PHS Science Teacher Brings Renewed Passion to Classroom Through Research Grant
Pendleton High School teacher Stacy Hansen spent a lot of time on a beach last summer, but she wasn’t soaking up the sunshine or playing in the surf; she was studying octopuses and endangered abalones. Hansen is the recipient of a Partners in Science Program Grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. This unique Pacific Northwest program pairs high school science teachers with mentor scientists doing cutting-edge research in an academic lab. The purpose is to “help teachers bring knowledge from the research lab directly into the classroom to promote hands-on science education,” according to the program’s website.
Hansen is working on a Master of Biology degree from Walla Walla University. In the summer of 2022, Hansen worked at the Walla Walla University Rosario Beach Marine Biology Laboratory in Anacortes, Washington. Dr. Kirt Onthank, associate professor of biology at Walla Walla University, is the facility’s director and is also Hansen’s mentor. The purpose of Hansen’s study is to study the impacts of climate change on the predatory/prey relationship between Octopus rubescens and pinto abalone. This species of abalone is the only one present in the state of Washington and has experienced a 97% decline in population since 1992. Octopus rubescens is a commonly seen species in Washington’s Salish Sea. Working on this research project was “a whole big adventure and gave me so much inspiration and renewed passion for science and for teaching science,” Hansen said.
After collecting specimens in the ocean, working in the lab, and taking thousands of hours of video of abalones, Hansen prepared a scientific poster of her research and presented it in January in San Diego, California, at the 2023 Partners in Science National Conference.
At Pendleton High School, Hansen teaches Freshman Physical Science, Sophomore General Biology, and Sophomore Honors Biology 1. What does her recent research bring to her classroom and lab at PHS? In addition to reigniting her passion for science, which she shares with her students, Hansen said she is working to make science instruction more than just vocabulary and create labs that promote critical thinking. “I would like to align my class labs with a more realistic view – many times, experiments scientists work on do not turn out the way they predict. This frustration can be good for students because they have to ask themselves, ‘what could I have done differently?’ and gives them the opportunity to persevere.”
Hansen enjoys seeing her students work together and see how important collaboration is to learning, plus she said more hands-on experiments appeal to a different group of students and diversifies who emerges as leaders during lab work. “The world is in desperate need of people who can solve problems, and that sense of accomplishment is amazing,” Hansen said.
This summer, Hansen will return to Anacortes to continue her research. She will then present, defend and write about her research in San Diego in 2024.
For more information about the Partners in Science Program, visit: https://murdocktrust.org/science-research-and-education/partners-in-science-program/