Teaching to the Choir

Educating the public about the environment we live in and the steps they can take to restore it and keep it healthy is a big part of our mission. We work with all different types of audiences with varying amounts of knowledge and concern about water quality, urban tree canopy, and soil health. One of my favorite parts of my jobs is working directly with young people. Their enthusiasm and great ideas are inspiring, and they tend to view the world with eyes and minds wide open.

Unfortunately, there is a limit to how many students we can reach directly with our educational programs. That is why we place a lot of emphasis on conducting environmental education workshops for teachers. Each teacher can echo our message to many students. From early childhood teachers who spend all day with one class of eager little ones to high school teachers who touch the lives of many classes of students, teachers influence a lot of lives each year. Over the course of their decades of teaching, some teachers may influence thousands of students in their classes, clubs, and teams.

This summer we offered two exciting, hands on teacher workshops with optional graduate credit. We decided to focus on training high school science teachers. You might say we were teaching to the choir – working with teachers who already had a deep and broad base of science knowledge. As a bonus, many of the teachers who participated were already using hands on, place-based learning in their classes. Since we teach students how to think – not what to think- the teacher class of 21 was a perfect audience.

In our June workshop, we started with a day of basic training in the use of Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) and Aquatic Wild. We spent the day outside practicing some of the lessons, learning about free local programs and resources, and enjoying a tour of the Watershed Stewardship Center (WSC) stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs). We also explored service learning by identifying plants and pulling weeds in the native gardens at the WSC. On day 2 and 3 we headed to Brecksville reservation and enjoyed the cool shady Harriet Keeler Memorial Picnic Area where we moved into the Project Learning Tree (PLT) curriculum and focused on Places We Live, Green Jobs and Green Schools. Participants used what they had learned online and during day 1 to demonstrate some of the lessons and they brainstormed on how to adapt and improve the activities to meet their needs. We had visits from natural resource professionals, and we even did a mini field trip to learn about the dam removal project in process.

Two of our June participatants also attended our extremely immersive training at Old Woman Creek (OWC). The free, 3-day Teacher’s on the Estuary (TOTE) training was conducted by Jen Bucheit at the preserve. Cuyahoga SWCD provided transportation, lodging and scholarships for graduate credit. We also led a Saturday evening discussion about available funding and how to incorporate field trips and immersive experiences into the classroom. Activities included day and evening hikes, tours of the lab and resources, water sampling from canoes, setting up and sampling with a fyke net, electrofishing, and using a lake seine.

If any of this sounds like a whole lot of fun and a great way to get ideas for engaging students, please contact me to get on our teacher list. If you have a group of 20-30 educators, we can design a hands-on training for your group. We can always use more voices in our choir!

Blog author: Jacki Zevenbergen, Stormwater Education Program Manager

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