CarlsonLetter

[LETTER FROM TONIA CARLSON]

To High School Science Educators:

Welcome to what I hope will be a fabulous addition to your Natural Science, Ecology, Advanced Biology, or Botany curriculum.  Over the last 2 years, I have had the privilege of working with Valerie Wright of the Konza Prairie Biological Research Station near Manhattan, KS, and with Carolyn Ferguson and staff at the KSU Herbarium. I was awarded a grant of $15,000 from the National Science Foundation to do a floristic study of Wabaunsee County.  I got paid to play outside all summer and learn more about plants than I ever could have otherwise.  Here is how this happened.
At the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science conference (KATS Camp) held at Rocks Springs Ranch the last weekend of April every year, I went to a session presented by Konza on the resources available to area science teachers.  They have a program each summer for 10 days, and I applied to attend. 

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The KEEP program (Kansas Environmental Education Program) is designed to help teachers design a unit of study for their students based on native flora, fauna, microinvertebrates, and other topics related to native prairie areas.  When you leave, the unit is complete, and you have 11 other units from the other participants to work with.  The unit has also earned you the right to make use of the Konza Research Station, and helps build resources to get your kids involved in primary research.
One of the presenters at the KEEP workshop was Dr. Carolyn Ferguson of the KSU Herbarium.  She introduced us to the floristic database of all the specimens contained in the herbarium collection.  Because plant identification is an interest, but a weak point of mine, I decided to build my unit on making use of the database. I started looking at the specimen contained in the collection and realized that most of them were from 1927 and before.  What better way to get kids outside, interacting with their environment, learning about the very basis of life on the planet, AND doing primary research than to collect plants for the Herbarium?  The biggest carrot was that the students’ names would live in perpetuity in the collection attached to the plant that they collected, and that might get used by researchers around the world.  Pretty heady stuff for a teenager, to realize they could impact science all over the world just by picking a plant.
Dr. Ferguson saw the unit, and saw an opportunity to develop a partmership between the pure research of the Herbarium and high school educators.  She approached me with a grant proposal, which we submitted and was accepted and funded by the NSF.  She and her staff of graduate students and others have helped and supported me in this endeavor, allowing me to learn and succeed as I never could have on my own.
Now I want to present this opportunity to you.  Please make use of the information placed here at your disposal, and consider making contact with either Konza or the KSU Herbarium.  They have the resources to make science not only broader and richer in content, but can give you a whole new context, a way to get excited and involved beyond your classroom.  Experiences like this can only benefit your students.  Who knows, you might introduce a student to a career in science they never would have encountered otherwise.

Tonia Carlson
Wabaunsee High School Science Teacher