Science and Teaching for Field Instructors

BEETLES Strategies in History Programming

The Ocean Institute Outdoor Education Department attended the BEETLES August 2015 Leadership Institute in Santa Cruz, California. The Ocean Institute has a well-respected outdoor science program, and they also run a large history program for 4th graders in California. The Ocean Institute has used what they learned at the BEETLES Leadership Institute to strengthen their history programming, and have found that BEETLES approaches apply across disciplines.

We sat down with Outdoor Education Program Manager Patricia Pegram to hear about successes, challenges, and lessons learned from integrating BEETLES into a historical teaching context:


BEETLES: What are the goals, and some of the activities, within your history program?

Patricia Pegram: Our goal is to to support students in developing critical thinking and problem solving skills, as they learn about California history from the pre-colonial era to the modern era. The activities in our program are hands-on, and include experiences like studying artifacts in a recreated archaeological dig site, studying actual artifacts in a museum, native plant walks, and using different kinds of historical building materials.  

B: How did you first start to integrate BEETLES resources into your history programs?

PP: We started out by doing just three BEETLES Professional Learning sessions: Making Observations, Teaching and Learning, and Questioning Strategies. They have become a part of our training now. As time went on and our instructors have built the tools and techniques, we’ve started doing Promoting Discussion.

We also started doing lots of Think-Pair-Share and Walk & Talks. We now do Walk & Talks all the time between our activities; that’s been one of the easy ways to integrate more discussion. They are great after a learning experience, because it is a way for instructors to debrief with their students while they are on the move to another station in the program.

B: Did you make any revisions to the sessions and materials to better support the goals of your history program?

PP: We use Questioning Strategies, and refer to the session a lot, because the content is so important to learning how to do discussion. Initially we split the Questioning Strategies session into two parts; between broad and narrow questioning and Instructor Roles + Activity Lab. We taught only the first section in our first year of trainings after the Leadership Institute; then we added the Instructor Roles and Activity lab once staff understood our programming through this lens, and did the Activity Lab focused on history teaching scenarios.

PP: For Teaching and Learning, we rewrote one of our history lessons to be a Learning Cycle, and we use that in the session instead of Lichen Exploration as the example student activity in the session. For the part where instructors talk about what parts of the activity happen in which phase of the Learning Cycle, we made big sentence strips describing the types of things students were doing during different parts of this activity.

B: What have been some challenges you have encountered, and how have you dealt with them?

PP: We really had to start slow with the instructors in our history program. It was hard for them to change how they taught. Many of them actually have a science background, and they were more comfortable teaching the history stuff in a really specific, structured way. It was really hard for them to change their routines of how they taught history, because it is not as comfortable as a topic for them, so they like teaching the same thing, in the same way, over and over again.

PP: So we took it slow, and still do with newer instructors who are coming from a different context (like college, substitute teaching, another teaching environment, etc.) We provide a new tool or strategy, help them learn about it, and ask them to use it in ONE place. Then, once they’re comfortable with it, we add something new. It takes time.

PP: Revising our curriculum, actually rewriting the lessons our staff teach from, helped. Our instructors have a curriculum sheet to learn and teach from, so we went back and revised our curriculum to more intentionally reflect the Learning Cycle, and apply good questioning strategies. We want the new person to be able to look at their curriculum sheet as scaffolding; something that is Learning Cycle based and with good questions to go on, so instructors can build their own teaching styles based on these guiding principles.

B: What are some changes you made to your history curriculum to reflect what you learned in the Leadership Institute?

PP: In all of our curriculum, we have gone through to make sure we’re applying what we learned from Questioning Strategies, making sure we ask a lot of broad questions. We went through to match the sequence of lessons up with the Learning Cycle. We try to have more time for making observations, because in history, you make observations, too.  

PP: For example, in the “Modern Era” section of our program, students get to look at a recreated archaeology dig site. The activity used to be all about “identify this,” but that would kind of shut down the inquiry for the students. Now it is more about making observations with the students, and helping them think “how do we learn about something when we find it?” Now we give students a piece of paper where they take notes and draw about their findings. Each group of students studies a different quadrant of the archaeology dig site, and take notes on it. Then they discuss their findings and their questions, and they see if other people found similar things.

PP: This usually happens before our Museum part of the program, where students look at actual artifacts. Now in the Museum portion, instructors act a lot more as guides, encouraging students to make conclusions based on their observations, instead of making guesses at correct identification of artifacts and the instructor telling them they are right or wrong.


B: Tell us more about the process you went through to revise your history curriculum.

PP: We have a team of lead instructors who spent a lot of time in our BEETLES trainings or already had a good grasp of the concepts, and set them with the task to revise all of our curriculum. All of them are really good at applying questioning strategies, and understand the Learning Cycle. They went through all of the curriculum sheets our staff teach from, and changed the questions that are asked of students, and made sure things aligned with the Learning Cycle. This was great, because now if an instructor is struggling with their teaching, we can say “Check out your curriculum, study the questions that are being asked, look at the sequencing of the lesson.” We can also say, “Here are the people who really understand questioning strategies, or the learning cycle, or are good at helping students make observations.

PP: Updating the curriculum took time. It was about a year and a half after we attended the Leadership Institute before we were fully able to edit our curriculum sheets for our biggest programs. You might leave the Institute being really excited, and thinking “I want to do it right now,” but it takes time. We had to put the sessions in our trainings, help our lead instructors understand BEETLES approaches in depth enough to teach staff, and then we could update our curriculum and programming.

B: In general, what are some of the connections you see between teaching science and teaching history?

PP: One of our goals is to fulfill teacher expectations, either NGSS or core history standards. The approaches and mindset we got from BEETLES works because with any teaching, the best way for meaning making to happen is by having a conversation with students; finding out what they find interesting by genuinely being interested in whatever interests them. The awesome thing about our programs is they happen in the same place, much like history and science do. In either setting, students find objects, look at them, and record what they notice, wonder, and if it reminds them of anything.

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