Educational Outreach at CReSIS


By Tyler Wieland
Summer 2013

The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) brings science education into the classroom with the help of Cheri Hamilton, CReSIS' K-12 Educational Outreach Coordinator. Hamilton and the Education Team work year-round to teach students about sea level change, glacier dynamics, water properties, icebergs, global warming, and remote sensing.

Cheri Hamilton

Photo 1: Cheri Hamilton, CReSIS' K-12 Educational Outreach Coordinator.

Each month Hamilton teaches fifteen 45-minute classes about polar science to elementary students in the area. This year Hamilton is expanding her reach to include five fifth grade classes that she taught last year as fourth graders.

“I will be practicing new lessons involving how climate change is affecting ice,” she said. Hamilton hopes the background the fifth grade students have from her polar science-related lessons from the previous year will allow her to go more in-depth with the science behind climate change and ice.

Hamilton has led the K-12 Educational Outreach Program at CReSIS for the past seven years, bringing with her a 40-year career in elementary education outreach. She has taught everything from environmental science topics to engineering.

Science education in the classroom

“Ever since I was a kid I always wanted to know how everything worked, I always had questions,” Hamilton said. With her monthly lectures to students across the Kansas City area, she is able to answer questions fourth and fifth graders may not even know they have.

Hamilton in Greenland

Photo 2: Cheri Hamilton shorlty after landing near the NEEM camp on Greenland's ice sheet.

“I remember when I was a kid, I looked up the chimney and asked my mom how Santa could fit down there,” she said. Hamilton explained that she knows her students have questions about science and she wants to get them interested in and knowledgeable about these topics as early as possible.

One of the new lesson plans she will be introducing this year will involve having students write their own questions, and then having the class evaluate them to see if they are one word answer questions or broad questions.

“If they ask their own questions then they will be more interested in the answer,” she said.

All research begins with scientific questioning and Hamilton hopes to teach her students just that. “I really want to get students interested and excited in science-related topics,” she said.

Hamilton believes science education will become even more important in the future, and she hopes the classes she is teaching currently will help give the next generation a framework for scientific questioning.

Understanding how students learn

Hamilton said, “We want to get them interested in science and educate them about future issues our planet may face due to climate change.” With the new science standards in place this year, she explained that the Education Team and herself can delve deeper into the climate change aspect their lessons.

Hamilton noted another interesting change to this year’s lesson plans is going from hypothesis and results to claims and evidence. “Since the children I teach are so young, they had issues at figuring out the ‘because of’ part in the hypothesis statement,” Hamilton said.

She expects learning about claims and evidence will help her students understand that you have a statement, and you either find evidence to support it or not.

While the classes the Education Team teaches are geographically limited, Hamilton said the online information available on CReSIS’ website and the information she provides at conferences are for teachers everywhere to use.

Even with all of her years teaching science, Hamilton has learned that sometimes her lesson plans do not click with her young students. “If it works, great; if it doesn’t, move on,” she said.

Hamilton improves and updates her lessons using feedback from students, who journal about what they learned following every lesson.

Fourth Grade Students

Photo 3: Fourth grade students write in their journals after an Ice, Ice Baby lesson by CReSIS’ K-12 Educational Outreach Coordinator, Cheri Hamilton, on September 9, 2013 at Whittier Elementary school in Kansas City, Kansas.

She then reads the journals to figure out if her students understand the basic concepts each lesson is meant to convey. She said, “Whether it’s a lesson or an experiment, I can tell if they get it or not.”

Hamilton takes pride in the work she has done as a part of CReSIS. “The program has really grown since I started and it provides a unique opportunity to discuss polar science with young students,” Hamilton said.