Science and Teaching for Field Instructors

Tale from the Field: Inter-Institute Collaboration on Professional Learning for Elementary School Teachers

Sarah Johnson of Wild Rose Education and Sara Monson of Walking Mountains Science Center are both based in western Colorado. They attended two different BEETLES Leadership Institutes– in August and December 2017, and had heard of each other prior to the Institute. Sara Monson had grant funding from the EPA to facilitate a daylong workshop for teachers, and wanted some support in leading the workshop. She reached out on Mighty Network asking if there were any local leaders who had been to a BEETLES Institute, and Sarah Johnson replied. The worked together to plan and lead a workshop for 11 elementary school teachers called “Student-Centered Environmental Education Skills and Strategies.” See a write up of how their workshop goals evolved, lessons learned from the experience, and the workshop agenda below:

Quotes from Sarah and Sara:

Evolution of Workshop Goals

“Our original plan was to facilitate 3 BEETLES professional learning sessions (PL Sessions) throughout the course of the day, but the insights learned at the Institute, especially on the evening with the panel of experienced program leaders, changed the direction of the workshop. The emphasis on going slow and being clear on the goal of your teaching was incredibly insightful.”
“We ditched the idea of 3 PL Sessions as it felt like it was a more important goal to inspire curiosity and wonder among the teachers. Without a strong community of practice among participants in the one day workshop, the PL Sessions seemed like more than we needed. The PL Sessions seem like they will work best when followed up by intentional implementation and instructional coaching for educators. Since this was a group of teachers that would come together for just this one day workshop, we decided to focus on the goal of modeling student activities and practical strategies for teaching outdoors, and focusing less on the theory of teaching science.”

Value for Teachers

“The write up below (see Workshop Schedule) is what we did. This workshop provoked a lot of great dialogue between teachers about how they could provide a meaningful outdoor learning experience for their students. All the teachers left with a plan for getting their students outside more often and engaging directly with nature while using the skills of a scientist. The dialogue the teachers were having was inspiring as we listened to them learning through their processing of new teaching methods and direct experiences with the natural world.”
“One of the powerful conversations that teachers had was about the value of exploration and student self-guided learning. They wanted to find a way to make time for this in their teaching and focus less on rote memorization. Many of the teachers came from the same school and they came up with a plan to bring their students to neighboring park once a week and apply the student activities that they learned. A teacher from a different school discussed using the tools that she learned to have students journal and observe a single tree and how it changed throughout the year. More recently, one the of attendees of the workshop brought her students to Walking Mountains Science Center for a program, and her priority for the day was for students to learn observation and inquiry skills– it seemed like the workshop had influenced the goals she had for her students in attending an outdoor science program.”

Successes and lessons learned about using BEETLES materials to facilitate professional learning for classroom teachers:

“I learned there are a lot of teachers who are excited about environmental education and want to integrate it into their classrooms. All of the teachers who attended the workshop were hungry for the tools that they learned. Before doing the workshop, I was worried that teachers may not be as excited about environmental education as I am as an environmental educator, however, their reaction to the student activities reminded me of the positive reactions of the environmental educators at the BEETLES Institute. Teachers walked away with a lot of great tools that they were excited to use with  students.”
“I also learned that it is worthwhile to discuss how to facilitate outside learning with teachers. They seemed to really appreciate seeing group management techniques modeled, and discussing some strategies for group management with the other teachers.”

Successes and lessons learned about collaborating with a program leader from a different institute:

“We collaborated via e-mail and on the phone, we were able to delegate tasks and break up the material. On the day of the professional learning session, I really appreciated Sarah’s support. It was also great to both get to teach BEETLES material and have breaks where I got to watch someone else teach and learn from them. I also valued getting to meet another local BEETLES fan!”
“We shared a common language having both participated in a Leadership Institute. This common understanding of BEETLES materials, resources, and intent was incredibly helpful, the most important being the intention and goals of the BEETLES philosophy. We both also shared a goal of offering a super authentic and useful workshop for the teachers.”


Workshop Schedule:

Student-Centered Environmental Education Skills and Strategies

Facilitated by Sarah Johnson, Wild Rose Education and Sara Monson, Walking Mountains Science Center

8:30 Introductions

  • Participant quick introductions (30 seconds or less)
  • Our goal for this session is to give you some tools that you can use to integrate student-centered, nature-centered science education into your teaching
  • We will be doing 4 student activities that come from BEETLES project at the Lawrence Hall of Science at U.C Berkeley.
  • Introduce Group Agreements and share that they can also be used with students

9:00  Model student activity: I notice I wonder it reminds me of (outside)

9:45 Use Walk & Talk to debrief I notice I wonder it reminds me of

Use the questions:

  • What are the benefits of using “I notice I wonder it reminds me of” with students?
  • Newish ideas I gleaned from this session are…
  • I’m now wondering about…
  • Something I’m struggling with is…
  • How might you be able to use this routine with your students?

10:00 Break/ Snack

10:20 Model student activity: NSI: Nature Scene Investigators

11:05 Use Walk & Talk to debrief NSI: Nature Scene Investigators

Use the questions:

  • What did you wonder and what possible explanations did you come up with?
  • What would be the benefits and challenges of leading inquiry fever?
  • What scientific skills did you use during this activity?
  • What helped make you more curious and what made you less curious?

11:30 Lunch

12:30 Model student activity: Discovery Swap

  • Do student activity using macroinvertebrates

1:45 Use Walk & Talk to debrief Discovery Swap

Use the questions:

  • What are the benefits of doing activities like this with students?
  • What do students gain from this activity?
  • How did the instructor set your up for success?
  • What other natural objects could you do this with?
  • How might you be able to use this routine to enhance your current curriculum?

1:45 Break

2:00 Model Field Journaling techniques and activities

  • Do “To Each Its Own” and “Modeling Student Activities and Prompts” from the BEETLES PL Session Field Journaling with Students (originally from the Opening the World through Journaling: Integrating art, science, and language arts curriculum.
  • Debrief discussion questions for To Each Its Own:
    • How did the facilitators set you up to be successful and focused?
    • What are the benefits of doing an activity like this with students?
    • How might the journal entries of scientists or naturalist be different from what we just produced? How might they be similar?

3:00 Use Walk & Talk to debrief Nature Journaling

Use the questions:

  • When and for what purpose might you choose to use journaling with students?
  • What were some of the benefits of the different journaling activities
  • How may you be able to integrate these activities to help you enhance your current curriculum?

3:15 Planning and reflection, with individual consultation

  • Encourage teachers to plan lessons for their students, working in teams with teachers who work with similar grade levels, using these questions to guide planning and reflection:
    • Describe the effectiveness of any discussion/questioning strategies you learned?
    • What did you learn about promoting student curiosity and observation?
    • How will you apply the tools and student sessions with your students?
    • How might you scaffold activities for your students?
  • Give teachers time to share out at the end.

4:15 Closing comments

Leave a Response