Jill and Becca left the BEETLES leadership Institute in August of 2015, inspired, full of ideas, and ready to implement new professional learning sessions at their staff training only two weeks away. Jill had an immediate opportunity to implement BEETLES with students herself, loved the results, and became even more excited. For two weeks they planned and schemed, but then at the last minute, they decided that introducing the pedagogy in BEETLES while working with old curriculum might just confuse and frustrate staff.
Instead, they began hatching plans for a slower, more holistic program overhaul in the spring. During this time, Jill and Becca chose three existing lessons they felt confident adjusting without significantly interrupting the experience of long-time visiting classroom teachers. They decided it would be too much to simply ask teams of instructors to revamp the activities without a full understanding of the BEETLES approach, so Jill poured through each lesson, decided on the pieces she thought needed changing and wrote notes about the kinds of changes she thought would strengthen what was already there.
When staff came back from winter break, it was game on. In the first days of winter training, staff participated in two BEETLES sessions (Making Observations and Questioning Strategies) as well as some activities on the Learning Cycle. Then, Jill and Becca split staff into teams, with each team working on one lesson. Rather than simply forming teams on the spot, they were strategic. They asked staff to rank which lesson they most wanted to work on, then used this information, as well as Jill and Becca’s sense of who would work well together, to build the teams. Staff spent about two days combing through the lessons, using Jill’s notes and feedback as well as their own ideas, to completely revise each activity, converting them from instructor-centered to student- and phenomena-centered, and to inquiry- and learning cycle-based. Jill consulted with each group throughout the process.
In most cases, they didn’t throw out the old activities completely, but rather, re-arranged the order, cut some parts, and added others. After the initial revisions, each team piloted their unit with students, met to discuss and revise again, then finally taught it to the rest of staff to be officially integrated in the YMCA Camp Seymour curriculum. Instructors met this challenge with enthusiasm, spending significant time and energy on these revisions, with careful thought and sustained passion. While major revisions were limited to these three activities in this initial stage, Jill and Becca also led discussions with staff about ways to integrate additional BEETLES strategies into other curricula, hoping to empower instructors to make changes that felt right, but not overwhelm them with changes to every aspect of their teaching.
According to our recent interview with Jill and Becca, the experience so far has been fantastic: instructors are excited and empowered, students are much more engaged and connected to their learning, and classroom teachers are thrilled to see this engagement, along with teaching strategies and content that better supports what they are now being asked to do with the Next Generation Science Standards. With these initial successes, YMCA Camp Seymour instructors, program administrators, and visiting classroom teachers are fully behind updating more lessons, including a complete overhaul of one of their standard classes, Marine Science, which was recently piloted with willing teachers before becoming official this spring.
Becca and Jill were generous enough to share an example of how one of their 75 minute classes changed, complete with a before and after comparison of each part of the lesson.
YMCA Camp Seymour Reptile Class
75 minutes, indoors
subject-based, content-heavy, and instructor-centered
phenomenon- and student-centered, inquiry- and learning cycle based
|Introduction (10 minutes):
||Introduction (15 minutes):
|Content (35 minutes):
||Exploration (10 minutes):
|Exploration (20 minutes):
||Concept Invention (15 minutes):
|Conclusion (10 minutes):
||Application (20 minutes):
|N/A||Reflection (15 minutes):
Naturalists have two options based on their students’ attention span and grasp of the concept, as well as the Naturalist’s confidence with their skills:
Jill is the Outdoor and Environmental Education Assistant Director at YMCA Camp Seymour and has been working in environmental education for twelve years. She loves working with kids of all ages, watching them discover the world around them.
Becca is the Outdoor and Environmental Education Director at YMCA Camp Seymour and has been working in environmental education for fifteen years. She loves anything outdoors, especially when her children are there to enjoy it with her.
YMCA Camp Seymour, in Gig Harbor, Washington, sent representatives to attend the BEETLES Leadership Institute in Santa Cruz, California, in August of 2015. Learn more about their program at http://www.campseymour.org/outdoor-education.