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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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Abstract

Professional development opportunities for educators emanating from the SCI-LINK project are described over a twenty-five year period of time. Development and methodologies leading toward changes in individual and group educational practice and leadership skills are detailed. This framework is examined in three different and unique programs focused on the environment, teaching and learning techniques, social group work practices, and dissemination of information. The growing importance of global thinking is highlighted. Networking and connections, linking scientists and experts to practitioners, cooperative input of many individuals toward the teaching and learning goals – all lead toward an enduring network of individuals.

Programs examined involve twelve years of a one-day experience focused on an environmental topic; eighteen years of a one-week residential experience in a specific ecosystem; and five years of a two-week ecology and education travel experience and seminar in a foreign country.

It is of vital importance that outcomes of professional development experiences such as these are evaluated over a long time frame.


Introduction

For over 25 years, Stubbs' work has focused on professional development opportunities for educators. Several major projects were supported by the National Science Foundation: SCI-LINK began in 1991 and GLOBE-NET began in 1992, both continuing until 1996. The SCI-LINK project linked current environmental scientific research with scientists, teachers and students; the GLOBE-NET project supported the development and publishing of instructional materials representing global environmental change. In this paper, we discuss three different scenarios, all with common elements that were part of these projects or are outgrowths of what we learned in these years (Progress Report to the National Science Foundation 1996).

A specific framework that exemplifies successful strategies and methodologies for teaching and learning were presented in one-day, two-day, one week, and two week sessions. Common elements throughout these workshops include: an environmental focus, social group work practices and techniques, scientists and experts presenting information, incorporation of the culture of the local community, challenges for participants as groups and as individuals, the selection of participants representing different vocations and different locations, use of technology, and the development of an activity/ presentation/ curricula by each participant to be used in his/her home settings. Initially science teachers were targeted, but, (by request) the audience rapidly expanded to include teachers of every discipline and every age group, from K-16 to adults, to those employed as environmental educators, extension agents, administrators, and others in various non-governmental organizations (NGO's), local and state agencies, universities and schools. In the last few years, participants also come from business.

A key aspect of the course design is to draw upon numerous connections, cooperators and collaborators. Sharing and communicating, developing ongoing networks and forming an expanding and lasting ‘esprit de corps' are essential components. These components nurture inspiration, new ideas, and expand the mind. Our objective has always been, and continues to be, to enable "preK-16-adult" teachers to "be the very best that they can be," to provide quality education for their students, spilling over to co-workers, parents, and community.

Teachers have always been involved in every stage of planning, whether it is a publication, selection of a topic for a workshop, or the final product of the workshop. The Teacher Committee has been an essential component for the project's positive outcome. Scientists (for example, Cunningham et al, 2007) and experts contribute to our subject matter - another important component of our work and its results.

An overall philosophy pervades all our work. We believe that:

•  Teachers are interested in new ideas and information and want to take this new knowledge back to the classroom.

•  Teachers are skilled professionals, trained in their science subject areas, competent in teaching, knowledgeable of their students and curricula, and are the best people to translate new ideas and knowledge into classroom practice (Howe and Stubbs, 1998).

This paper discusses three approaches that have been most successful. We are still learning, and we are still fine-tuning. But the model for each has been developed and tested over time and we are comfortable in sharing these findings with others. Through the years, we have provided many ‘workshop-experiences' in each category. We are selecting one example of each to portray in this paper, providing the schedule, planning, and outcomes.

Professional Development Model in Practice

Three different programs have been in practice since 1988. Listed below are examples from each of the programs that will be elaborated upon. The first is a one-day ‘experience' focused on a specific topic of interest chosen by teachers (Teacher Day: (examples: GIS in Education; Ozone; Changes in the Environment). The second is a residential one-week workshop focused on an ecosystem in a specific place (Grandfather Mountain International Workshop). The third is a two-week international adventure in ecology and education with one week in a major metropolitan area and one week in a pristine environ to learn about education, environment (flora, fauna) and culture of that country (Brazil: Adventures in Ecology and Education).

In this paper, we will discuss:

  1. How each of these three programs were developed and carried out;
  2. How technology is embedded within the course experiences;
  3. How a network of cooperators/ partnerships/ collaboration is established;
  4. How science education, environmental education and other standards have been incorporated into each model;
  5. Evaluation and feedback that further enhance the model.

One of the tenets on which these programs are built is described below:

“…the imagination is not only about creation; it is also about how we see and how we experience. We cannot create in a fresh and lively way while looking at our world from a stale (even if familiar and comforting) perspective. So, before the productive work of the imagination can begin, we must be outside of the familiar,“ (White, 2004, p. 2).

Teacher Day

In 1991, SCI-LINK began a one-day symposium for teachers, featuring a current environmental science topic of concern. These symposia were purposely planned and held on a Friday before a weekend, in late January or early February, in the middle of the school year when both teachers and students needed a break. We believe it provided a “shot in the arm” during a down time of the year, weather-wise and school-wise. Teacher Day, held each year from 1991 - 2002 attracted educators from across North Carolina together with scientists, science educators, and government agency personnel for an extraordinary day of learning, networking and energizing. Teachers met and heard from leading scientists, who introduced current environmental research, networked with educators from other schools, and brainstormed about how to take the new information back to their students. Teacher Day provided an exciting, stimulating professional development opportunity that generated renewed enthusiasm. It gave teachers an added boost for working with their students the remainder of the school year.

Environmental topics selected by teachers for Teacher Day:

In 1991, Climate Change was a most important topic, and a symposium on the topic, led by Governor James Hunt, was held by the Emerging Issues Forum at NC State University. We requested that a special teacher cohort be allowed to attend. Those participating in the forum ascertained that classroom teachers needed more knowledge to teach their students effectively about the subject. They requested a day of information specifically for educators. Consequently, our first Teacher Day focused on Climate Change! In the following years, other Teacher Day topics included: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, or Waste Prevention, Ozone (Ground-level), Water, Global Change, Wetlands and Estuaries, Environmental Health, Geographic Information Systems (Stubbs, et. al., 2002), and in 2000: Changes in the Environment: Implications for the 21st Century. Many educators returned each year!

Staging Teacher Day

A successful day does not simply “happen”. It is vitally important to "positively stage" such an experience. Even the smallest detail is important, which we found were often overlooked in ordinary professional development experiences. We wanted to focus on educators, to be certain they knew we thought they were very important people. We wanted to support them and let them know they were doing a most important job! We held our Teacher Days at the conference center and at the faculty club at NCSU (teachers could become accustomed to the university setting when they returned for class work). The following items and activities contributed to making Teacher Day a positive experience for our teachers.

  1. Hello! Glad you're here! Master Teachers and office staff greeted participants as they arrived. Tables were manned by Master Teachers and office staff to quickly and conveniently register participants.

  2. Name tags had the first name of the participant in a large font size, easy to see, and difficult to ignore. We tried many different types of nametags, and agreed we liked the ones that clip on. (These nametags were collected at the end of the day, to be used the following year, illustrating our ongoing recycling within the project).

  3. Packets of resource materials, compiled and assembled by SCI-LINK/ GLOBE-NET project staff and teachers, were provided to each participating teacher and included maps, booklets, background information, photographs, videos, websites, books, bibliographies, etc. These resource materials were donated by organizations, agencies, and NGO's – all usable by educators in their classrooms, nature centers, wherever they worked. We obtained special bags for the teachers to add to - sometimes from the NC State bookstore; sometimes a grocery store; sometimes a book company – all donations, indicative of the reuse, recycle focus.

  4. Exhibits in an adjacent room offered demonstrations, specific handouts, curricula, and a chance to meet resource personnel in federal, state and local agencies, environmental science organizations, as well as publishers and producers of resource materials. Time to visit the exhibits was a must, and might be scheduled before the program began, during the break time, after lunch, or after the program was completed.

  5. Breaks were carefully planned. Some breaks were the time for mixing and conversation. Or a short break might suffice, to simply stand up, turn around and talk with the person behind you. During a longer break, there might be assignments to complete within a group. A time limit was always established and a bell set. Different teachers were assigned (randomly) in each group to report back to the entire audience at a designated time.

  6. Lunch
  • Inspirational luncheon speaker selected by The Teacher Committee.
  • Luncheon menu chosen by The Teacher Committee. These lunches were always filling and delicious, but were not the most expensive lunch on the menu. Vegetarian choice was available.
  • Small round tables seating eight, enabled participants to talk with every person at the table. It is most important for each person to be able to interact with everyone. Many times, seating was arranged with nametags at each place, so educators would be purposely mixed, and friends did NOT sit together.
  • Centerpieces. Sometimes, these were provided by students of Master Teachers, illustrating a particular point – i.e., recycling, invasive plants of an area, etc. Placemats were occasionally donated by students in the teachers' classes.
  • Problems to be solved during lunch. At times, each table was given a different question to discuss/ and or a problem to solve.

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Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal
a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC
Volume 12, Issue 2, 2009
ISSN 1097-9778
URL: http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/summer2009/
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