Math and Biology Interface Meets Steampunk

Students show off their labeled axis, ready for data

Students at STEMPunk show off their labeled axis, ready to graph some bird population data.

Science and math educators are always looking for innovative ways to make their messages memorable¬† — which is why NIMBioS participated in a unique outreach event for middle school kids this week blending STEM and the science fiction genre “steampunk.”

Andrew Isenhower talks to students about what their graph shows is happening to Northern Bobwhite populations in Tennessee

Andrew Isenhower talks to students about what their graph shows is happening to Northern Bobwhite populations in Tennessee

Organized by UT engineering graduate student Caroline Bryson, the “STEMPunk” event had a festival atmosphere where students visited hands-on booths to interact with scientists, engineers and mathematicians, all in steampunk-themed costume. Steampunk is a science fiction genre that features steam-powered technology with 19th century style elements. About 35 students from all over the state, on campus for an engineering camp, participated in the event with their camp counselors and families.

Nels Johnson (center) helps students interpret their Eastern Bluebird population graph.

NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow Nels Johnson (center) helps students interpret their Eastern Bluebird population graph.

NIMBioS’ booth “Math for the Birds” featured data about changing bird populations found in the previously published Discover Birds activity book. Andrew Isenhower, a UT graduate student in wildlife and fishery biology, collaborated and brought teaching specimens to display of Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Bobwhites, and a Wild Turkey tail fan and feet. After Andrew’s introduction to the birds Kelly Sturner, NIMBioS Education & Outreach Coordinator, introduced Breeding Bird Survey data for the three species. Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS Associate Director for Education & Outreach, and Nels Johnson, NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow, then joined in helping the students graph the data on enormous graphs on the floor. The axis were created using duct tape. Axis labels were arranged by the students and data points graphed. Then, data points were connected using a feather boa to show trends.

After a discussion of what the graphs showed was happening to bird populations over time, Andrew provided insight behind the patterns the students observed by talking about the challenges the species have faced due to land use changes, decreasing habitat, competition with invasive species, and also the benefits that some conservation efforts have had.

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