KNEE DEEP

The Ox­ford In­sti­tute for En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram helps teach­ers learn for stu­dents

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - KAYLA ROBINS krobins@cov­news.com

From mud an­gels to learn­ing about leaves, a group of area teach­ers and stu­dents gained hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence in Ge­or­gia’s wet­lands to bet­ter their ed­u­ca­tion and teach­ing abil­i­ties.

The Ox­ford In­sti­tute for En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion (OIEE) hosted its an­nual pro­gram at the Ge­or­gia Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion (GWF) Thurs­day as part of the week-long ses­sion to pro­vide pro­fes­sional ed­u­ca­tion to K-12 sci­ence teach­ers about en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence and sus­tain­abil­ity is­sues and help en­hance in­ter­ac­tive, non-text­book learn­ing. Among the par­tic­i­pants stomp­ing through the swampy banks and for­est were five lo­cal New­ton County teach­ers.

Steven Baker, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of bi­ol­ogy at Ox­ford Col­lege, said the pur­pose of found­ing OIEE, which has been a reg­u­lar part of the sum­mer sched­ule at the school for more than 20 years, was to give Ox­ford fac­ulty the op­por­tu­nity to help im­prove sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion in the state of Ge­or­gia.

“It’s a re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and we know it works,” Baker said. “OIEE makes a dif­fer­ence in these teach­ers’ ap­proach to sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion.”

Baker and other OIEE fac­ulty fo­cused Thurs­day on the school­yard in­ves­ti­ga­tion plan (SYIP). They showed par­tic­i­pants

how to im­ple­ment SYIPs just out­side their class­rooms by us­ing the GWF, which has more than 115 acres of land along the Al­covy River at the Al­covy Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter (ACC) in Cov­ing­ton, to teach sci­en­tific prin­ci­ples they can then teach their el­e­men­tary, mid­dle and high school stu­dents.

“All teach­ers are un­der­funded and un­der-re­sourced,” said Eloise Carter, bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Ox­ford Col­lege. “We can show them how to use what they have to cre­ate great sci­ence learn­ing.”

Carter and Baker led the group into the tu­pelo swamps at the ACC to de­ter­mine where wet­lands be­gin, what a wet­land is and why wet­lands mat­ter. Three sub­groups lo­cated in­di­ca­tor species and soils along the wet­land-wood­land line, tak­ing sam­ples and col­lect­ing data to test hy­pothe­ses.

The learn­ing dur­ing this pro­gram is a two-way process, Carter said.

“For one thing, when we spend time with K-12 teach­ers, we are look­ing at the ed­u­ca­tional life­cy­cle of our own stu­dents,” Carter said. “It helps us un­der­stand the de­vel­op­ment of young sci­en­tists.

“But it’s sym­bi­otic. We are learn­ing to be bet­ter teach­ers partly due to what we learn in OIEE. The way we all work to­gether is through open dis­cus­sion. We are in­flu­enced by how the teach­ers in OIEE in­ter­act with us and what we teach. It is kind of a col­lec­tive, a con­stant mor­ph­ing and de­vel­op­ment of ideas. And we are all happy to steal ideas. It’s a win-win re­la­tion­ship.”

And the teach­ers re­it­er­ated this mu­tual re­la­tion­ship.

Dako­tah Camp­bell just fin­ished his first year teach­ing at New­ton High School, mov­ing in the fall to 11th grade en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence from 10th grade phys­i­cal sci­ence. He said he par­tic­i­pated in OIEE to be able to make his class­room more en­gaged and have the abil­ity to learn more.

“To re­al­ize what’s around you, what’s specif­i­cally out­side your door, not even across the coun­try or any­thing,” Camp­bell said, “and get right in there. That’s im­por­tant to me.”

He said Thurs­day’s ac­tiv­i­ties will help him teach more ef­fi­cient sam­pling and bring a wider di­ver­sity of life to the school­yard.

Samantha Greco, a fourth-grade sci­ence and so­cial stud­ies teacher at West New­ton El­e­men­tary School, said she wanted the op­por­tu­nity to learn more about her cur­ricu­lum. Ecol­ogy is now part of the cur­ricu­lum as West New­ton will be­come a STEM (sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math) school in the fall.

“If you can use what’s out­side your build­ing, it saves on the budget, and it gives kids own­er­ship of their sur­round­ings,” Greco said.

Two Rocky Plains El­e­men­tary School teach­ers were also in at­ten­dance.

Theresa Marvinny teaches sec­ond grade and brought a STEM lab to her school. She said she wants to draw more sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion and try to get a school­yard class­room to teach stu­dents out­side. She said she in­tends to use knowl­edge gained from OIEE to ap­ply for a grant to get a STEM lab for grades K-2 and 3-5.

Linda Lin­ton teaches fourth grade, in­clud­ing Quest stu­dents, at Rocky Plains.

Her rea­son for par­tic­i­pat­ing in OIEE was sim­ple.

“I ab­so­lutely love sci­ence,” Lin­ton said.

She said the more hands-on, the deeper the un­der­stand­ing. Her prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion of the pro­gram is to take her class out of the class­room.

Karen Rogers, a sev­en­t­hand eighth-grade math and sci­ence teacher at Montes­sori School of Cov­ing­ton said she wants to im­prove her sci­ence teach­ing and find an ef­fec­tive way to de­sign SYIPs. She said she hopes to in­cor­po­rate the OIEE in­quiry model into her class­room.

Baker es­ti­mated about 400 K-12 teach­ers from Ge­or­gia and north Florida have at­tended OIEE over the years.

“It’s a priv­i­lege to get to work with these teach­ers and make a dif­fer­ence,” Baker said. “Plus, it’s fun.”

Kayla Robins/The Cov­ing­ton News

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