I Am Clark’s Creek – Puyallup School District
ometimes it takes the imagination and inspiration of youth to push a project towards success. When the Puyallup River Watershed Council in Washington State became concerned about Clark’s Creek, it was the student project I am Clark’s Creek that sparked the community activism necessary to improve local stewardship and conservation. In an effort to encourage local stewardship and reduce contamination, the Puyallup River Watershed Council set out on a public awareness campaign. Instead of the typical public service announcements, a unique and artistic approach was taken, working with three local elementary schools to generate awareness of the creek in the community. The Puyallup River Watershed Council, NPS RTCA, and artists partnered with resource experts and the Puyallup School District science and art teachers to organize a field trip to Clark’s Creek to learn about the resources and ecology of the creek and surrounding watershed. The students then participated in various art projects to generate pictures, stories, and poems that reflected what they felt were the most important lessons learned on the field trip.
The student projects were assembled into a booklet titled I am Clark’s Creek and the Washington State Department of Ecology provided grant funds to print the booklets. Check out this creative, artistic booklet (135MB). A copy of the booklet was provided to every household served by the schools that participated in the project.” The leaders of the Puyallup River Watershed Council attribute the I am Clark’s Creek booklet to helping spur some key landowners into action. These landowners formed the Friends of Clark’s Creek and started kayaking up and down the creek, talking to their neighbors, building relationships, and working on projects. Through their efforts a local business changed its practices to reduce pollution into the creek, county officials got a mobile home court to stop illegal sewer discharges, and an upstream fish hatchery modified their practices to improve the water quality of their discharge. In addition, Washington State Department of Ecology has funded additional watershed work and the City of Puyallup is playing a significant role in the work of the friends group. Sometimes the work of youth can spark significant change in a community and, likewise, it can spark change in youth. Many of the participants walked away understanding more about the natural world and artistic expression, and about the value of getting youth involved. The project was able to really celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of the students. This also helps to have a lasting impact on the youth and with this project, they were able to witness how their involvement really did change Clark’s Creek.
1. Estuaries 101 Middle School Curriculum
The National Estuarine Research Reserves has released the Estuaries 101 Middle School Curriculum, a multi-media online science curriculum offering students virtual field trips to estuaries around the country. The curriculum provides interactive learning tools that teach fundamental concepts in science and develop scientific thinking skills, while helping students discover and virtually explore our nation’s biologically rich estuaries. The curriculum offers videos, access to user friendly real-time water quality and weather data, teacher activity downloads, and interactive maps to help students better visualize the inner workings of an estuary.
Topics include Human Impact, Natural Resources, Research & Monitoring, Abundance of Life, and Dynamic Ecosystems. Many of the activities also have climate extensions. Teachers can download a Curriculum Overview to get started. Check this out, and while on the website, be sure to check out the many other resources available for estuary education.
2. Carbon Cycle Collection
NOAA’s Education Resources website offers an updated section on climate with a Carbon Cycle Collection. The website offers multimedia, lessons and activities, real world data, background information, and more.
3. Conservation Education Toolkit
The Conservation Education Toolkit from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies offers links to publications that help K-12 teachers connect conservation education programs to science and social studies standards. Resources include Benchmarks for Conservation Literacy, Outdoor Skills Education Handbook, and much more.
4. EarthCache Educator’s Guide
EarthCache combines global positioning system technology with outdoor field experiences. Teachers can learn how to create an EarthCache, direct students to create one, or use existing EarthCaches in the classroom. The website offers lesson plans and links to additional EarthCache sites for teachers.
5. Kids to Conservation
The National Park Service, together with partners at University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Public Lands Institute, supports this website as a toolkit that uses recreation as the basis for engaging kids, and gets youth involved in the planning process so that they can make a meaningful difference in their communities. Kids to Conservation identifies six learning objectives — education, leadership development, service, exposure to conservation careers, recreation, and recognition — as the foundations for engagement. The website also provides information for adults about finding youth to involve in a project, finding the right age youth to work with, funding opportunities, appropriate activities for each age, and case studies (see Puyallup School District).
6. OBIS Outdoor Biology Instructional Strategies
Outdoor Biology Instructional Strategies (OBIS) from the Lawrence Hall of Science is an outdoor program that offers young people opportunities to investigate ecological relationships in their local environment. The activities, which can be used together or individually, take youngsters outdoors to investigate biology in order to increase their environmental awareness. Examples of the activities are categorized by Experiments, Biodiversity, and Schoolyard, and can be accessed from the website.
“Lessons for Teaching in the Environment and Community” is a regular series that explores how teachers can gain the confidence to go into the world outside of their classrooms for a substantial piece of their curricula.
Part 21: Where Brains Learn
Some cognitive particulars about learning in the real world
by Jim Martin, CLEARING guest writer
he crack, a river, flows from the upper left corner of the wall, spreads into branching riverlets as it nears the window. That sentence was written in metaphor. The next sentence has no metaphor, but carries the same information: There was a crack in the wall which branched as it neared the window. Which will you remember? Which brings recallable pictures to your mind? This is like engaging in science inquiry in the real world. Compared to reading about the results of science inquiry in the real world. Each gives a visual clue, but which will come most easily to mind?
This is like science made vs. science in the making. The place of Assimilation is learning for understanding. When you engage your students in the real world, it acts like a metaphor, clarifies concepts and rectifies them with experience.
When you use the conceptual structures which underlie learning, they act as metaphors to clarify what you and your students are doing and learning. These structures are like the mirrors in a kaleidoscope which always generate the underlying structure of the image you see, and the pieces, ordered by that structure, are what you respond to. Can I add a little more to this?
We’ve been examining the conceptual structures that underlie learning, and how concrete experience in the real world encourages our brains to engage those structures. They reside in the architecture and processes of the brain. A picture of how they work to build understanding began to clarify itself to me during my teaching years. The brain is the organ of learning, and its structure and function does facilitate learning, especially when the delivery of the learnings recognizes how the brain works. Just as knowing the structure of color facilitates painting with water colors. When you dip the brush and apply it to paper, you know and anticipate what will happen. The underlying structure determines, to a large extent, what emerges.
Many of us carry an image of the human mind as an entity disembodied from our brain, an ethereal thing that goes where we go, and does our thinking for us. And no wonder. We can’t see the brain work, even in our classrooms. It doesn’t move the way muscles do, and it makes no sound. The best we can do is to know what the work of the parts of the brain are, and look for evidence of what they do in the things our students do and think.
Take Assimilation. The concept of Assimilation has varied descriptions, depending on who’s doing the describing. They generally carry this piece: What the learner personally experiences in the world about is incorporated into the world within our mind or brain. Its strength lies in the interaction between our brain and objects in the world outside ourselves. These are concrete interactions, and they work perfectly with the way our brain is organized to learn. Our brain learned to learn in the real world, where engaging concrete objects led to the kinds of abstractions that emerged as spear throwers and paintings on rocks, sticks, and cave walls. That is what makes metaphor such a powerful writing and rhetorical vehicle. It clarifies a subject with visual, tactile, olfactory, aural, and taste details that engage our senses, and make complexities open to understanding. A brain which developed in a concrete world is able to soar. Marvelous!
I often mention concrete vs. abstract referents. You can do the following as an experiment if you teach the same thing to two classes. When we are presented with new material in an abstract form, like a paragraph of information, we can put it into long term memory by using the information several times. Think of the end-of-section questions, where students answer questions by reviewing what they have read about particulars. Like Procedural Memory, which helps us carry out actions, it may stay with us, but different but related pieces won’t be stored as one concept. When we actually engage concrete referents, a thermometer in a stream, we engage Declarative or Distributed Memory, episodes and facts that can be brought to mind consciously, where new learnings are incorporated into concepts already residing in the brain. Let’s look at some of the parts of the brain involved in these processes.
When a student holds a thermometer in her hand and immerses it into the cold waters of a glacier-fed stream, her eyes send visual information about this to the visual processing areas in the Occipital Lobe of her brain, at the very back of her head. The Parietal Lobe, between the Occipital Lobe and the middle of her head, processes the feeling and temperature of the water on her hand. It also keeps track of where her person ends and the rest of the world begins, then gathers the visual, tactile, and coolness information, and passes it to other parts of the brain which carry memories of all these things.
You can get a sense for how this functions when you sit down to enjoy your favorite beverage, say a latte. (Now, you have to tell yourself that you’re here to learn. That sets things up in your brain.) As your fingers move toward the cup’s handle, you become very aware of the shape of the handle just outside your skin, and the round shape of the cup. You may have brief perceptions of other cups, perhaps a favorite that is still in the dishwasher. You can see the foamy latte part of the beverage near the top of the cup, and anticipate its flavor. Certainly you’ll be aware of its texture, fine bubbles, color, pieces that your tongue loves to discover. And the coffee itself. You’ll know what kind it is, where it was grown, color, anticipated taste, texture, and the bouquet it always leaves in your mouth after you’ve sipped it. You may even be aware of the brands of the latte and coffee, and other facts of these ingredients of the beverage. You may have brief recollections of other places you’ve had this particular blend, who was there, and what you were doing.
These things happen very quickly, but they are perceptions perceived. Each piece of information came from specific parts of your brain, and these were processed together in your prefrontal cortex, at the front of you head, as what is currently called Working Memory. The prefrontal cortex is also the place where you engage critical thinking. Nice.
So, by doing something when you’ve told yourself that you’re doing it to learn, you suddenly have all of the things you’ll need to help you learn brought together in the part of the brain that can do the learning. Why shouldn’t we use the structure and function of the brain to enhance the delivery of our curricula? Let’s take this idea back to the young woman immersing her thermometer into the waters of a stream.
As she picks up the thermometer, positions it in her hand so she can see its graduations, she becomes very aware of its shape, its use, her expectations for what it will tell her, the particular reason she is picking it up, the memories she already has about streams, and thermometers, and, because she’s here to learn about salmon, some thoughts about how salmon like the temperature of their water.
She is on the first hour of a one week unit on watersheds, so doesn’t know a great deal about water temperature, salmon, and watersheds. None the less, what memories she does have of these things come together with all the rest in working memory, ready to learn.
So, she measures the temperature of the water, and it’s twelve degrees celcius. Her working memory doesn’t know where to fit this in, what I call a Need to Know. So she looks for the reference book that is part of the contents of the box she helped carry down to the streambank. Finding it, she looks for information about salmon and temperature, and finds they prefer waters with a range of temperatures between 4.4 and 14.0C. Then her prefrontal cortex, the site of critical thinking, begins to use the information she has gleaned and memories stored, to engage the prefrontal cortex’s functions of perseverance, self-monitoring and supervision, problem solving, orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals, compare and contrast, working toward a defined goal, expectation based on actions, extract and reconstruct sequences of meaning from ongoing experience.
That’s a long list, a partial one, of the functions of this site of human learning that current US curricula generally overlooks. Contrast this with the teacher telling students about salmon and water temperature, the student reading in the text about it then answering questions in the back of the chapter about these things. Compare and contrast (using your prefrontal cortex!) this with the rich texture of meaning in the young woman with the thermometer.
Next time we’ll look some more at this underlying structure of learning.
This is the twentyfirst installment of “Teaching in the Environment,” a regular feature by CLEARING “master teacher” Jim Martin that explores how environmental educators can help classroom teachers get away from the pressure to teach to the standardized tests, and how teachers can gain the confidence to go into the world outside of their classrooms for a substantial piece of their curricula. See the other installments here, or search Categories for “Jim Martin.”
By now, most of us are aware that there is a large patch of floating plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What you may not know is that it’s not made up of plastic bags and empty bottles. It’s made up of billions of tiny pieces of plastic, and it’s basically invisible unless you’re floating in it. While this might seem better, it’s actually much worse for the environment—and for you. Take a look at the Pacific Gyre and the plastic floating in it.
Gyre illustration by Jacob Magraw-Mickelson
– from good.is