In 2019, we began a new chapter of our high-altitude balloon program which we call the LIFT Project (of just LIFT for short). Historically, our balloon program has consisted of one-day balloon launch events intended to generate interest and excitement in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) among the K-12 students involved. These students, with help from their teachers, are given the freedom to choose the objects, materials, and/or experiments that they would like to send up with the balloon.
While this freedom to explore can be beneficial in many ways, we have found that many of our balloon launch events still lack a strong focus on specific scientific concepts, experiments, or hypotheses. LIFT seeks to address this. Our hope is that the fruits of this project will ultimately lead to improvements in the science content of our balloon program, creating better learning opportunities and experiences for our K-12 participants.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the LIFT Project (Learning to Integrate Fundamentals through Teaching) is a multi-disciplinary science outreach program that unites University of Wyoming undergraduates with in-state K-12 teachers. The objective is for the undergraduates to design and build authentic K-12 STEM-related projects and curriculum for high-altitude ballooning. In collaboration with partner teachers, the undergraduates are given the opportunity to test out their projects with K-12 students. This culminates in a high-altitude balloon launch event at the partner teachers’ schools during the fall. The undergraduates also have the opportunity to participate in other outreach events, test launches, and perhaps even conference presentations.
The LIFT Project runs annually while UW is in session, from January through December. UW students and K-12 teachers in Wyoming who are interested in participating can read more about the program in the following sections.
The LIFT Project is aimed at UW undergraduates in the middle years of their college education (i.e., sophomores and juniors) who are majoring in science, engineering, and science education. Students go through a competitive application process that takes place during the fall semester. Those chosen to participate in LIFT are broken into small teams of about three (3). Teams typically consisting of two (2) science/engineering majors and one (1) education major.
Early in the following spring semester, the teams begin brainstorming various balloon project ideas that explore scientific or engineering questions, problems, or challenges. Under the guidance of LIFT mentors and a K-12 partner teacher, each team chooses and begins working on one of these projects, focusing on K-12 citizen science inquiry. The teams are responsible for designing and building their own balloon payloads, as well as developing lesson plans and activities as part of the curriculum. Communication and collaboration, essential skills of good teamwork, are strongly emphasized – and indeed necessary – throughout the project. As part of a greater team, the undergraduates, K-12 students, and teachers all participate in the full process of science and engineering practices.
The fall semester is spent finishing up and testing the payloads and getting the curriculum ready for the classroom. The teams then schedule in-person or remote classroom visits with their partner teacher and present their lessons and activities to the K-12 students. This includes a balloon launch at each partner teacher’s school, during which real data is collected by the payloads. This data can later be analyzed in a follow-up lesson after the launch.
UW students interested in participating in the 2020 LIFT Project can fill out an online application at this time. The submission deadline is October 31, 2019. Please understand that involvement in this project does require a weekly time commitment and some occasional travel.
For this program, we are interested in working with enthusiastic K-12 teachers in Wyoming who would like to get their own students involved in an authentic STEM project centered around high-altitude ballooning. Partnering with us carries with it a few responsibilities and expectations, as well as some time commitment.
As a partner teacher, your primary roles would be threefold:
This is very much a collaborative effort. Therefore, we expect you to be willing to engage your team in thoughtful discussion about the project throughout the year. You would also need to have enough flexibility during the fall semester to accommodate anywhere from about 3 to 5 visits to your classroom. You would NOT be expected to teach any of the lessons or activities related to the project. This is the responsibility of the LIFT undergraduates.
At this time, we only bring on about two (2) partner teachers per year, so getting involved can be somewhat competitive. We generally prefer to partner with teachers that have previously worked with us. However, we are certainly open to partnering with new teachers if the right situation presents itself. We are also interested in partnering with teachers from schools with students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM.
If you would like to inquire about being one of our LIFT partner teachers in the future, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use “LIFT Project Partner Teacher Request” in the subject line.