As fast as the winter snow gives way to budding aspens and blooming wildflowers each year, another school year has wrapped up and unfolded into summer. Throughout the academic year, Walking Mountains Science Center has the pleasure of working with thousands of students in Eagle County through our programs. Whether discovering crinoid fossils that indicate the ancient oceans of Colorado’s past, digging snow pits and learning about snowpack stability, investigating the power of solar energy via racing solar cars, or applying knowledge of simple machines in the “take it apart, put it together” bike challenge, students awaken a sense of wonder for science, sustainability, and stewardship through hands-on exploration and discovery.
During the 2015-16 academic year, Walking Mountains Science Center served a total of 4,461 students through our school programs which include our Field Science Programs, Girls in Science and STEM Leadership Academy after school programs, and the Avon in-School program. This is an 11% increase over the number of students served last year. In addition to serving more students, we also increased student contact hours an impressive 24% from 44,300 to 54,900 hours.
While we work with both private and public schools in Eagle County, Walking Mountains Science Center attributes much of this growth to our strong partnership with Eagle County Schools. This partnership allows us to continue to serve as many students as possible every year, with the ultimate goal of serving all Kindergarten through 8th grade students at least once a year throughout their academic year. For the past three years every 3rd and 7th grader in Eagle County Schools has attended at least one field science program each year.
As the Youth Programs Director, my role actively teaching and connecting directly with students has changed over the years, but I have the pleasure of living vicariously through the passionate and dedicated Youth Programs staff I oversee. Nothing makes me happier than to hear about the “a-ha” moments students experienced after the Educator team comes back from teaching a day in the field.
A highlight from the Educator Fellow team- Tory Dille, Johanna Gundlach, Tyler Lincoln, and Sara Monson who teach all of our Field Science Programs happened in mid-May with 4th grade students from Avon Elementary. While hiking back from the Sweetwater Cave after investigating pictographs left behind by Ute Native Americans many years ago, students saw a bald eagle in its nest. Gundlach described the experience.
“The nest was so close to the students and they could really see the bald eagle up close and personal. It was a powerful teachable moment.”
On this three day learning adventure, the educator team discussed how incredible it was to experience hiking with students who had never been hiking before, building forts by Sweetwater Creek, and observing a bat in its natural habitat. One student exclaimed, “This is the best adventure I have ever been on!” These are the stories that make life in the office behind the scenes incredibly satisfying. Our Field Science Program served 3,624 students this year.
Ali Stefancich, Avon in-School Instructor, experienced life as a classroom teacher while teaching Science Specials at Avon Elementary this year. She taught 270 Kindgarten-5th grade students at Avon Elementary School once a week through this program. She highlighted two experiences where students transferred knowledge learned in the classroom to a practical application. She was on the 4th grade trip as well and said, “It was really a highlight getting to see the kids use things that I had taught them in the classroom in a field setting. It showed me that they really did retain what I had been teaching!”
This year our Girls in Science after school program for 3rd-5th grade girls expanded to all nine traditional elementary schools within Eagle County Schools and served 184 students throughout the school year. When I asked Girls in Science Coordinator, Nicole Abrams to recall a highlight of her year, she mentioned, “Listening to the Red Hill Elementary School, Biofuel Science Project group present their biofuel burning experiment at the Girls in Science Fair was such a highlight! The ladies taught us all about how biofuels can be used to create efficient and environmentally responsible sources of energy and that many different renewable resources can be used to create biofuel.” This was the first year Girls in Science was offered at Red Hill Elementary and it was great for me to see the enthusiasm the participants and the administration at the school exuded for the program.
Our STEM Leadership Academy expanded to 8th grade this academic school year. The after school program is now offered to all 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at the traditional middle schools within the Eagle County school district and served 123 students after school this year. After deliberating over the many highlights experienced this year, Amanda Hewitt, STEM Coordinator, recalled two. During the 7th grade STEM Fair robotics competition, Hewitt said, “I loved watching the problem solving and teamwork among the seventh-grade students at the STEM fair. It was such a fun moment to see students engaged in such high-level thinking while working together. I was also incredibly proud of all their positive attitudes and determination.” She explained watching the 8th grade students, who were part of the inaugural year for the program, present their research projects at the 8th grade conference style, STEM Symposium was gratifying as they all did an amazing job with their projects.
Working with students and watching them experience the “a-ha” moments when the light bulb turns on is truly what learning and teaching is all about. Walking Mountains Science Center is proud to facilitate these moments with the great students of Eagle County each school year and summer. We are already looking forward to the start of the next academic year, but for the 2015-16 school year, that’s a wrap! Now get outside and help us with our goal to rescue summer from the indoors!
Beth Markham, Youth Programs Director at Walking Mountains Science Center. When not living vicariously through her incredible team of passionate educators, instructors, and coordinators, she can be found playing in the mountains with her family.