Lab in Action

Monday, February 23, 2015

New Friends, New Partners!

Tish (Dr. Yager) and I are back home in the south. We left Barrow AK on Wednesday with a sense of accomplishment in developing new working partnerships with classroom teachers and making new friends! 

The visit began with dinner at North Slope Borough School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan's home. NSBSD  Coordinator of Curriculum & Instruction Linda Frame cooked a yummy meal for us and three other NSBSD teachers in attendance! (thanks again to both of you for that!)

On  Monday we spent all day in Jan Parks' 7th grade science classroom at Eben Hopson Middle School. It was a lot of fun meeting her students as Dr. Yager led them through an interactive lesson on Arctic ecosystems. 

Dr. Yager leads ecosystem discussion.

Is Dr. Yager checking her watch for the time?

No, she's holding a class pet- watch out he's slippery Tish!

One of Jan Parks' classes had an added treat, a visit from Dr. Rachel Obbard and her team. I met Dr. Obbard through UIC Science/ Chief Scientist  Karl Newyear who put us in contact with each other before the trip. I was looking for a sample of seawater that we could use in a classroom activity and Dr. Obbard volunteered to get it for me. She and her team (undergrad student Ellyn Golden & Grad student Ross Lieb-Lappen) are extracting ice cores from the sea ice off the coast of Barrow. 

If that isn't interesting enough, HOW they are getting them back home IS! In a nutshell, they're DRIVING them home (to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire) in large "trunks" engineered to replicate the temperatures they were found in! They call them Icemitts.

Dr. Obbard brought one of them to Ms. Park's classroom, complete with an ice core! The students thought it was a casket with a body! :) Dr. Obbard and Ross gave a good presentation on their work and the engineering behind the Icemitt. 

Dr. Rachel Obbard, 2nd from right explains her work. On the right is Ellyn golden, 2nd from left, Ross Lieb-Lappen

Ross  opens the Icemitt to show the interior and an ice core!

Ross explains the different components of the interior.

Ross and Ellyn check the Icemitts.

Learn more about the Icemitt and follow Dr. Obbard's expedition at

The day ended on a high note when teacher Jan Parks agreed to work with me by doing  water sampling for our SMORE (Students Monitoring Ocean Response to Eutrophication) project. Long term, Dr. Yager and I will work with her on SMORE together next school year, as well as provide her resources so that she can develop classroom units that include our project!

On Tuesday we were back at Hopson MS for a Skype call between my classroom in Houston and Carrie Imel's class.  We also had 2 SMORE alumni students from Barrow High School present ! Both classes engaged in a conversation meant to give Texas students a glimpse of life in Barrow. It was a lot of fun to watch! Special thanks to Gabriella in Barrow and Devin in Texas for making it work!

Barrow students answer Texas questions.

SMORE alumni! Monika & Kim from Barrow HS joined the SKYPE  call.

Next we went to Barrow High School where we visited MJ Geiser's class who are currently working on their senior capstone projects. Dr. Yager engaged them in a conversation about current ocean science topics relevant to Barrow and offered her help and resources to any student who might be interested in working on them.

Students in Barrow High School

Later in the afternoon we went to meet Alice Sage who works at the KIITA Learning Center. After explaining our student project (SMORE) she was interested in having 3 of her students work with us. They are on whaling teams and will be a really interesting addition to SMORE! More about that later!

Our last stop was Wednesday morning, just before we left for the airport.Our visit was to another Barrow HS class with Social Studies teacher Mike Price and his students.The conversation raised interesting comments and dialogue about climate change in the Arctic and its effect on Barrow.

Dr. Yager and I left Barrow with a new appreciation for the culture and its people. We are both very optimistic about the new collaborations that are possible and a renewed sense of understanding about how to make science relevant within the Inupiaq Learning Framework. The story is just beginning!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Bear Essentials

Decided to devote this post to a very hot topic here these days- polar bears!!
Seems there are daily sightings of these magnificent creatures in town! Reports say that there is a female with two teenage cubs, a 10 ft male, and several others seen in the last 2 days. 

The night we arrived our driver pulled over onto the beach to show us the fresh bear tracks right along the main street, just as you turn into the NARL huts where we are staying. In our orientation that night we were given the "in the event of bears" talk. One thing stuck with me- Stephanie our UIC BARC Lab Manager Project Assistant told us among other things to "make yourself look really big"...duh, doomed already!

Can you make out the bear track- it's about 10-12" long!

Other bear tracks were found (and bears seen) near a local eatery. Here are some pictures of those tracks taken by Mary Ann Jalbert. Tish and I went out to try to see them but winds had blown snow around last night and we couldn't find them. What do you notice about the tracks? (and yes, these are real!)

One of the teachers we visited today told us that the story is that some whale meat was taken out of the permafrost ice box for the recent community festival. Then, it was left outside.  Apparently the bears, who have a great sense of smell, were attracted to it, and have been cruising around that area in town regularly. But, why are they down here where we are on the outskirts of town???

Ross Lieb-Lappen, a member of Dr. Rachel Obbard's sea ice research team had a VERY close encounter with two bears last night as he was trying to photograph auroras. Seems he was outside last night trying to capture pictures of the auroras. He was laying down in the snow right next to his hut when he heard the crunching sound of footsteps. Since it was about 1am he figured it wasn't anyone he knew walking around. Then he sees two large bears walking around! He says he couldn't make it safely back into the hut so he jumped into the truck parked in front and blasted his horn. The bears just turned and walked away.

He was a very lucky young man!!

The hut they' re staying at is just  a few down from where Tish and I are staying- too close for comfort! Needless to say WE aren't out looking for auroras, or anything else alone!

Here's a photo taken by another of Dr. Obbard's team, Ellyn Golden as they were out on the ice taking core samples.

Bears eating whale bones.

As much as I'd like to see one for myself, I respect the awesomeness of the polar bear and hope any encounter is at a safe distance!

Looking for bear tracks.

Tomorrow I'll post images from our classroom visits and Barrow! See you soon!

Brainscratcher: Do you know what kind of 
Alaskan animal tracks these are? 

Monday, February 16, 2015


If you look on a map for Barrow, Alaska it really is just about on top of the world! 

I first came here in 2011 to work with marine scientist Dr. Tish Yager (UGA) on a project called ArcticNitro. Her team was investigating microorganism relationships in the coastal Arctic Ocean, particularly their competition for nitrogen .The fieldwork included taking water samples from the frozen Chukchi Sea during three different seasons. 

Dr. Yager  and Lollie measure light. (2011)

Lollie lowers video camera under the ice. (2011)

Dr. Yager draws a water sample for testing. (2011)

The frozen Arctic Ocean - doesn't look real does it? (2011)

Lollie and Tish Yager, 2011

Fast-forward to 2015. Why are we back here now when the Arctic fieldwork ended in 2012? 
Dr. Yager and I have been working together in a partnership that really began in 2007 at the "bottom of the world" - Antarctica! Since then part of our work together includes educational outreach.That means taking the message of her research into classrooms and public venues like science meetings and community events. 

So our return to Barrow is focused on talking with classroom students, teachers, and the community. Understanding "how" she does her work is important, but it's even more important to understand "why". 

Today we visited with Hopsen Middle School students in 7th grade science teacher Jan Parks' classroom. We spent the full day working through Barrow ocean ecosystems with Dr. Yager. I also invited another researcher, Dr. Rachel Obbard, and her team to speak with one of the classes. I'll post pictures of these classroom visits tomorrow!

I'll end with a brain scratcher for my students at Redd School. 
Look at the images of the sunrise on Sunday. They were taken over a 2 hour period.
What do you notice about this sunrise????

More soon!!!!

Monday, June 9, 2014

LABRATS Robotics Team at Canada International Open!

If you're reading this blog, then you already know about the journey and challenges the LABRATS undertook to get to the Canadian International Open in Toronto last week. In fact, its because of YOU that we were able to get there. The team proved it had what it took to get us an invitation - YOU provided the means. 

 THANK YOU  parents, family, friends, Redd School teachers and our generous sponsors DTS Technical Services, Houston Police Officers Union, Quinn Technology, Embroidme/Spring, Educational Excellence in America, and Certified Construction Services for supporting our team and making their dream come true. 

I had hoped to keep everyone updated through the week, but I found out really fast how busy our days would be! Here's a summary of our adventure!

Flags representing the competing teams.

Our Pit area

I'm still waiting to hear whether the opening ceremony video will be available online- I know many of you missed it. I hope to share that with you because it was truly an impressive beginning to our week. More on that later! For now, here's a brief clip Alisha Graham took of the LABRATS entering the arena.

Group shot of 4 Texas Teams before we marched in.

LABRATS ready to go!

So how did we do? The team performed magnificently and earned verbal praise and admiration from the judges as they performed their presentations ( we got to sit in and watch!). I always get a lump in my throat listening to their concise explanations and watching their impeccable performances. Most importantly the team was very happy with how they did.

Technical judging

Ready for the research presentation.

Parents and coaches cheer them on.

Research Presentation judging

OK, our robot game was not what we wanted. But even in the face of adversity, the LABRATS kept their cool and their spirits up and  finished 55 out of 72 international teams-yay!

Practicing in the room the night before the games.

Putting on their game faces!

Practice, practice...

Doing it!

End of the second long day!
The best part of this competition was experiencing an amazing cultural event with teams from all over the world. The kids learned about new languages, food, games, and customs. And, come home with new inspiration and plans for what they'll do next year! 

Trying on a Japanese Kimono!

I'll close with this:
When we end our practices or games at school, the kids always say "let's end this on a high note".  As we sat and watched the other well deserving teams accept their trophies for various things, I saw my team cheering them on and commenting on how well those teams had done. I think they're strength in practicing "gracious professionalism" is ingrained now and demonstrates the winning character of this team. Still...I'm sure there was a tiny pang in each of them. 

However as we filed out of the closing ceremonies, one of the Core Value judges came up to us. He said " there was one team out of all  that I wanted to see again, and that was you!" He wanted them to know "they were so close" to winning an award. He also said that they were the most impressive team he saw all day in his judging room! He told them to keep working as hard because they had so much promise and that he hoped to see their team at another international event.

We walked out with heads high and agreed that we DID end on a high note after all!!!!

PS: We capped off the trip with a visit to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls :) Enjoy the rest of the pics!!

Ready to go Under the Falls

 Behind the Falls
 Teams trying to fill in a giant Maple Leaf with LEGO creations.

LABRATS add "Texas"

Lain the Leprechaun

LABRATS and Katy team RoboRangers

Yes, we were wrapped in toilet paper- part of the random fun activities!

Can you see Mrs. Lollie??

LEGO Lollie & Alisha!