This semester I interned at Pathways Back with Rob Jensen and Trevor Frank. We taught an environmental education lesson to teenagers in the juvenile justice system every Monday morning.
Reflections, Things I Have Learned
I learned a lot this semester about the philosophy behind environmental
education and what I think are effective teaching methods. There is a debate
within the subject of environmental education about how objective this type
of education should be and whether it should try and instill some sort of environmental
ethic or whether it should just lay out the facts. I thought about this question
often when we planned lessons for this class. Rob, Trevor, and I obviously care
about the environmental and our values came across in the lessons that we taught.
I thought this was fine as long as we didn’t make the lessons blatantly
moral or political, but some may disagree.
Teaching methods were another thing that I reflected on often while doing this internship. It was often difficult to gauge what material would be too remedial and what would be too difficult, particularly because we had few ways to gain feedback from the students themselves apart from facial expressions. I think that the most effective way of teaching, at least for this class, was to engage the students through hands-on activities. This was when they seemed to be most responsive, and often paved the way for unplanned discussions where they could ask questions casually and we could talk to them in a more friendly way.
Similar to what I said in my mid-semester report, our biggest successes occurred when we planned activities. These included cookie mining, constructing water filters, and making notebooks out of recyclable materials. At the end of the semester, Lisa Franklin, the teacher at Pathways Back, gave us a student-produced newsletter that included an article one of the students wrote about the water activity. The fact that this student chose to write about the lesson that had probably included the most activity time out of all the lessons we did this semester supports the importance of activities.
Finding time to meet became easier as the semester progressed, but it was never actually easy, considering it involved coordinating the schedules of three very busy people. Thinking of activities and finding the appropriate resources for our lesson plans was also sometimes difficult, although certainly never impossible. Finding engaging ways to convey information that did not involve hands-on activities was probably one of the biggest difficulties—I realized this semester that talking is a skill that can be developed, and that some ways of talking about a subject are more effective, whether it be talking more slowly, repeating things, or interspersing comments with corny yet hilarious jokes.
We taught from 9:00 am to 10:00 am on Monday mornings. We met once or twice a week, depending on our schedules, to plan for the next week’s lesson.
Goals and Objectives
1. Learn more about the Pathways Back Program.
2. Improve my teaching skills and find out the most effective ways to convey information about environmental issues.
3. Learn more about environmental issues.
4. Gain firsthand knowledge about the juvenile justice system and the challenges that these teenagers face.
Ultimately I think I achieved goals 1, 2, and 3, but not goal 4. I used Pathways Back as the topic of a semester long project in my Environmental Sociology class, which gave me an opportunity to do more research on the program than I otherwise would have. The entire semester was a personal lesson in learning how to teach and relearning some key environmental issues. Unfortunately, our contact with the students at Pathways Back was so brief and structured that we did not have a chance to learn more about them personally.
Recommendations for Future Interns
1. Plan fun activities for every lesson, preferably with food- Our best lessons by far were the ones that got the students involved, even if the activities were silly or simple. Activities also put everyone at ease. It took us almost the entire semester to figure this out, so hopefully this advice will prevent the same problem for a future intern.
2. Do not leave prep meetings until the last minute- This will ensure that if you need anything for the lesson, like food, activity supplies, or videos, you will have time to get it.
3. Do not put students on the spot- Most students do not have a strong background in environmental issues, and they are not very fond of talking in class. One time we tried to put them in two groups and have the two sides debate energy issues, and that did not work at all. At least for this class, vocal participation should be voluntary.
4. Prioritize teaching key concepts, not trying to squish a weeks worth of material into an hour.
5. Have fun!