Science and Teaching for Field Instructors

Tales from the Field: How We Adapted Existing Activities

From Jill Begin, Assistant Director, and Becca Gjertson, Director, at Outdoor Environmental Education Camp Seymour, Gig Harbor, Washington. (See blogpost for a more complete account)

Jill and Becca were excited about implementing BEETLES but were in a quandary. They had a set program for their instructors to use with learners. If they started off their new season with BEETLES PL sessions, they were worried that their instructors would get excited about teaching in new ways but then would be frustrated by having to teach the existing activities that didn’t reflect these new approaches. They also figured that their instructors couldn’t help improve the activities without first experiencing the BEETLES PL sessions. What to do? Chicken or egg?

At the last minute, they decided to restrain their eagerness to get started and hold off on professional learning at the start of the season. Meanwhile, Jill made time to teach BEETLES activities with learners to get some firsthand experience with them. She then chose a few student activities and wrote her general recommendations for how each one should be improved. During their next big training, they did launch a few BEETLES PL sessions with their staff and got them revved up. Then, they divided into teams, each in charge of updating an activity working off of Jill’s notes. The small groups did the revisions over 1–2 days, consulting with Jill. They made sure every activity began with making observations and exploration and marketed this to their teachers as a selling point. They took out the 20 minutes of talking about the topic that had been at the beginning. They shifted the lesson to be about building understanding of a few things and learners using this understanding to evaluate a claim. Then, they piloted the new lessons and revised them. They chose who they thought would be the best person to pilot the activity and had them keep teaching it many times before that person trained another staff person. As other staff would get to test a new lesson, they would come back very excited after the experience, and this got other staff excited about when they would get a chance to teach it. “I just taught the best class of my life,” was what they heard from one of their instructors. They followed this process to slowly work their way, activity-by-activity, as they revamped their programming and curriculum.

In this case, there was very little resistance because the staff was involved in the revision process, was trusted to be a part of an exciting shift in teaching that was happening within the organization, and had ownership over the way the lessons turned out. They got buy-in from teachers by letting them know what kind of changes they were making and communicating this as an asset. And it didn’t hurt that they all agreed that the activities ended up being more successful and engaging with learners.

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