|navigate: home: magazine: winter 2000: article|
Setting the standard|
Shavers Creek influential in first environmental education institute
By Kerry A. Newman
This past summer, more than 100 Pennsylvania educators gathered at Penn State to learn how to implement the new state environment and ecology standards into their classroom lessons. For six days, teachers representing all grade levels and disciplines engaged in workshops and embarked on field trips designed to demonstrate ways to include the natural and manmade worlds in everyday class lessons.|
In its inaugural meeting, the Governors Institute for Environment and Ecology aimed to prepare Pennsylvania educators to meet the challenges of educating todays youth about the environment. Ultimately, the goal is to move environmental and ecological education into the next millennium by showing students the interconnectedness of human beings with the natural world and preparing them to address existing environmental concerns, such as pollution, water quality, deforestation and extinction, and arming them with the knowledge needed to create a more sustainable environment.
The staff of Shavers Creek Environmental Center played an important part in the institute by hosting a half-day of activities at the center. On a hot and sunny afternoon, the teachers assembled to participate in workshops and see the daily operations of an environmental education center. The atmosphere was relaxed and light-hearted as the resident Shavers Creek educators led the teachers in activities inside and around the nature center. Laughter punctuated the air as frequently as the raptor calls as the teachers moved from one concurrent workshop to another. They participated in hands-on raptor presentations, field work and sensory nature walks geared toward elementary-level instructors.
According to Linda Block, a program director at Shavers Creek and the coordinator of the workshops held at the center, the staff developed activities based on the following topics: watersheds and waterways, endangered species, reptiles and amphibians, and recycling.
Our goal was to give the teachers some skills that they could take back to the classroom, Block said.
The teachers had an exciting day at Shavers Creek, said Patricia Vathis, the environment and ecology education adviser with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the institute coordinator. The programs Shavers Creek offered especially dealt with looking at the Pennsylvania environment and ecology standards. They really made an effort at Shavers Creek to make the entire time that we were there relevant to the classroom, regardless of where in Pennsylvania these teachers were from.
Providing numerous resources for their students to take back to the classroom, the Shavers Creek staff set tables piled high with flyers and brochures across the centers porch. They also demonstrated simple ways of implementing lessons like recycling into the daily activities of a working classroom. At break time, the refreshment table was lined with ceramic mugs, instead of disposable cups.
It was a program that was centered on the environment and ecology standards and good education, Vathis said. The teachers could go back to their own classrooms and take something that they learned that day and put it into immediate practice. It really was an afternoon that was filled with experiences that they could share with their students.
The program was well-received and the feedback was very positive, Block said. In addition to staff from Shavers Creek, faculty and staff from other Penn State units led workshops during the institute. Among them were representatives from the School of Forestry, the Department of Landscape Architecture and the Integrated Pest Management program.
A joint dinner for teachers attending the institute and high school students attending the annual Governors School for Agricultural Sciences was another highlight of the week. The event provided students and teachers with the opportunity to interact and exchange experiences.
Both teamwork and technology played important roles in the institute. Educators were divided into groups that were responsible for developing lessons and tackling homework assignments. Working in teams allowed the educators to share their knowledge and maximize their learning experiences. As part of their assignments, each group was responsible for developing an educational Web page that highlighted their experiences. The content of each page included lesson plans, activities and digital photographs taken by the teachers over the course of the week. The goal of the project was to create educational resources that other educators could use. Web pages from the institute can be viewed at the Pennsylvania Department of Education Web site www.pde.psu.edu. In addition to building a Web page, the educators were exposed to other nontraditional environmental education toolsCD-ROMs, the Internet and videosthat they could use in the classroom.
The impetus for creating the Governors Institute for Environment and Ecology occurred in November 1998, when the Department of Education submitted academic standards for the environment and ecology to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. The proposed standards cover nine topic areas: watersheds and wetlands; renewable and nonrenewable resources; environmental health; agriculture and society; integrated pest management; ecosystems and their interactions; threatened, endangered and extinct species; humans and the environment; and environmental laws and regulations. Across these topic areas, guidelines have been set to determine the basic proficiencies that must be met by all students upon completion of grades four, seven, 10 and 12. The Governors Institute for Environment and Ecology was created in response to these standards. It provided the forum for educating the teachers about the standards.
Block emphasized that Pennsylvania is assuming a leadership role by establishing separate educational standards for the environment and ecology. Typically, the subjects are grouped into the science fields and are not addressed individually. The standards are groundbreaking, she said.
In addition to the proposed standards for environment and ecology, educational standards for 11 academic areas will be implemented in school classrooms across the Commonwealth by the year 2002.
According to Vathis, due to the success of the institute, planning for a second Governors Institute on Environment and Ecology is under way.
The teachers were really enthusiastic and engaged the whole time, Vathis said. At the end of the institute, the teachers were energized and ready to go back to their classrooms and put all of these things into placesomehow, somewhere. I was really pleased with what took place and what happened.