NARA is tasked with enhancing the bioenergy literacy of students, educators, professionals and the general public. A critical challenge that faces NARA, and all complex enterprises, is how do you describe the work, technology, results and issues to those who are non-members of the discipline (i.e. the layperson). The effort requires communicators who are familiar with the discipline’s language (jargon), methods and history and can translate that knowledge effectively to the learning audience.
NARA’s task to describe its findings and challenges to K-12 students and their teachers relies on these specialized communicators and efforts are underway to train them. The University of Idaho (a NARA member) is conducting a course entitled Advanced Field Ecology Course Design that trains graduate students how to distill complex technological subjects to K-12 students.
The course is located at the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) and has NARA members Jenny Schon and Karla Eitel on the instructor team. Graduate students are assigned to work on three topics important to the Pacific Northwest: 1) managing Idaho’s landscapes for ecosystem services 2) using remote sensing in forestry and agricultural applications and 3) developing an industry that uses forest residuals to create biofuels and co-products.
Students hit the road
In the first week of March, graduate students funded by NARA hit the road throughout Washington state to learn from key individuals and organizations involved with developing fuels from woody biomass. To learn about woody biomass feedstock, they met with Washington State University extension specialist Karl Englund; Keith Thompson at WSU Tri-Cities described the technologies involved with converting wood into fuel; Carol Sims with Alaska Airlines provided a major biofuel purchaser’s perspective; Carter Fox and Ian Dallmeyer from Weyerhaeuser outlined their efforts to produce products from the leftover wood material after the carbohydrates have been used to produce fuel; and finally Indroneil Ganguly and Tait Bowers of the University of Washington described how to measure and compare the carbon footprint of biofuel production to fossil fuels. A separate team visited with classroom teachers to learn how to effectively bring new science to K12 classrooms.
Translate knowledge to K-12 students
Learning about the topic was only one part of the course, the graduate students are also challenged to communicate their findings to K-12 students and educators using a variety of media outlets including social media and video production. In addition, they will design curricula for K-12 students highlighting wood-to-biofuel production and logistics. This work will be assisted by NARA member Facing the Future, who through NARA funding, has already published biofuels curricula.
To read their blog posts, visit Teaching AL@MOSS here.
To review and order biofuel curricula developed by Facing the Future, click here.
“Getting graduate students out to meet with the people directing this emerging industry has been an incredibly valuable and exciting part of this course”, says Karla Eitel, director of education at MOSS. “In addition, those interviewed by the graduate students get the benefit of viewing their efforts from a K-12 student’s perspective and contributing to bioenergy literacy improvement.”
Luke Smith, a graduate student from the University of Idaho, participated in the tour. He is working towards a Master of Science in natural resources with an emphasis in environmental education. “I really enjoyed meeting with Dr. Carter Fox and Dr. Ian Dallmeyer at Weyerhaeuser to talk about lignin and lignin co-products”, said Luke when asked which meeting he found most interesting. “ The potential broad-reaching impacts of using the stuff left over (a mixture of lignin, polysaccharides [sugar], and other chemicals) after the biofuel conversion process is both impressive and inspiring”.
In addition to this course, NARA funds multiple programs that impact a wide range of students from the elementary level through to high school and the graduate school level.
For information that highlights the various programs funded by NARA, view here.