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Ecology, Environment and Education: Teaching and Learning in
National and International
Professional Development Experiences

Harriett S. Stubbs, Christiane de Gioppo, Arlita McNamee

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7. Prizes and Surprises. One year, prizes were given for the person who came from the farthest distance away. Or to the first person to arrive! Or, prizes might be given for those who had attended at least 7 of the Teacher Days. Special awards were given to those who held a leadership role. We tried to surprise participants, so no one ever knew precisely what to expect.

8. Activity development. Each participant developed an activity from an idea they gleaned from Teacher Day – to be taught in the educator's home environment. This process is discussed by Anderson (1993a) in detail. Possibly the most important aspect is the immediate application of what has been learned. Participants wonder during the day what their activity will be and these ideas are honed during group discussions. Initially, the participant expresses critical uncertainty about the topic to be chosen, questions about how to develop an activity, and finally, relief when all the pieces come together. The activity development is a process all its own!

9. Advances in technology. When we first began, few teachers were using computers and in fact, they were learning from their students! Stubbs states, “I'll never forget the time when I had to show teachers how to turn on a computer – they were really afraid of the machine! All 30 teachers were sitting before new computers at a nearby university, not knowing how to use them!” Anderson (1994) developed a booklet Tips for Writing on the Computer to help with the transition. As time went on, teachers became more adept, and today, registration by computer, submission of work electronically, communicating with one another via Skype and other programs are the norm (Stubbs et al, 2003).

Developing “esprit de corps” Among Attendees

Every person is important! Everyone is accepted! To facilitate this idea, each participant was asked to address everyone by first name. At the beginning of the workshop, everyone was asked to introduce themselves quickly to the person sitting on either side, behind, and in front. Many other techniques were employed during all events. FUN is an essential component of all our programs!

These one-day "seminars" were perfect for teachers as well as the experts. No one had to travel far, since Raleigh is a midpoint in the state. An "esprit de corps" developed among attendees. Scientists were introduced to teachers in "easy" comfortable settings, where teachers could ask questions and become informed. Then, teachers at a later time, felt comfortable asking a scientist to visit their classroom to present information to their students. Anderson (1993b) developed a booklet to support the experts/ speakers who had not presented before to educators. This was unheard of at the time – but certain procedures and methods were necessary in our early encounters with scientists who rarely worked with teachers and/or their students. And, in this setting, scientists who were not accustomed to working with educators could learn how to address teachers in groups, to become aware of what teachers needed and wanted, and be more comfortable in the broader educational environment which is quite different from their research surroundings.

A focus on a specific topic area, as selected by the Teacher Committee, was a way to fill a need for educators who needed more information to effectively teach their students - in the areas of science, mathematics, engineering and humanities – and eventually, all subjects! We purposely asked experts of different persuasions to present, thus providing more balanced views on any topic.

Faculty and teachers from other states were invited to attend to provide different perspectives. These invitees served as guest speakers, group leaders, and/or facilitators of small groups. These teachers and faculty members would later meet at state and national professional meetings.

Evaluation

Usually, in groups, participants reviewed the day's program and discussed what they would like as follow-up, how they would teach what they had learned, and what information their students could use. Then, each completed an individual evaluation – one page of open-ended questions - as they left the symposium and in turn, picked up their information packet and Continuing Education Form (CEU). Evaluations were tallied and submitted back to each teacher and sponsoring organization within two weeks. We would carefully review the evaluations afterward with the site manager, caterer and those connected with support activities. These evaluations were most important for review of staff members and for our future success with the Teacher Day programs.

Schedules

Developing and following a workable schedule is critical for any professional development activity. Sometimes the details seem too trivial. Certainly details take an inordinate amount of time, but we have found attention to these details has "paid off.'' This process includes: develop goals and objectives of the day, then fill in the schedule and follow through with scientists/ experts speakers, add teacher input throughout the day, include group work, individual work, a time to share and talk, evaluate, always closing on a positive note.

A specific schedule, Teacher Day: Global Change (1995) has been included (Appendix A), since this topic has received much publicity and attention recently (13 years later) (Stubbs & Anderson, 1995).

Teacher Day was a successful, extraordinary day of learning, networking and energizing. Educators met and heard from leading scientists, caught up on current environmental research, networked with teachers from other schools, and brainstormed about how to take the new information back to their students. This Day provided an exciting, stimulating professional development opportunity that generated renewed enthusiasm for the remainder of the school year. Many teachers invited the experts to present current environmental research to their classrooms.

Barriers for this Type of Experience Arose Over Time

Professional organizations within the state developed a stronger presence, providing much of the camaraderie opportunities for educators on a wider scale. Teachers could attain a position of leadership within the state, moving into the national scene. Many current topics are now addressed within the professional organization annual meetings, although the information is not as concentrated as what the Teacher Day provided. Many of the teachers within North Carolina became Board Certified Teachers (N.C. has the largest number of any state in the country), opening and broadening the educator's breadth of vision, knowledge of other teachers, and program possibilities. Many new teachers came into the state from other states and other countries with already established distant relationships.

School budgets shrank. Gradually, teachers were required to pay for their own substitutes. Substitute pay had risen significantly, thus creating a financial hardship for a teacher with no school support. And finally, school districts no longer allowed professional development opportunities outside their own districts. Instead, teachers were required to attend professional development workshops offered within their own districts. These "training sessions" were specific to grade level, or to a school, or to elementary schools within the district, etc. Different requirements within that district responded to requirements of No Child Left Behind leaving little flexibility on the part of the school administration.

Cooperators for the many Teacher Days included: North Carolina State University, Wake County Schools, hundreds of teachers from other school districts in North Carolina, Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio. Teachers volunteered their time to plan, execute, and participate in Teacher Day to make it a success. Faculty members from NC, IA, and MN, in many different disciplines volunteered their time to make scientific presentations, participate in panel discussions, and provide follow-up to those teachers and students who requested further information. Community members volunteered their resource materials. We could not have accomplished this effort without the SCI-LINK staff. We were grateful for the support and help of many different arenas.

Grandfather Mountain International Workshop

This workshop is a residential one-week experience focused on an ecosystem emphasizing science, natural history, and culture of the area. The first SCI-LINK residential summer workshop at Grandfather Mountain was held in 1992. In those early years, we met in the mountaintop building, where we all truly experienced this unique ecosystem through rain, snow, fog, and high winds. In his yearly presentations to educators, Hugh Morton, owner of Grandfather Mountain, discussed environmental changes he had observed. He dedicated his life to preserving Grandfather Mountain, one of the most environmentally significant mountains in the world. Many acres were donated to the United Nations' Man and the Biosphere Program, ensuring its protection for all time. Visits to the Nature Museum and surrounding habitats showcase the 47 rare and endangered species found there. Today, Crae Morton is carrying forth the vision of his grandfather presenting an historical view, an update of what is occurring today, and a vision for the future. Morton children, Jim and Kathryn are also actively involved. Recently, Grandfather Mountain became the 34th state park and natural area in North Carolina.

Organization of the Workshop

Originally offered only to science teachers, the workshop has expanded its audience to teachers at all grade levels, from every subject area, parents, community members, representatives of NGO's such as Outward Bound, Scouts, 4-H, nature centers, correctional facilities, colleges, universities, government agencies such as state agencies, and extension. Participants come from many states in the U.S., and different countries such as Monaco, Finland (over 8 years), and Brazil (5 years). All work together to learn about the mountains. The workshop includes fieldwork, training in environmental monitoring, lectures by research scientists, and informal discussions with scientists. Emphasis is placed on sharing and learning with fellow educators. Teachers work in small groups to develop classroom activities based on current scientific research presented by workshop lecturers and use the internet to research environmental science topics. Features of the experience include:

•  Housing, dining, computer and library facilities, and evening activities are at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina.
•  Daily activities, including lectures and field work are at Grandfather Mountain, Lees-McRae College, and other sites.
•  Graduate credits, CEU credits are available.
•  Educators from all disciplines are encouraged to attend. Workshop materials are provided.
•  Participants have free time (though it is never enough) to explore the wonders of Grandfather Mountain and the surrounding area.

Use of Technology

This one-week workshop immerses teachers in the mountain environment through research presentations and outdoor activities, and requires educators to develop hands-on, inquiry-based activities to take back to their own classrooms and non-formal centers. Participants work on college computers, keep notes, research topics, download photographs, work on GIS, design new activities for home, school and other workplace settings. New technologies have been introduced and trialed during different workshops. These include GIS software, Power Point, Skype, and the use of video and/or digital cameras. Activities developed by the participants require incorporation of technology in a new program, new applications to be used in classrooms or non-formal locations, or a new learning technique. Workshops include environmental monitoring strategies, some of which require computers.

Representative Topics of Study

A representative week (this selected week from 2008) might include: Presentations by research scientists Stewart Skeate on mountain plant and animal habitats, Robert Bruck on mountain ecosystems and air quality, Amy and Wayne Van Devender on salamanders, snails, and other critters, Jack Callahan on the geology, rocks and minerals of western North Carolina. Participants met author Doris Bliss and her daughter Elizabeth Stanton to hear about past years of mountain life. Jeanine Davis presented research results on the cultivation of woodland medicinal herbs black cohosh, bloodroot, goldenseal, and ramps. Patrick Beggs discussed his work with communities on water quality issues. International presentations about education, K-12, university, in different countries including Brazil and Finland were enlightening. Rita Hagevik described GIS uses in outdoor settings, and required participants to develop classroom applications. Lees-McRae's President and Provost Debbie Thatcher, science education, presented their expertise from a local private college viewpoint. These are some of the topic areas participants may anticipate in the summer program!

Grandfather Mountain International Workshop Schedule, 2007

A detailed schedule is found in Appendix B. Please note the similarity to the Teacher Day schedule – i.e., speakers/ experts of specific topic areas; individual and group work, technology use, and emphasis on the educator. Activities developed by workshop participants are placed on the SCI-LINK website, initially developed by Finnish teacher/participant Kari Nuuttila in the early years. The Finns shared their expertise with the uses of technology – new to many teachers! Activities have been taught in other workshops, incorporated into publications produced by others, and/or have been the basis for further curriculum development (Bray, N. 1998). Many participants return as leaders the following year and/or participate in other professional development opportunities (Howe and Stubbs 2003). A workshop participant from the North Carolina Summer 2008 stated,

"All of the activities in this workshop have been wonderful – the information from the scientists, the new lessons that I will incorporate into my classroom, and seeing a completely different ecosystem."

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Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal
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Volume 12, Issue 2, 2009
ISSN 1097-9778
URL: http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/summer2009/
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