Environmental Education × 2
Concept and Goals:
This teaching internship was designed to give me the opportunity to teach environmental curriculum through the semester to two very distinct classrooms. It was built off not just my interest in teaching, but my involvement in two groups: Environmental Education for Kids (EEK) and the Whitman Hiking Club. In both these roles, I act as a leader to groups of students: EEK is a Whitman Club that brings Whitman students into Walla Walla elementary schools to teach a classroom any sort of environmental classes they wish to present; in the Hiking Club I lead several trips each semester with anywhere from two to 13 other participants due to my role as president. This semester, I put one and one together and designed an environmental internship where I would bring education to my hikes and use myself as a test case for analyzing education, specifically environmental-based education, from the perspective of multiple age groups and classroom settings. I had goals to build my teacher and leader roles and abilities, to become more familiar as a teacher for peers and a peer for elementary students, to improve my abilities and expand my experiences designing and delivering student-based classes, to learn and improve techniques for engaging an audience, and of course to directly analyze differences, similarities, and reflections of the learning styles and appropriate teaching methods of students young and old, in the classroom or in the backcountry.
Classes and Trips Overview
During the semester of EEK, Zoë Plakias, Johannah Withrow-Robinson, Andrew Moiseff, and I volunteered from 1:00 to 2:00 PM on Tuesdays at Sharpstein Elementary School for the roughly 45 combined students in Mrs. Martinez and Mrs. Van Donge’s classrooms. These two classrooms shared lesson plans and a big common room and we alternated between combining the classrooms and splitting everything in two. As I am the only member of this volunteer group who had volunteered for EEK before, I first recruited the other three individually to join me in the program. We met every Monday evening before our class to decide upon the topic, content, activities, and materials we would have to bring for the next day. After losing two weeks organizing ourselves, missing three weeks to misaligned spring breaks, two or three elementary school conflicts, and the rest of the semester to finals, we were glad to get six complete classes at Sharpstein.
As president and founder of the Hiking Club, I have traditionally led between five and eight trips each semester I have attended Whitman. For class material, I asked OP Director Brian Sheedy to loan me what Leave No Trace documentation he had; he happily obliged, and, as an LNT master, shared a great deal of pamphlets, teaching pointers, varying alternatives of the principles for varying backcountry settings, etc. I spent an evening reading them over, and returned them. The sad news is that, due to unprecedented conflict with OP trips and personal rugby, Phi Delt, and class obligations, I only led three trips this semester. The first, a day-long snowshoe January 29th took place when the formation of this internship was not yet complete. Since then, I led a five day snowshoeing trip this spring break from Tuesday March 21st through Saturday the 25th. Following that I will have seven weekend days free of any rugby commitments in April, and I plan on leading a bare minimum of three day trips.
The first day the four of us taught at Mrs. Martinez and Mrs. Van Donge’s classroom, February 14th, we taught a soil curriculum that I developed parallel to what the students were learning in science. We started out with introductions and our general purpose, then engaged in a discussion about what counts as the environment. We asked where the environment is in the students’ lives, and determined with lots of examples and hand-raising that the environment is everything around them. We then hosted a discussion on soils to see how much they knew about leeching, pollutant absorption, erosion, nutrients, and agriculture. For our activity, we took the entire class outside. Each student was given a colored card indicating soil, wind, or water, and the students were informed how they would interact as if they were these three materials undergoing erosion in the world. Laughing and cheering, the wind and water kids carried soil kids to various places in the playground. We then returned to the classroom and wrapped up with conclusions of the day and a re-introduction of the four of us.
The second week we were given free reign to teach whatever we wanted. I adopted a lesson I had previously used for EEK before that focused on the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. We talked about what these three concepts meant and how they worked, including questions about relevancy and applicability to the second graders’ lives. We added compost to the bottom the list and discussed that too. Students were encouraged to discuss their personal stories or reflections on the three R’s, and we included car use into our discussion. We had brought in eleven day-to-day items including rechargeable batteries, a magazine, sheets of paper, and an empty plastic water bottle. One at a time, we engaged the kids in a discussion of how they could apply the three R’s to each item-concept we brought in their lives. We then brought out pictures of various different types of vehicles: a hybrid car, a bus, a bicycle, a hummer, etc. Each vehicle was assigned a passenger capacity and a pollution index. Groups of the students ‘drove’ around the room; for each lap a certain number of packing peanuts equal to the pollution index was ‘polluted.’ After the students picked up the trash, we helped them realize the effect that different cars will have on the environment (you can’t pick up exhaust once you’re done!), and the importance of minimizing (Reduce!) driving and polluting.
The third week we discussed water and streams. We broke the class in two with Zoë and Jo in one room and Andrew and I in the other. We started by asking where water can be found in the world and in the kids’ lives. We talked about the difference between salt and fresh water and between ice, liquid water, and water vapor. We discussed streams and watersheds extensively, showing how pollution travels downstream in any watershed affecting more than just the location of the pollution. We explained and discussed that pollution or maintenance of watersheds affect life of all kinds, in and out of the stream. Uses and conservation of water were discussed as well. We then explained the water cycle thoroughly. Ultimately, each class section was broken into three sub-groups and given large pieces of white poster paper: seven poster versions of the water cycle was the colorful and insightful result. The posters were quite creative and included many more relevant (and irrelevant) items in the water cycle than the minimum basic steps.
Next we brought the idea of human communities and food
resources to Sharpstein. We may have pushed the maximum complexity that we could
teach to an energized classroom of second graders. However, I am glad we challenged
their views and pushed how much we could teach: lots of the kids showed that
they had not only learned something, but also reacted enthusiastically to learning
the concepts. Our main points focused on availability of resources with a spotlight
on food. We explained how extra energy and resources had to be used up to transport
food produced in Florida than food produced in Washington state. We discussed
the difference in financial flow between a farmer’s market and a large
international chain store. We basically encouraged the students to conceptualize
why acting locally is important, and to think beyond the idea that food simply
comes from the grocery store. Our activity was another poster; many small groups
each drew a food and resources web inside a community and between multiple communities.
Because it was a necessarily complex and almost abstract series of connections
we were asking the students to construct, they deviated to a lot of very
interesting and well-thought drawings that, after each group presented, showed a lot of creative insight to the general ideas we’d talked about for an hour.
Our fifth lesson we decided to scale back. The four of us took the two combined classes outside on a sunny day, sat in the grass, and took turns reading Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney to the class. The book has illustrations nearly beautiful enough to make it a picture book, and the story describes the life of a girl who wants to visit wonderful places. But she is told that there is something else she must do: she must do something to make the world a more beautiful place. So after traveling to many a wonderful land, she retires to a little cottage by the sea and spreads lupine seeds everywhere. The flowers celebrate her life. At the end of the book, the narrator asks the reader, “what will you do to make the world a more beautiful place?”
Our last class we wanted to do something fun, memorable,
and comprehensive. So last Tuesday, we brought a big bucket of dirt, several
thick newspapers, and a bag of flower seeds to Sharpstein and started out by
teaching them how to make a rolled-up pot with the newspapers. Then we went
outside, filled our cups with dirt (mixed with a healthy combination of worms
and what the kids called roly-polies ), and after a good deal of grubby messing
about, got in a circle and all stuck seeds in a finger-hole. There was a good
deal we had planned to explain about plants and their relevance to everything
else we’d already covered, but in my half-group with Johannah, I decided
to break the 20 kids into five groups to discuss what they remembered about
water, the three R’s, soils, food, and air and energy issues and connect
their ideas to the plants they were all holding in their hands. It worked out
great! After 15 minutes of small group discussion while Jo and
Mrs. Martinez and me wandering around to supervise and encourage discussion, we gathered back together and each group volunteered and reflected on as many ideas and points I could have hoped for! The coolest thing, I think, was that more than half the class, without much prompting, expressed their surprise and epiphany that such a great many things (water, oxygen/carbon dioxide, nutrients, etc) work in cycles. On that note, we told all the kids to plant their newspaper flowers in the ground at home and I high-five’d them all a great summer.
Hiking Club Curriculum
Structure works well for me; when not actively encouraged
to do something I wouldn’t do otherwise, I find it hard to execute and
do it. More than a depreciation of performance in this internship, my minimal
education work I did through the Hiking Club upsets me more because of the personal
goals I had set for this activity, and it is an indicator of the painfully few
hiking trips I managed to go on / lead this semester. I did, however, manage
to explain and discuss the LNT principles with groups of two on two trips. A
snowshoe trip over spring break with Luke Decker and Curt Lindley was planned
to be five days long from the 22nd to the 26th of March in the Wallowas. We
planned on attempting the summit of Eagle Cap peak, but my stove disappointingly
clogged up on the first night and we had to turn back. Anyway, after dinner
the first night, I spelled out the seven principles of LNT. Beneath each principle
are a number of individual points about how to live in and interact with the
backcountry through that principle and in multiple backcountry settings. We
got to several of the finer points before conversation drifted on
to cruder or more speculative issues…
The only trip I’ve lead since spring break was a Sunday day trip up Juniper Canyon with Forest Carver and Michael Albertine. We stopped for a while for lunch in the sun and I told them I wanted to talk about LNT. Mike already knew as much as I did, so he did some collaborating on my explanations of the seven points and their application to our interactions with backcountry environments.
Personal and Classroom Analysis
Although I was able to get some information across and teach some to Whitman students on hiking trips, I certainly lived up to personal and internship goals much better through my volunteer activities at Sharpstein. I am disappointed that I haven’t found the time to get into the woods as much this semester; not only has it diminished my accomplishments for this internship, it has limited my ability to enjoy and express my love for the woods, mountains and the leadership role. I did, however, find personal success with my Environmental Education for Kids activities this semester. I recruited three new students new to the club, I built my love for and abilities in elementary classrooms, and I helped inspire a respect and appreciation for some very important matters in the lives of a very large group of impressionable students. Judging my performance as externally as I can, I think I acted to personally and unenthusiastically with my own peers. It’s hard to jump into an authoritative, instructive role to briefly teach material to your own classmates and then jump back again smoothly! In the classroom, however, I built my creativity and effectiveness in inventing a topic and developing a plan to teach it; I improved my ability to smoothly interact with kids way outside of my normal social group; best yet, I exercised and greatly built upon my teaching abilities in the classroom. We always had a general idea what we were going to teach each day, but I often found myself jumping to other relevant topics, focusing on what seemed to be difficult for the students to grasp as creatively as I could, or learning to involve the classroom in ways that worked best toward class learning. Basically, I really enjoyed playing the role of teacher because I really enjoyed greatly improving my ability to do so.
This internship has been many things for me this semester. I’ve learned a little about the difficulty of teaching to peers: When I took two friends into the woods for a day in late January, I was already aware that I’d be doing an internship dealing with outdoor education. However, not only did I think that I’d lead many subsequent (more prepared) trips by now, but I also felt very self-conscious about the idea of forcing a lesson upon friends of mine who only wanted to hike. Since I very much want to spend a good portion of my working life leading recreational therapy expeditions for “high-potential” or “at-risk” teens, the very important lesson that I’ve taken from this internship is that ease of interaction with peers in a teaching role is a weakness that I need to work on. I love being a leader in the back country and can take personal responsibility for the safety of a group in dangerous situations, but I still feel awkward hitting the pause on the friend button to play educator to a group that I’m not only leading, but also a part of.
As far as my reflections of Environmental Education
for Kids go, the most interesting thing I’ve picked up on is the nature
and dynamics of co-teaching in a group. Zoë and Jo and Andrew and I are
all quite competent in regards to the material that we’re teaching, but
a certain degree of leadership is required to invent and share every aspect
of a day’s lesson. When we get together to plan out a class, I really
enjoy coming up with ideas and sharing them. Further into the semester though,
after the midterm was due, I learned to
relax my personal responsibility to come up with lessons and found myself equally capable being nothing more than an equal in a team of four. This was an important step for me; overcoming the jump from leader to peer and back again is an important challenge that was part of the reason my hiking classes were necessarily short.
Continuing to learn ways to develop and co-develop lesson plans was also a very rewarding process: teaching of all kinds, as even the LNT principles would agree, starts with planning ahead and preparing. This semester the four of us did an excellent job not only communicating with each other for our lesson preparations, but also actually creatively developing fun and informational lessons that involved everyone in the classroom in a shared learning experience.
The two biggest challenges I met at Sharpstein were characterized by unnecessarily high and unnecessarily low levels of interest and energy. There were the shy kids and the criers, and there were the blurters or the chaos-wrecking off-the-wall kids. Taking one low-self-esteem student, Justin, aside when he was disappointed to tears was a good experience for the two of us. He was mad at himself for not being able to draw like everyone else. He wouldn’t be cheered until I promised next week to make sure to be in his class if we split and make sure he did as good a job or better than anyone else. I followed through, too, and managed to remember his name and give him a bit more attention with a shadow of a smile in return for the last three classes.
I wish I had gone on more hiking trips. I really do.
But I did teach some LNT on the two trips I lead after the internship was rolling.
And I did learn an important lesson about myself when I did it. I haven’t
tried much to compare and contrast teaching styles with both age, personal familiarity,
and setting as variables in this report mostly because my limited hiking trips
has kept me from giving me any well-constructed answers or reflections. I do
know, however, that my work with Jo and Andrew and Zoë and two classrooms
worth of Sharpstein’s finest has affected and improved me in many ways.
Through direct experience, I learned a lot about teamwork and about preparing
and presenting creative lessons designed for a specific group of students, and
that was what this internship was all about.