LTER Math Science Partnership in its final year

Gull Lake Middle School students sort macroinvertibrates as part of a biodiversity teaching experiment. Photo credit: Debi Kilmartin, Math Science Partnership teacher.

For the last five years, KBS K-12 Partnership teachers have been participating in a unique program that involves teachers, scientists, and educators at four LTER sites around the country. The goal is to promote environmental science literacy through the frame of learning progressions. In other words, the project has conducted research about how students make sense of important environmental issues and used that research to help teachers work more effectively with their students about these issues.

This program – the LTER Math Science Partnership (MSP) – is a collaboration between four LTER sites across the United States: Kellogg Biological Station, Santa Barbara Coastal, Short Grass Steppe, and Baltimore Ecosystem Study. The project has developed assessments, teaching materials, and professional development programs for middle school and high school teachers. “This program is unique” says the project’s lead scientist Andy Anderson, “because we are working to develop learning progressions for environmental literacy in all of these culturally and geographically diverse locations.”

Over the past four years, researchers have refined and further developed learning progressions related to carbon cycling, water systems, and biodiversity. Working with teachers, the MSP staff developed teaching experiments to provide teachers with resources for teaching about environmental literacy topics. For example, one of the experiments leads students through a series of activities that help the students explore what happens to water once it lands as precipitation in their school yard.

While teachers have conducted these teaching experiments in their classrooms, data is being gathered on both student and teacher learning. In this last year of the project, the data analysis has focused on trying to link teacher knowledge and learning to student learning and achievement.

Professional development for teachers will continue through the end of the project. Throughout the MSP project, teachers have been exposed to both science content and pedagogy (the art and science of teaching) at workshops and at a week-long summer institute held every year at KBS. In addition, they have had opportunities to participate in Research Experiences for Teachers (RETs), a unique program where a teacher works directly with a scientist and their lab to participate first-hand in current research. Each summer, about a dozen teachers participate in RETs at KBS.

In the summer of 2012, the program supported three teachers to help with research at the Artic LTER site in Toolik, Alaska. Says Marty Buehler, one of the teachers who traveled to Alaska, “I will definitely be using the science that I observed, participated with and learned about in my classroom lessons back in Michigan. I look forward to seeing even more specific ways that present themselves for me to insert what I have learned into the curriculum that we use.”

“This program has reached hundreds of teachers and thousands of students around the country”, says MSP coordinator Dr. Sara Syswerda, “and we’re excited to help those students and teachers use the knowledge they have gained to better understand what is going on in the world. When they can understand what is happening, they can make better decisions.”

Funding for this program was provided by the National Science Foundation through the LTER Math Science Partnership program. Contact Dr. Sara Syswerda ( with any questions. More information on MSP research and educational materials can be found at