SUU’s Earth Day Unveiling to Impact Science Ed across the Region

Published: April 20, 2009 | Read Time: 4 minutes

What’s green about a 20-foot trailer destined for roads and highways that crisscross the state? Come see for yourself when Southern Utah University unveils “The Voyager” at its Earth Day celebration on Wednesday, April 22, from noon-6 p.m. on the lawn east of Old Main, SUU’s Upper Quad. This event is free of charge and open to the public. 

With state and federal funding, along with donations from some businesses, Southern Utah University’s College of Science will open the doors on its new mobile science and technology lab this week, bringing with it much brighter prospects for science education in public school systems across the southern half of the state. 

According to John Taylor, a biology professor at SUU and one of the key administrators in bringing The Voyager along from conception to completion, “The Voyager and the educational programs we’ve designed to accompany this educational resource will throw a lifeline to teachers that are generally very isolated from a large portion of the state’s resources in terms of enhancing science education in elementary school.” 

In short, The Voyager is a repository of equipment that is open for use by Utah’s public elementary school teachers. Educators may use as much of the equipment as they’d like, and SUU’s Voyager team will bring the resources to teachers – allowing them the flexibility and resources to create more detailed and complex lesson plans to better engage students in science education. 

Taylor explains, “Our mission is simply to increase students’ exposure to science by allowing more discovery and exploration. We want to engage kids and really get them excited about science.” 

As to an accounting of The Voyager’s many resources, they’re too varied to list, but include everything from handheld microscopes to technology that measures the oxygen intake and outtake of almost any living organism. 

According to Taylor, “In terms of educational resources beyond the classroom and text books, Utah is often considered Utah County and above, but that leaves out a large portion of the state’s schools and children.” The Voyager will help address this imbalance by bringing resources to schools that are too far removed from the larger cities that have more of these technologies readily available with the help of outside but geographically-convenient organizations.” 

And that’s not all, along with some of the latest technologies in science education, The Voyager also brings with it expert educators and SUU students who are prepared and able to assist in any area of science education at the kindergarten through sixth grade levels. As a new component to SUU’s Science for Future Educators curriculum, the University’s pre-service elementary educators will all spend lab time designing lesson plans for the technologies with The Voyager and assisting in the implementation, as needed, in classrooms across the state. 

The plan is that these students and future educators will learn how to teach the content knowledge they gain in their biology, chemistry and geology courses at SUU and apply it to age-appropriate lectures and experiments for elementary school children that meets the state’s core curriculum objectives in science education. 

According to Taylor, many current educators do not have the science experience or knowledge necessary to teach anything beyond the very basic concepts of elementary science education. The Voyager addresses this problem in two ways: 1) by providing additional resources to current educators – both technologies and expertise to enhance lesson plans, and 2) by providing a new educational component for future elementary educators that enhances their exposure to scientific concepts and their experience in devising lesson plans to better communicate that information to young students. 

The lesson plans and activities that currently correspond with the technologies in The Voyager have been devised by SUU science professors and master teachers currently working in Iron and Washington counties. 

The Voyager will “open for business” this Wednesday, with stop scheduled throughout the summer for summer science camps and special engagements throughout Cedar City. Taylor then says travel plans will spread to the rest of the state beginning next fall, with the opening of the 2009-10 school year. 

Though The Voyager is primarily intended for public elementary schools south of Richfield, Taylor says “we will work with any teacher, anywhere who wants our help.” 

Though The Voyager has high prospects to steal the show at this year’s Earth Day celebration at SUU, community members of all ages will find plenty of fun at the various booths open to the public Wednesday. Additional highlights of Wednesday’s Earth Day Celebration will include features on all of SUU’s surrounding national parks and monuments, information about recycling and conservation, information on science-based clubs and science resources, and even information about the local farmer’s market. 

With something for every “green” interest and every age level, SUU’s Earth Day Celebration promises to be a fun, educational afternoon the whole family can enjoy.

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