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Building a Bridge Between Science and Social Studies

December 5, 2016

In partnership with two teachers at Maple Grove Middle School, Katrina Yezzi-Woodley founded the interactive program Science and Social Studies Adventures (SASSA), which has given her the "opportunity to interact with individuals that may not otherwise be exposed to this information." Currently a graduate student pursuing a PhD in biological anthropology, Yezzi-Woodley has taken her interests and shared them with middle-school students in the Minneapolis area.

After a career as a competitive ballroom dancer, Yezzi-Woodley returned to college and discovered a love for biological anthropology at the University of Minnesota. Taking anatomy and osteology courses "made all the difference in the world," she said. Her main interests within biological anthropology include taphonomy, which is the study of how organisms become fossilized, the study of the competition between large carnivores and humans for meat, and the impact of meat consumption on human evolution. In addition to an ongoing project studying bone breakage made by spotted hyenas at the Milwaukee County Zoo, Yezzi-Woodley has conducted field work in Dmanisi, Georgia, and museum work in Tbilisi, Georgia, under the direction of Prof. Martha Tappen.

The idea for SASSA sprung from Yezzi-Woodley's daughter's interest in activities at the Paleo Picnic—an event that the anthropology department puts on to demonstrate early human behaviors. After she found out that Chris Kestly, her daughter's teacher at Maple Grove Middle School, was using the Minnesota Historical Society as a resource for a social studies class, she approached Kestly about "involving anthropology in schools."

Yezzi-Woodley, Kestly, and another teacher at Maple Grove Middle School, Beth Albrecht, collaborated to create three interactive modules for students. They included pouring water over sand and toothpick "bones" to demonstrate erosion and fluvial transport, layering different colors of sand to show stratigraphy, and solving 3D puzzles pertaining to lithic analysis.

"The idea was to bring hands-on experiences to the classroom, and incorporate both science and social studies," says Yezzi-Woodley. Graduate and undergraduate student volunteers from the anthropology department, along with trained parent volunteers from the community worked with kids all day, four days a week, for three weeks at the end of the school year. Yezzi-Woodley hopes the kids will take away an ability to assess things, and "bridge the gap between science and what's happening in the greater community."

With funding from the Anthropological, Ecological, and Geological Interdisciplinary Sciences (AEGIS) group—a consortium of researchers from a variety of disciplines who study the human past and provide training and field experience for graduate students—materials provided by the anthropology lab on campus, and countless volunteers from the community and university, SASSA reached over 600 sixth graders this past academic year.

"With SASSA, we build a bridge between science and social studies, and other subjects for that matter. Instead of working in isolation, learning is more meaningful when multiple disciplines partner with each other," says Kestly.

After hearing about the success of SASSA, seventh grade teachers at Maple Grove have reached out to Yezzi-Woodley about doing a comparative anatomy program, which has the potential to reach up to 1,500 middle school students.

"SASSA has great growth potential," says Yezzi-Woodley, mentioning the opportunity for interdisciplinary ideals and the future of the program. She has presented to the anthropology department about SASSA, applied for funding through the Maple Grove school district, and is working with teachers within the district to "combine content in the modules with curriculum."

Yezzi-Woodley expressed her gratitude for all of those who invested in the program, which was a huge undertaking but an amazing success—she can't wait for this year, and hopefully more. "I want it to live beyond me."

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.