PITTSBURG — The fourth graders at Lakeside Elementary School will take on a new job this week — park rangers for Yellowstone National Park.

A scaled-down version of the historic park was unveiled in the school auditorium Monday.

Funded through the Bess Spiva Timmons Foundation and crowdfunding site Donorschoose.org, this ambitious STEM project incorporates curriculum into hands-on experience.

The fourth graders became experts in various parts of the park and served as teachers for the third graders. Across multiple stations, the students opened owl pellets, studied flora and fauna, and recreated Old Faithful, mud pots, fossils, and food webs. They also learned camp songs and made s’mores.

The simulation will run again on Wednesday and Thursday, with Tuesday serving as an open house presentation for parents.

Similar projects tied to social studies and court cases had been conducted before. However, fourth grade teacher Babs Tims said she wanted to create a simulation that encompassed science, technology, engineering, and math.

“My sister and I went to Yellowstone and thought ‘wow, that’s it,’” Tims said. “I came back and looked at our third and fourth grade standards and thought this could work, so next year those third graders will know to teach this to the next class and pass it on down the line.”

The fourth grade teacher emphasized how much she wanted as many students to have as much hands-on experience as possible.

“I tell my students that all I can do is teach, so letting them learn so well that they are able to teach others — that’s the part that makes me smile,” she said. “I don’t give them too many answers and I tell them to ask a lot of questions because I’m a discovery-based teacher.”

At least a couple of students discussed that joy of discovery.

“It was really fun to explore when we first got here,” said student Kadin Navaratnam. “We didn’t know anything at first and we were like ‘is that an omnivore or a herbivore skull?’”

The students will culminate this week of rangering with a trip to George Washington Carver National Monument Friday. Tims said she hopes her students gain an appreciation for the national park system as a result of this experience.

“I also hope we can learn from today and do an even better job for the rest of the week,” she said. “I tell the students we learn more from our failures than our successes, so if something goes wrong, we can let them be the problem solvers.”

 — Brandon Schmitz is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be reached at bschmitz@morningsun.net.