Tarleton State Mobile STEM Learning Lab to Get $130,000 Update 

Funded by more than $250,000 in grants from the Texas Pioneer Foundation, the new Center for Educational Excellence Mobile Discovery Lab will provide outreach to intermediate-level students and educate pre-service teachers and professionals in science, technology, engineering and math.

STEPHENVILLE — The Texas Pioneer Foundation has granted $130,000 to Tarleton State’s Timberlake Biological Field Station to retrofit the Mobile Discovery Lab in collaboration with the Science Mill in Johnson City.

Maintained by the College of Science and Mathematics, the MDL is equipped with a science and engineering laboratory to provide on-site learning experiences. The trailer is housed at the field station in Mills County, and hundreds of schoolchildren visit each year. It also travels to schools, libraries and community events in Mills, Brown, Comanche, Erath, Hood, Johnson, Somervell and Tarrant counties to deliver free educational outreach on STEM. 

The Science Mill in Johnson City specializes in developing inquiry-based STEM activities to schools around the country. Its creative team works with Tarleton on activities that showcase the Timberlake ecosystems.

“The Science Mill team has done an excellent job of developing a program with diverse experiences that incorporate multidisciplinary scientific modes of inquiry,” said Dr. Victoria Chraibi, Assistant Director of the Timberlake Biological Field Station. “We are particularly enthusiastic that the proposed activities reflect broader topics of research and restoration occurring at Timberlake, making the mobile lab an ideal introduction to the field station.”

Currently, the MDL contains lab benches, a sink and a set of laptops for computer-based activities. The new funding will add six inquiry-based educational activities to showcase the native ecosystems, sustainable agriculture, and technology and computer science:

  • An animated digital microscope to view water samples
  • An insect and plant investigation to view the unique features of specimens in a stereo microscope, as well as building blocks for students to create their own bugs and flowers
  • An aquaponics and vertical tower seed planting activity, which includes a virtual-reality dive into an aquaponics greenhouse and RFID-capacitated seeds that students can “plant” in a vertical tower and watch grow in a time lapse
  • A weather station aligned with the Timberlake’s MesoNet weather station that includes digital block-chain coding to program a microcontroller that captures weather data
  • A topographic sand table that allows students to manipulate digital-physical hybrid models of changing land masses and hydrology
  • A study of soil health and how different plants support groundwater retention, which will include a display of native grasses and a physical model that students pump water through to measure the dwell time of water correlated with the grasses’ root structures

In operation since 2021, the MDL was conceptualized by the former director of Tarleton’s Center for Transformative Learning, Dr. Denae Dorris, and a team of Tarleton faculty and staff. The interior build-out was completed with the help of graduate students from Dr. Curtis Langley’s agricultural mechanics classes, funded by the Texas Pioneer Foundation. 

“We are grateful for the support of the Texas Pioneer Foundation to fulfill our STEM education goals,” Dr. Chraibi said. “We look forward to making the mobile trailer available to a region with otherwise limited access to advanced educational experiences in science and technology. It fits well within the stated missions of the College of Science and Mathematicsand Tarleton State University to grow our educational programming and provide enriching experiences for the community we serve.”

The new activities in the Mobile Discovery Lab should be road ready by summer 2024. Direct questions about field trips to Dr. Chraibi at chraibi@tarleton.edu. Requests for the MDL to visit a school or community event should go to Joree Burnett at jburnett@tarleton.edu.

To learn more about the Timberlake Biological Field Station, visit https://www.tarleton.edu/timberlakeranch/.

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