grants, said Sarah Erkmann, of Bernholz & Graham, an Anchorage public relations firm representing ASTF.

The purpose of the fair is to allow teachers from all over the state to see what others are doing to inspire students, and learn from them. There will be a total of about 100 presenters, Erkmann said. The general public is invited to attend.

ASTF is a state agency created in 1988 that invests to improve Alaska's economy and to increase the state's science and engineering capabilities. In addition to the teacher grant program which helps to develop and implement innovative math and science projects, ASTF supplies grants for small and large business development and research projects. For details, call Sharon Fisher, 907 452-1624.

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