Climate in My Backyard summer camp session immerses kids grades 5–7 in climate and ecosystem science

Dan Vanderpool teaches students about pine beetles.

Whether you ski, float, farm or fish, the climate affects you and your ecosystem – from microbes to entire watersheds. That was the main message conveyed to participants in the June 2013 IoE session of Montana State University’s weeklong Peaks & Potentials camp for high ability kids entering grades 5, 6 and 7. During the session, five university researchers led the youth in hands-on activities and discussions that mimicked the types of research that they conduct.


Learning objectives for the students were to describe what affects and changes ecosystems, to demonstrate an understanding of how scientists study climate change, and to understand how climate change can impact Montana’s ecosystems.


Dr. Tony Hartshorn, assistant professor in MSU’s Land Resources and Environmental Science (LRES) department, described the carbon cycle and greenhouse gases and took the students on a field trip to Towne’s Harvest garden to see his carbon dioxide sampling robots. He led them in an experiment to investigate what conditions increase carbon dioxide release from soils. 


Shavonn Whiten, MSU graduate student in the LRES Department and a member of Robert Peterson’s lab, discussed mosquitoes as vectors for infectious diseases and their potential responses to climate change. She was assisted by MSU undergraduate Hannah Bares.


Erica Garroutte, MSU graduate student in the Ecology department and a member of Andy Hansen’s lab, led the students in activities relating to phenology (the timing of natural events such as the green-up of vegetation) and how it may impact elk as climate changes. 


Dan Vanderpool, UM graduate student in the Division of Biological Sciences and a member of John McCutcheon’s lab, and Ryan Bracewell, UM graduate student in the College of Forestry and Conservation and a member of Diana Six’s lab, led the students in an investigation of pine beetles, the fungus they eat, and their role in Montana’s ecosystems. 


Quick Facts

Ten children attended (7 from Bozeman, 1 from Livingston, 1 from Deer Lodge and 1 from Billings)

Each child received 7.5 instruction hours

Five IoE affiliated researchers participated (3 from MSU, 2 from UM)

Evaluation demonstrated that the youth unanimously rated the sessions as educational and enjoyable. They also indicated that they were more informed about the topics addressed and were motivated to learn more about the topics.

Students improved their scores on a pre/post questionnaire about climate-related questions by 25%.


Researchers who would like to participate in the 2014 Peaks & Potentials camp can contact Jamie Cornish at



MSU IoE Office

Montana State University
605 Leon Johnson Hall
Bozeman, MT 59717
(406) 994-2374
MSU Director: Bruce Maxwell

UM IoE Office

The Universityi of Montana

The University of Montana
Davidson Honors College
Missoula, MT 59812
(406) 243-6058
UM Director: Maury Valett


Montana University System

Montana University System

Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education
2500 Broadway Street
Helena, MT 59620