campus news

Local teachers learn STEM teaching tactics during UB’s EarthEd week

Teachers collect water samples from areas around Amherst State Park to learn more about the plants and animals inhabiting those bodies of water. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Published August 2, 2023

Nick DiFrancesco.
“Immersing teachers in these environments is tangible because the potential for teachable moments are limitless. ”
Nick DiFrancesco, assistant teaching professor
Department of Geology

With its close proximity to the Great Lakes and incredible geological history, Western New York is a prime location to learn about the Earth and its inner workings — especially if you’re a local teacher looking to bring new tools and techniques to your classroom.

Nick Henshue, co-director of the EarthEd Institute, holds a chart listing the macroinvertebrates that teachers might find living in water in Amherst State Park. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

The author holds a toad found in a water sample from Amherst State Park. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

The departments of Geology and Environment and Sustainability (EVS), College of Arts and Sciences, presented the third year of the EarthEd Institute July 10-14. The program welcomes local middle and high school teachers (grades 6 - 12) to UB for a unique opportunity to collaborate and learn from expert UB faculty and research professionals, as well as other Earth scientists in Western New York.

The goal of the program is to give teachers unique content to enhance lessons, activities, trips and other learning or assessment materials used throughout the school year. The bulk of sessions at EarthEd are presentations taught by College of Arts and Sciences’ faculty, staff and alumni focusing on their latest research efforts and the relevance to today’s state science standards, and followed by hands-on activities on each topic. The participants can then take those lessons back to their classrooms for the upcoming school year to further integrate math and the natural sciences into the New York State core curriculum.

The 2023 EarthEd program included topics such as collecting macroinvertebrates and performing biodiversity sampling in Amherst State Park; a behind-the-scenes look at a landfill; ice flow experiments with goo slime; learning about the reconstruction of past vegetation in the pollen lab; a visit to the Buffalo Museum of Science; and much more.

The core topics of the workshops included topics in geology, ecology, ecosystem functioning, climate patterns and natural history. Local teachers represented the Lancaster, Buffalo, Eden, Williamsville, Cheektowaga and Cuba-Rushford school districts. All EarthEd participants received 40 hours of NYS CTLE accredited professional development.

The Earth Ed Institute is co-directed by Nick Henshue, associate teaching professor and director of undergraduate studies, Department of Environment and Sustainability, and Nick DiFrancesco, assistant teaching professor, Department of Geology.

Participants gather at the Chaffee landfill to get a behind-the-scenes look at landfills. Photo: Douglas Levere

“The benefit of EarthEd in our school communities is very multifaceted. We are helping great teachers keep up with the latest science and giving them a community of support to energize and refresh their lessons and labs,” says Henshue. “Students benefit from new, exciting, applied and authentic science in their classroom. Our professors benefit because EarthEd is the perfect vehicle for broader impacts and community outreach, where researchers get a ready-built program to share their amazing work.”

Local middle and high school teachers use "goo slime" to perform ice flow experiments. Photo: Douglas Levere

Additional UB presenters included Kristin Poinar, assistant professor, Department of Geology; Albert Fulton, assistant professor, Department of Anthropology; Swathi Karamcheti, assistant teaching professor, EVS; Sanford Geffner, director of internships and experiential learning, EVS; Peter Bush, director, South Campus Instrument Center; and Sophie Goliber, postdoctoral researcher, Department of Geology. Presenters from the community included Holly Cohen, Buffalo Museum of Science, and Micki Baker, administrative director, Chaffee Landfill.

“Immersing teachers in these environments is tangible because the potential for teachable moments are limitless,” says Difrancesco. “Connecting them with natural resources easily available to them to make their lessons come to life is really rewarding.”