Jill Schulte
Environmental Studies 220

Internship Final Report: EEK

For my internship this semester, I served as the coordinator of EEK, Whitman’s Environmental Education for Kids club. I was responsible for managing club logistics, such as the listserv and club recognition, facilitating meetings, coordinating with teachers and afterschool programs, planning and executing lessons with a group, and maintaining records of lesson plans used.

Goals and Objectives

• Facilitate a positive experience with environmental education for children and volunteers
• Teach (and enable others to teach) appreciation and stewardship of the natural environment
• Ensure that lessons are conducted in a respectful and responsible manner and do not encroach upon students’ views
• Gain more experience and confidence working with children
• Expand upon my knowledge of effective teaching techniques and successful lesson ideas

Successes, Difficulties and Logistics:

Overall, this has been a very successful internship. By the end of the semester, there were three groups of 3-5 EEK members visiting classrooms regularly to conduct 3-4 week lesson plans. Lessons ranged from general environmental appreciation to habitat identification and alternative energy sources. One group visited a first grade classroom at Berney Elementary, another visited a fourth grade classroom at Green Park Elementary, and the third visited a group of 3-5 grade students at Paine Alternative High School as part of its home school integration program. Every group had a very positive experience and was welcomed by teachers and students alike. Groups met weekly to plan lessons, and the entire EEK club met every few weeks to discuss lesson ideas and resources.

My classroom group, which gave lessons to Diane Randgaard’s fourth grade class at Green Park, had much fun and success in the classroom. Our lessons were based on the “everything is connected” theme, and we discussed ecosystems, the food chain, habitats, and how basic conservation can help preserve these things. The kids were much smarter and better informed about environmental issues than we expected, so our lessons got progressively more challenging as our visits continued. They were very excited to discuss nature and to see fresh faces in their classroom, and it was a wholly satisfying and productive experience.
In addition, EEK is now an officially recognized Whitman club with a listserv, an ASWC representative, and a budget for teaching resources. Communication with ASWC about club matters has been difficult and sporadic, but hopefully next semester we will have access to club funds to use for books, art supplies, and other materials we might need.

EEK has also been active in the Whitman community. We provided an activity during Family Weekend designed for younger siblings visiting campus. Even though we advertised heavily, no children actually attended, but we were well prepared with books, games, and supplies for crayon leaf prints. We were scheduled for Friday afternoon when many families were just arriving, so perhaps in the future we’ll have a better time slot and some attendees.

While I have achieved my goals for the semester, there were many frustrating elements to the coordination of EEK that I encountered when I was getting started. The most notable difficulty was communication with teachers. To get in touch with teachers initially, Kay Fenimore-Smith, the club’s faculty advisor, volunteered to contact local elementary school principals because of her ties through the education department. They contacted teachers at their schools, who wrote to Kay, who forwarded their messages to me, and then I wrote back and waited for a reply. All of these middlemen created a lot of lag time and a lot of frustration. Many teachers did not respond to my follow-ups until I had written three or four e-mails over a span of several weeks. Consequently, we were not able to start classroom visits until much later than we expected.

It was also very difficult to coordinate the schedules of teachers and EEK members. I had EEK members fill out schedule forms to indicate when they were free, but matching these to teacher schedules was very complicated and time-consuming. Several EEK members weren’t able to participate because they weren’t free at certain times. Also, we encountered some transportation difficulties because the group at Berney Elementary didn’t have a way to get there, and it took them awhile to find someone with a car. It would have been much easier to restrict our services to schools within walking distance and to have EEK members sign up for classroom groups at a meeting instead of through schedule forms.

I was concerned at the beginning of the semester that membership might dwindle as time passed, but this has not presented a significant problem. About 30 people attended the first two meetings, and attendance dropped to about 15 after that. However, those 15 members have been steadily involved in EEK and have expressed interest in continuing classroom visits next semester. Some EEK members who have not been able to participate in classrooms have helped plan lessons because they want to be involved. I have been thoroughly impressed with the quality of EEK’s membership.

Reflections and Experience:

This internship has been very valuable for me as both a coordinator and educator. In trying to organize teachers and students in the initial stages, I learned how difficult it is to coordinate activities that integrate two different institutions (Whitman and the public schools). With Washington state background checks, student schedule forms, ASWC recognition forms, etc., there was much more paperwork than I expected. Also, relying on so many middle contacts was a very slow process and made it difficult to communicate effectively and work efficiently. However, it seems there is an important lesson to be learned there, in that it takes a lot of work and effort to earn the fun opportunities of visiting classes, but at the end of the semester, it was worth that effort to have been able to teach such important lessons.

I have also discovered the value of working with motivated people. I have been thoroughly impressed with the energy, enthusiasm, and patience of EEK members, and even meetings where we have dealt with logistics have been fun. This group energy level has made a huge difference in the classrooms, because dynamic volunteers conduct much more engaging and effective lessons.

In addition, conducting the classroom component of this internship has helped me further develop my “teacher personality.” For the kids to be engaged in what I was saying, it was best to speak slowly and with confidence. When the kids asked me questions, it was imperative that I listen attentively and respectfully and that I give them a concise and direct answer. The students were very responsive to the spontaneous creative elements of our lessons, as in when I arrived at the introductory lesson as “Juniper Jill” with cypress branches in my hair. The most successful lessons we performed were those that incorporated different types of activities that allowed them to exercise different skills and interests. For example, the sample lesson on habitats that I include here incorporates discussion, drawing, class presentations, and an active game.

Finally, my classroom visits have reminded me just how intelligent and receptive children are concerning environmental issues. Loving and respecting nature seems so natural to them, and they have an endless list of ideas about how and why to conserve. Teaching such compassionate and understanding children has been exceedingly rewarding, because I feel I can trust them to care for the earth when it is their turn to manage it.

Sample lesson:

Lesson 2 - Habitats and ecosystems

I. Review concepts of ecosystems and habitats from last time.

A. Ask kids to name the different components of a habitat: oxygen, water, food, shelter, protection from predators.
B. Discuss why one animal could not live in another’s habitat.

II. Split into groups to build a habitat.

A. Each EEKer gives her group an animal (earthworm, salmon, eagle, grizzly bear, giraffe).
B. On a sheet of reused paper, the kids draw all the different components of that animal’s habitat.
C. Each group presents its drawing to the class.
D. EEKers ask kids to describe how the salmon would fare in the giraffe’s habitat, etc.

III. Play the “Shrinking Habitat Game” in the hallway.

A. EEKers form a circle with yarn around the kids.
B. Explain that the yarn is the boundary of the habitat and the kids are animals and plants in the ecosystem. They must roam around without bumping; if they touch each other it means there are not enough resources for everyone and they have to leave the circle and sit against the wall.
C. Every few minutes, an EEKer claps her hands to explain why the habitat is getting smaller (trees are being cut down to make paper, people are driving and polluting, etc.) and take a few steps inward.
D. When the circle is so small that only a few kids will fit, EEKers ask kids how we can conserve to make the habitat bigger again (reduce, reuse & recycle, take public transit, etc.)
E. Discuss how it felt to have the habitat taken away, and explain that it is much more difficult to make the habitat bigger again in real life.

IV. Close by asking the three most important things they learned today.

This was a very successful lesson that kept the kids engaged for the full hour. They were very familiar with the parts of a habitat and were eager to raise their hands and list them to us. They were also very adamant about making sure everyone in the group contributed to the habitat drawing. Some were shy to share with the rest of the classroom at first, but Ms. Randgaard reminded them how to do the “teacher show” with their hands out in front of them, which helped them be more comfortable. They particularly enjoyed the habitat game and did lots of giggling when trying not to bump into their friends. The only problem was that some got distracted and bored once they were outside of the habitat, but we had them sit against the wall and monitor the people still inside the circle. Having a job to do kept them much more engaged. They also had many suggestions regarding enlarging the habitat again, some of which were wackier than others. Overall, it was a very educational and fun lesson that I recommend to anyone doing EEK in the future.

Key Contacts:

Kay Fenimore-Smith – education professor with connections to local elementary and middle schools - fenimojk@whitman.edu, Maxey 124, 527-5128

Stacy Morrison – first grade teacher at Berney Elementary School – Smorrison@wwps.org

Diane Randgaard – fourth grade teacher at Green Park Elementary School – Drandgaard@wwps.org

Peggy Willcuts – seventh grade teacher at Paine Alternative High School – Pwillcuts@wwps.org

Campfire afterschool program – 525-3180

Time Commitment:

The time commitment varied from week to week. At the beginning of the year, when I was working to recruit members, contact teachers, sort through old EEK resources, think of lesson ideas, and communicate with ASWC, I probably devoted 6 hours a week to EEK. Toward the middle of the semester, when I was waiting to hear back from teachers, this slowed to around 2 hours a week. At the end of the semester, I probably spent 5 hours a week on EEK matters: 2 hours planning the lesson with the group, 1 hour in the classroom, and another 2 hours gathering supplies, confirming with teachers, coordinating meetings, communicating with other classroom groups, and organizing lesson plan records.

Recommendations for the Future:

For future EEK coordinators, I would definitely recommend getting in touch with teachers directly as soon as possible, perhaps by phone instead of e-mail. Attending faculty meetings and speaking about EEK and its projects could be a good way to rouse faculty interest. Also, it would probably be more effective to find out when teachers are available and then have EEK volunteers sign up for one of those time slots. In the classroom, I recommend having a very specific lesson plan beforehand so that every EEKer knows his/her role in the lesson. This will prevent having to whisper and coordinate as the lesson progresses, which can be distracting for the kids. Also, I recommend planning lessons that you expect to take longer than the time allotted, because it is much better to have too much material available than not enough. This could even mean just bringing along a children’s book from the EEK shelf in case the lesson ends early. In general, be prepared, enthusiastic, dynamic, and creative!