Final Internship Report
I am one of several students from our environmental studies class that participated
in EEK for my internship experience. I chose this internship because I believe
that the only way for environmentalism (of any kind) to succeed is if we begin
by educating people about the environmental crisis when they are children -
it is a catch them while they are still young and impressionable approach. I
feel that if we raise environmentally conscious children, we will have environmentally
aware adults who will behave in ways to further the various environmental causes.
As a result, environmental education has always appealed to me, and it is something
that I am considering as a career. Therefore, I chose an internship with EEK
hoping that it would give me a chance to see what environmental education is
all about before I decided to make it my life's work. What I chose to do, out
of several activities that EEK sponsors, was to teach in a third grade bilingual
class at Green Park Elementary every Wednesday morning for the entire semester.
Joel Rickard was the teacher of the class and I contacted her to set this up
after having been given her name by Anna Taft, one the people spearheading EEK
at Whitman. Once I had the time set up with Joel, I recruited other EEKers that
were interested in teaching at a bilingual class and we established a meeting
time to get
together to plan each week's lesson. The others that teach at Joel's class with me are, Ashley Meganck, Jamie Williamson (both of which are ES students that did the internship with me), Meg Higgans, and Maggie Langer. Most of us would go to the general EEK meeting at noon on Tuesdays, and the five of us met at four that same day to plan our lessons for Joel's class, and then at nine on Wednesday mornings to walk over to Green Park, where we stayed until between 10:15 and 10:30, depending on how long our lesson was. Thus, I spent five to six hours per week on this internship once I include the time I spent preparing for each lesson and writing in my logbook. Initially, this was not a strain on my time, but since the end of October, I have had a great deal of work to do for all of my classes and putting in the time for this internship was sometimes a hardship. Others in my EEK group also struggled with making time to plan lessons and go to Joel's class, which is not surprising considering that all of the other EEK programs only lasted for four weeks while this one was a semester long commitment. However, though some of us were sometimes not been able to go to class as a result of being completely swamped with schoolwork, some people from our group always went so that the kids in Joel's class always got a visit from Whitman EEKers on Wednesday mornings.
The following is a summary of my goals and objectives for this internship
as I communicated them to Amy Molitor at the beginning of the semester. My main
objective in this internship was to experience what it is like to teach environmental
lessons to kids, using both existing EEK lesson plans as well as those that
I designed, to communicate some of the environmental
concepts that I think are important that the kids themes. My initial goal was to design lesson plans that would make the kids aware of the environment around them, including some of the problems associated with it, and help them understand some of the ways that humans interact with and shape the environment. I feel that I was able to accomplish this goal with the help of my fellow EEKers that did the EEK session with me at Joel's class.
Within the first few lessons, we had introduced the concept of the environment
and its component parts, the ideas of habitat and adaptation, human impacts
on the environment, some major environmental crises, and ways that the kids
can reduce people's negative impact on the world around them. Throughout the
semester we built on these concepts and introduced
new ones, covering the topics of pollution, waste, the three R's, the water cycle, energy conservation, and the food web. Some of these topics had their own lesson, while others were mixed into one lesson, such as waste generation and management and the three R's. In addition, most of the lessons that we taught did not follow existing EEK lesson plans but
only drew ideas from them sometimes and often not all because the EEK lessons were few, unorganized, repetitive, and didn't contain enough of the concepts that we felt it was important that the kids learn. Thus, our lessons were designed specifically by the members of our group to communicate the most important points of each concept that we felt was necessary to introduce to create environmental awareness in the students.
We came up with our lessons simply by talking about what we wanted to teach each Tuesday afternoon, taking notes on what our specific role in teaching the lesson would be, and dividing up the lesson so that we were each responsible for teaching one section of it. Because we planned our lessons in this way and often taught the class in a somewhat spontaneous manner, we did not generate any written lesson plans for what we were doing. In fact, it was impossible to do so because each person came up with their own portion of the lesson and presented it in their own way. However, I kept track of what we were doing by writing in my internship log, and thus I have an extensive record of most of the lessons as well as my particular role in them in my log notebook. Therefore, because the greatest portion of the work for this internship involved teaching lessons rather than writing lessons, I do not have generated products that reflect the great extent of the work done for this internship.
By our last visit to the class, it was clear that the kids had learned a lot
over the course of the semester. We decide to wrap up the EEK session by designing
an environmental jeopardy that reviewed the main topics that we had covered,
thereby testing the kids on what they knew while reminding them about things
that they might have forgotten (see attached description
of lesson). The results of the game were astounding. As a whole, the class was able to answer all of the hardest questions, and the individual groups, which were comprised of four to five students, were also able to answer most questions. Obviously, some of the kids remembered more of what we had taught them than others and were able to think about the material
critically (applying it to real life situations). Yet as a whole, the class did really well. I think that we left the kids with a greater
understanding of how special the Earth is - as the only environment that sustains life - and why they must try to do their best to protect it and its various parts both for their own well being and for that of the rest of the life on Earth as well. Therefore, I feel satisfied that the content of the lesson plans we created and the messages that they delivered to the kids accomplished one of my main goals for this internship.
As for gaining experience in teaching environmental education, my second objective for this internship, I can honestly say that I have learned a lot about classroom dynamics and teaching in general, as well as teaching environmentalism specifically. One of the most important things that I learned early on the internship, is that communicating abstract and complex ideas about the environment to elementary school students that have often never been exposed to the ideas being taught, is a very difficult process. At first, I often found myself grappling for the right words to explain something, and quickly learned that not only do the words that I use to explain things effect how well I am able to communicate what I want to teach, but that the way in which I organize words and the examples I use to back up my statements are also important. For instance, I sometimes caught myself using big words that represented complex notions that the kids wouldn't have understood even if they were explained, or using an example to illustrate a point that was either too complicated or too biased or uninformed to consciously pass on to the kids as information. I dealt with this problem myself by spending more time preparing for my portion of the lesson so that by the time I got up in front of the class, I knew exactly what I was going to say, how I was going to say it, and what point it would communicate. Rather than focusing on details they wouldn't understand, I concentrated on getting across the big picture that I was trying to communicate. This method worked well for me and by the end of the semester I was be able to get through the classroom presentations smoothly and satisfactorily. Furthermore, the way that I addressed the class and taught lessons simply improved over time with practice, especially because I was one of the two main talkers from our group who would explain things and hold the lessons together. Therefore, by our last visit to the class I was able to stand before the students confidently and explain what we were doing, teach the material effectively, and keep them under control, all while having a little fun with them and maintaining their attention.
Another great success of the internship was the feedback that I got from a student teacher in Joel's class named Ian. I happen to know him outside of EEK and sometimes encountered him at social gatherings that I attended. During several of these encounters he would rave about how much the kids liked me and what I good job I did when I visited the class. He commented on both my ability to teach the subject matter clearly and the way that my personal interactions with the class and individual students kept the lessons lively. Ian also told me that the kids all asked for me when I was out of town and that while they always looked forward to our group visits, they especially, liked me and Ashley. Receiving this feedback was extremely useful and rewarding. It helped to ease my fears about how effective my teaching was and whether the kids liked me, and also really flattered me by making me feel like my hard work was really paying off and I was doing a good job. In addition, the excited welcome that I received from the kids, especially the Spanish-speaking boys, every time that we came to class made all the work seem worth it.
In the intermediate report I mentioned that one problem I had with the internship
was that I felt that some of the examples we used in class were too biased,
uninformed, or black and white. Since some of the other people who went to Joel's
class with me were so focused on keeping things simple, I think that they sometimes
left out some major details of the concepts
they were presenting or inadvertently promoted biased views. Because we usually split up what we were going to talk about, what others said during their portion of the lesson was largely out of my control, it was hard to prevent them from making blanket statements that sometimes misinformed the students. We talked about this some and agreed to be more careful about
what we presented as fact and the examples that we used to illustrate our points. After this, things got better, and I think that this was also due to the fact that as the semester progressed, we all became more experienced at presenting to the class and were able to avoid blundering into statements that were not effective methods of instruction. However, I think that teaching environmental education is always going to be tricky in terms of not letting your pro-environmentalism prejudice get in the way
of the effectiveness of your teaching. On the other hand, this was an environmental education program, so if any biased views were presented, I guess it's better that they were biased in favor of environmentalism. Despite this, in future I would recommend that EEKers plan and discuss the way that they will present certain concepts and examples in class so that they do so in ways that let the facts speak for themselves without having to resort to environmentally biased statements to support their claims. The other main problem that I encountered doing the internship was that there was an imbalance of initiative and work in planning and teaching the lessons. From the beginning it was clear that some of us were leaders who always came up the ideas for lessons, put them together, decided how they should be taught, and did most of the teaching and presenting in class, while others were followers who sat by and waited to be told what to do next. This was alright in the sense that it gave me and the other girl (ok, I'll say her name, Ashley) who were the ones that were really into the internship the authority to do what we thought was best for both us and the kids to get the most out of the experience. On the other hand, we got tired of doing all the planning and I became frustrated, feeling that it was not fair that we should always be doing most of the responsible work. However, not taking the initiative to lead the way was not an option for me as I wanted things to get done and I wanted them to get done well. Furthermore, everyone did contribute more as the semester progressed and things turned out fine. This experience is just another lesson that in life there are leaders and followers and I prefer to lead.
As far as I'm concerned, the internship overall was a huge success and I am pleased with the results. I had lots of fun coming up with the lessons - though it was a lot of work and a great time commitment - and I especially enjoyed being in the classroom with the kids. I feel like what we taught them may really make a difference in how they behave towards the environment, which is incredibly satisfying for me. In addition, I learned about what it is like to come up with ideas for, plan, and teach environmental lessons, about basic teaching strategies, and about coordinating ideas with other people to come up with a finished product with which everyone is mostly satisfied and works to communicate our intention. Furthermore, this experience has encouraged me to consider environmental education as a career now that I know more about it because it has proved to be very rewarding and satisfying. Finally, the kids made it all worthwhile because they really seemed to enjoy us and our visits, grasped and absorbed what we taught them, and had fun in the process. Therefore, I would recommend EEK as an internship for anyone who is interested in becoming and environmental educator.