Science and Teaching for Field Instructors

For Program Leaders

BEETLES Professional Learning resources are designed to help leaders of outdoor science programs inspire instructional shifts and a learning community culture among their staff.

BEETLES Leadership Institutes engage program leaders in stimulating conversations, build leadership expertise, facilitate shared wisdom across a variety of programs, and model research-based resources for professional learning and student experiences.

The Institute is open to all outdoor environmental education programs that use science as a lens for looking at nature.

BEETLES Professional Learning Sessions are designed for program leaders to present to their teaching staff. They are between 2 and 3 hours long, and have a clear step-by-step leader guide. The sessions are active experiences crafted to encourage instructors to look at different specific aspects of research-based science pedagogy* and to inspire shifts in instructors’ thinking about their own teaching and learning. Most sessions include one or more student activities that serve as examples of how the pedagogy from the session is applied with students as well as provide information about how to relate outdoor learning experiences to NGSS. Each session includes a variety of follow-up ideas for leaders to use with instructors in the weeks following the session.
*Two of the sessions focus on helping instructors deepen their understanding of adult level science content, as opposed to pedagogy.

How-to Videos are designed for program leaders to watch before presenting certain sessions in order to get a sense of what they look like when led with outdoor science instructors and other program leaders. They should not be used as online learning experiences for field instructors.

I don’t have enough time to lead an entire professional learning session. Can I just lead part of one?

BEETLES sessions are 2-3 hours in length because it takes time for staff to go through an experience that might inspire them to look at science education in a significantly different way. We’ve struggled hard to keep these sessions as succinct as possible while maintaining the integrity of the experience. And then even after a complete experience, significant follow-up is needed in order to really impact instruction. For all those reasons we don’t recommend cutting sessions short. But some programs don’t have professional learning time slots long enough for a full session. In those cases, we recommend splitting sessions. Teach one part of the session one day, look for a natural break in the session, then continue it later on.

I love the conversations that the BEETLES sessions inspire among my staff, but there isn’t enough time in the session to finish those conversations; can I spend an entire day discussing and focusing on one session?

YES! Sierra Nevada Journeys, one of the programs we worked with, decided that they wanted to make the learning cycle the basis of all their curriculum, so they chose to spend an entire day on the Teaching & Learning session. They took their sweet time with the session and discussion, then spent the rest of the day applying the learning cycle to their curriculum.

Which professional learning session(s) should I start with?

The sessions can be presented in whatever order you like, and different sites have presented them in different orders. But it’s important to be thoughtful in making the decision, because when trying to inspire instructors to improve their practice, it’s a good idea to tread carefully. Some instructors, especially those who have been teaching for a while, can be resistant to new ideas and change. You want them to be excited, and to want more after a professional learning session.

There are some commonalities among the sessions that tend to be best to start with-they take place largely outdoors, and they’re less complex and heady, which makes them initially more accessible to instructors. Making Observations is often successfully used to kick off BEETLES trainings. It’s not too heady, appeals to core values commonly held by field instructors (connecting students with nature), doesn’t push too hard on sensitive issues, and provides instructors with simple and effective tools for engaging students with nature. For many instructors, the experience is transformative for their practice. Field Journaling with Students is also a very practical and popular early session, but is only relevant if it’s possible to include journals in your program. Questioning Strategies gives instructors practical strategies for engaging students in discourse, and is another session that’s good early on. Teaching & Learning is best introduced somewhat early on, because, though complex, it’s sooo crucial to curriculum design- but it’s useful for your instructors to have some experience leading BEETLES student activities before the session. Sessions that are ideally led later in a sequence of sessions include: the two content sessions, Matter & Energy in Ecosystems (coming soon!), Adaptation & Evolution (coming soon!), because they are pretty heady and are conducted primarily indoors. Constructing Understanding ties a lot of our pedagogy together, but is pretty heady, too, and is best used after a few other sessions.

I love the professional learning sessions, but I don’t feel comfortable leading the student activities models. Can I just skip them?

Nope. During the first BEETLES workshops when we were just a wee newborn project, we presented preliminary professional learning sessions but didn’t have much in the way of model student activities yet. The professional learning sessions certainly got staff thinking and talking, but because we hadn’t presented enough models of what the ideas look like when used with students, there was very little implementation of the ideas in instruction by the staff. Application is a crucial stage of the learning, but can be pretty challenging to pull off. The student activities in sessions help instructors to apply new knowledge, and often lead to “aha’s” in terms of how to shift instructional practices. These activities become even more important if you have less experienced staff, (such as interns) who are new to teaching. In fact, we recommend with staff new to teaching to start off with ample opportunities for them to lead well-crafted student activities (like those created by BEETLES) so they can get a “feel” for patterns of student inquiry-focused instruction. The more experience leading student-centered, nature-centered activities, the more sense the pedagogical concepts will make when introduced during professional learning sessions.

But professional learning sessions are best taught as a team. We recommend recruiting your best instructor(s) to take on leading model student activities during sessions-but after they first gain experience teaching the activities multiple times with students.

Can I show my staff the videos instead of doing a professional learning session?

No. We made the videos to support the write-ups, not to replace the experience of a session. It’s useful to watch someone else present an activity or session before presenting it yourself, but since it’s not possible to put everyone interested in presenting these materials through a workshop, the videos are our best attempt at replicating that from afar. The videos are for someone who wants to present one of our sessions and/or student activities, reads one of our write-ups, but would like an opportunity to see what the session and/or student activity looks like with real, live human beings before they present it. Our videos are edited down to show highlights, but they are incomplete. They are not designed to be online learning. Deep, effective learning has to be interactive, and learners have to participate in these sessions to benefit from them (oh, and with environmental education, being outdoors in a shared environment is also pretty important). We hope you watch the videos, enjoy them, and get a better idea of how to present these professional learning sessions.

This professional learning session looks pretty good, but I want to make some changes; is that ok?

Making thoughtful decisions when leading professional learning sessions is an important part of effective presentation. But, we recommend that the first time through, you lead the professional learning session as written. These sessions were thoughtfully written and rigorously tested. The specific questions, statements, and sequence of steps have been tested by other program leaders and adjusted based on feedback. Leading the session as written will help you get a sense of what the session is all about. Once you’re familiar with the session, making small, thoughtful adjustments based on the needs of your instructors is fine- even desirable.

Of course, there are some minor adjustments session you may have to make to, for example, accommodate for your site, staff, or weather conditions. In consideration of such changes (and any future adjustments), be sure to read the Teaching Notes included in the sidebars throughout the write-up and in the Instructor Support section- many activities have notes that explain the rationale behind certain steps or language, or notes on changes to the activities that have proven to be particularly effective or ineffective in field testing.