Building relationships by the ocean

Britney Christensen, Gabe Knowles, and Connie High joined the KBS community through the NSF LTER RET Program (National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Teachers). This program matches K-12 teachers with local scientists with the goal of enhancing the professional development of K-12 science educators through research experience in order to then bring new knowledge into their classroom. Their experience culminated with a visit to Asilomar, California to attend the LTER Network’s All Scientists Meeting in 2022. The following post is written by Britney, Gabe, and Connie, along with Kara Haas, the KBS LTER K-12 Partnership coordinator.

Gabe, Britney, and Connie in Asilomar, California. On their way to attend one of the sessions at the LTER All Scientists Meeting. Photo by Kara Haas.

As teachers, our daily interactions are with our students. Yet, sometimes it’s necessary to leave behind the day to day – and our comfort zones – in order to learn and grow. Our week at the Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) All Scientists’ meeting in Pacific Grove, CA was one of those experiences. Attending this meeting was a culminating event of our Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) projects. We’d like to share with you some of the highlights…

Learning through play – relationship with place

Throughout the week, the schedule and location (Asilomar!) allowed us time and space to explore the California coast. We took walks along the shore, making observations of the plants, animals and rocks. While exploring, we created background knowledge by making observations, engaging all of our senses. We compared all that we were experiencing with our knowledge of Michigan’s ecosystems. This comparison is something we ask often of our students, when learning something new we must attach that knowledge to something known. Just like the bull kelp must attach itself to rocks in the ocean or be swept away. 

Networking with purpose – relationships with professionals

The RETs attending the Education & Outreach Committee meeting on day one of the conference. Photo by Elizabeth Schultheis.

Throughout the week we had the pleasure of meeting so many new people. We were able to network at mealtimes, workshops and during breaks. Each person we met expanded our mental map of the LTER network and the people. For example, at a memorable lunch, we sat with an Arctic and an Antarctic scientist! Both scientists were excited to share their research questions from the poles of our earth and to pick our brains about engaging elementary students in learning about polar science. Scientists and teachers walked away energized about this global perspective of science and with resources to bring back to our students!

Another highlight of the week was presenting alongside Research Experience for Teachers participants from Florida Coastal Ecosystem LTER (FCE) and Arctic LTER (ARC). During the session, which was coordinated by site education representatives Amanda Morrison (ARC), Nick Oehm (FCE) and Kara Haas (KBS), different program formats, impactful stories from RETs and potential deliverables and outcomes were shared (click here to view posters sharing Gabe and Connie’s research). The session ended with small group discussions with RETs answering questions and sharing their perspectives on the experience and the impacts on hundreds of students. This session was attended by scientists, graduate students and educators representing 8 additional LTER sites who expressed interest in starting or expanding RET opportunities at their sites. 

Connecting with current, cutting edge science – relationships with data

Teachers across the LTER Network sharing their experiences as RETs. Photo by Kara Haas.

Our collective experiences help to tell the story of the data. Teachers are the bridge between the data and students. We bring the story alive, by sharing the human aspects through photos, videos, data collection experiences and making it accessible to our students. We were part of a larger cohort of teachers from across the Network and we were able to have many conversations throughout the week. For example, we spoke with Briseida Fernandez from Puerto Rico and the Luquillo LTER and discussed ways to best support our students in using data. We agreed that students need a guided, successful experience with data to build confidence in tackling their own data set. We also shared different sequences of when to share the data and evidence, starting with the graph and then working backwards to explain the trend and brainstorm questions or start with the questions and move toward the data visualization. Both ways are effective!   

Sharing our intentions: In leaving this place, we’d like to share our intentions, the concrete steps we are taking to move our learning forward. 

Connie High

I learned how to integrate more technology to tell the story of LTER data.  I was shown where to access support and existing datasets to make current research data more accessible to my students.  Examples of data sets and use across the different LTER locations were shared in our sessions.

I will use what I learned to create a story map of my Barry County water quality monitoring project.  Story mapping is an ARCGIS platform for sharing photos, locations, graphics, video and text to tell the story of a research experience. 

I’m also planning to modify data from the Eddie Project highlighting the limnology data for my students on their chromebooks and in Data Classroom. Sharing this long term data set will help students connect the lake habitat of our school-based outdoor classroom to issues of water quality on a larger scale. This knowledge will serve students well as future homeowners and community members when water quality decisions need to be made. 

I’m a Delton Kellogg High School teacher at Delton Kellogg Schools. I teach AP Biology, Biology, Chemistry, and Forensic Science.  In my teaching, I am working to increase data sets from current research to get students to actively analyze data and increase argument from evidence.  I can be contacted at

Taking a day trip to the Monterrey Aquarium!

Britney Christensen

Hearing so many scientists’ stories this week has inspired me to find more ways to share first-person narratives with my students. I’m working to expand my Monarch butterfly research and education in my 4th grade classroom and our summer institute. We’ll be using the monarch migration path to study different ecoregions of North America. I’m inspired to use the memoir, Bicycling with Butterflies by Sara Dykman, to share a personal journey of learning about monarchs along their migration route. 

I am a 4th-grade teacher at Ealy Elementary in Whitehall District Schools. With the help of my teaching partner, Gabriel Knowles, we work to extend reading and writing across the content areas as we create authentic experiences for our students as they explore the outdoors.

Gabe Knowles

In a conversation with Gabe de la Rosa, Communications Coordinator at the LTER Network office, we started talking about different formats of visualizing data. De la Rosa is an expert in communication, talking with him was inspiring and got me energized to think more about new platforms for visualizing data. Data visualization and new technology can help more students access the information. Specifically, I’d like to support students in learning more about the phenology of our courtyard garden through photos. I’m planning to reach out to De la Rosa to learn more about Adobe Suite and Premiere to create interactive digital stories with photos and text to share with students. 

I’m a 4th grade teacher at Ealy Elementary in Whitehall District Schools. Throughout my teaching career I have had several opportunities to work for the National Park Service, United States Geological Survey, Penn State University, and Michigan State University in outreach education and environmental stewardship, which I try to incorporate into my elementary classroom. Contact me on Twitter at @rangergabe or email me at

Kara Haas

This week brought me much joy. I intend to carry forward that joy by finding ways to share our experience with more teachers (like through this blog post!) and continuing to seek and create meaningful spaces for educators and scientists to work together (if you want to know about upcoming opportunities, click here to sign up for the KBS K-12 Partnership monthly newsletter).   I’m a doctoral student in Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education at Michigan State University and the K-12 Partnership Coordinator for the Long-term Ecological Research Program at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station (KBS LTER). I work alongside teachers to develop meaningful ways to learn in the outdoors through observation, connection and exploration. Connect with me @KaraHaaSciEd and