May 13, 2007

Mapping the Way

Sometimes in the classes at Wolf Ridge, we use stories to better connect students to ideas and concepts. One of the stories used to broach the subject of resource use is “The Lorax? by Dr. Seuss.

One of the topics in our readings for class this week was Concept Mapping. We decided to break down the story of “The Lorax? and build a concept map. Using a concept map is a way to focus in on the important themes of the story. They help to make learning meaningful. By creating a concept map as an educator, you can help solidify the points that you are trying to make. It will make your message stronger in the class.

We brainstormed the following list of concepts, events and objects from the story. From this list, we created the concept map. View image

loss of resources
truffula trees
little boy
swomee swans
brown barbaloots
humming fish
smogulous smoke
food source disappearance
gummed up gills
second thoughts
the voice
last truffula seed
restore the ecosystem

Due to limitations on this blog site, the concept map can be viewed as a slideshow from the following website:

By Lisa Pazdernik and Rochelle Moravec

May 11, 2007

The Book

Writing is commonly seen as a means of reflection, documentation, and clarification for the author – but for researchers Fusco and Barton in their article Representing Student Achievements in Science Education, writing (particularly collective writing) can be a tool for assessment. Their study involving a community service project put on by homeless New York City teenagers was dependant upon being able to observe and analyze the students’ methods of inquiry. Students documented the planning, execution, and reflection of their garden project in a binder referred to as The Book. Though it does not boast sacred text like its famous counterpart, this Book is not lacking in the revelation department. As a collection of artifacts, it tells the story of a people and a place – a group of teenagers in New York City reacting to their cultural and physical environment. Readers begin to understand exactly how these students understand their world and, in turn, their desire to change it. This fresh perspective on assessment puts it on par with the actual unfolding of scientific understanding as an “emergent, ongoing process that serves to inform teachers and students of their individual and collective growth within their community.? The story that these students tell in The Book is also the means for comprehending the role of science as a subject, community-based activity, and way of knowing.

Twenty hours and several cultural light years away, outdoor educators in the far reaches of the northern Minnesota turn this research over in their hands and form questions with long o’s. How can we incorporate an assessment tool such as The Book in a short-term residential education setting? What enduring knowledge can students gain from documenting a three-day or weeklong experience in an unfamiliar setting? Many schools endorse writing activities with the use of journals. However, journals are typically for individual use and rarely reveal numerous points of view, let alone continue on beyond the scope of the trip. As with many other facets of field trip learning, this burden of integration ultimately falls on the classroom teacher. A Book that is maintained, facilitated, and housed by Wolf Ridge is bound to be short-sighted in its assessment potential as teachers would only be able to access it for the duration of their trip and are critically limited by time constraints and the impossible task of integrating previous groups’ experiences with their own. Such a tool would only make sense as a log or a book belonging to a particular school, representing their singular experiences. This allows unlimited time, access, and guided reflection for the group in question and could serve as an assessment tool and guide for the direction of the students’ desired learning, both in the classroom and at Wolf Ridge.

Josie Glassberg

Mind Your Ps

In the past few weeks, the word “inquiry? has found its way into countless pages of research, taking us on a spiral journey into a bottomless well of definitions. With so many interpretations, the word loses its original connotation and authority, rendering itself meaningless and its users dumb – without a common language and unable to communicate with one another. This predicament is outlined in Abd El-Khalick’s Inquiry in Science Education, an article that examines the international perspectives of inquiry learning in eight different countries. Though there are many similarities in definitions of inquiry, countries diverge in their execution of these concepts. El-Khalick’s research also functions to point out what works, where, and why. When the where happens to be Wolf Ridge, perplexed naturalists might find a note of clarity in Richard Duschl’s three Ps (psychology, philosophy, and pedagogy). Cultivating an atmosphere of inquiry is manageable when the educator gives equal weight to these three guidelines, taking into account the social aspect of science as a community activity, the conceptual knowledge of what is being taught, and finally the way that the students learn to learn. While most classrooms concentrate on the philosophy portion of the equation and give lip-service to psychology, the outside variables that influence learning are rarely given proper consideration (i.e. what do the students learn about learning when a school is modeling an exclusively indoor curriculum?) Given the outdoor setting of Wolf Ridge, this pedagogy is literally built into the syllabus – which provides a new outlet for learning among school groups, but also presents the problem of novelty. Outside means play, indoors means learning. How can a residential environmental learning center change these attitudes and behaviors for an optimal learning experience? How can visiting schools do their share?

Josie Glassberg

May 6, 2007

A Fieldtrip to Teach About Fieldtrips

Did you know that snow leopards are neither classified as big cats or small cats? With the round pupils of big cats and the inability to roar of small cats, snow leopards are somewhere in between. So we learned during a visit to the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth. Touring different types of environmental education facilities has given us a closer look at what may motivate a teacher to choose one field trip destination over another. As we have developed a clear picture of what a residential environmental learning center has to offer, touring other facilities has given us a clearer picture of the scope of the field.
Wolf Ridge ELC is a residential environmental learning center located in Northern Minnesota. It also happens to be our current place of employment. Wolf Ridge offers school groups, typically in grades 4 and above, the opportunity to come and stay for 3-5 days at a time. While here, these groups take classes in environmental science, natural history and adventure education. These classes are all taught by naturalist instructors. This opportunity provides students with an immersion experience in environmental education. As teachers are preparing for their trip to Wolf Ridge they often list curriculum connections and bonding experiences as motivations for coming. In talking with the Director of Wolf Ridge, it was noted that lists of educational standards addressed in the Wolf Ridge curriculum are often requested by visiting groups.
Hartley Nature Center is located in Duluth, MN. The property is owned by the city of Duluth, but the Nature Center itself is run as a non-profit organization. The bread and butter of this Center is the school groups that come to visit. Students come for either a half day or a full day experience to take natural history and science education classes. Teachers list their motivations as curriculum connections and a break from the routine of regular schooling. The Nature Center typically attracts groups in preschool through 3rd grade. At the Nature Center we had a chance to speak with the Program Coordinator. She noted that standards are rarely requested. In fact in her 2 years there she can only remember ever being asked 3 times for a list of the standards addressed.
The Lake Superior Zoo is also located in Duluth, MN. It boasts animals from all over the world and these animals are typically grouped in the zoo according to their homelands. For example, there was a section with Australian animals. By each enclosure, there is information on the animals that can be viewed there. This information includes natural and zoo diets, natural habitat, species status (endangered, threatened, etc.), and other interesting facts about the animals. Teachers have a great deal of choice in how they wish to structure their school visit including tours with an educator, ‘Zoologist for a Day’ programs, small group exploration, and various other methods for investigating the zoo. On our recent visit to the zoo, teacher motivations were not discussed. However, we can surmise that they would be as varied as the students who visit the zoo.
In his article “Understanding Elementary Teacher Motivations for Science Fieldtrips?, James Kisiel notes that 90% of the teachers surveyed in his study list curriculum connection as a key motivation for taking fieldtrips. From touring various facilities, we can see that Environmental Education Centers are working hard to make experiences at their facilities as relevant and accessible to visiting school groups as possible. It seems that the facilities we visited work with visiting teachers to try to connect their sites with the curriculum of the visiting groups. We hope that other facilities nationwide are doing the same in order to make it possible for schools to keep visiting sites such as these.

Jessie Henning and Sarah Crescimanni

May 5, 2007

Naturalists on the Loose! Free Choice Learning in Duluth

What happens when you take a group of environmental educators out into the field in which they work for a free day? What happens when that group of environmental educators crosses the line over to student and leaves their Naturalist name tags at home?

You get a free choice learning experience for a group that on any other day would be searching out opportunities for free choice learning for their students.

Last week we discussed how free choice learning experiences are usually most effective when the educator or the setting guides the patron to reinforce some semblance of structure within the learning environment. With a long week behind us, a day of freedom in the realm of environmental educator allowed us all to take a deep breath and just play. In our discussion of free choice learning experiences, I wonder to what degree we mentioned the word “play,? for to some degree, isn’t that what a trip to a museum, science center, or zoo is about? Put many of us in a science center or museum, and we are going to seek out the areas where we can play and have fun. Perhaps it is merely our connection to working with kids all week, but whether it was the International Wolf Center or the Great Lakes Aquarium, when allowed to freely roam the building, many of us could be found in the places where we could crawl into a wolf den or to watch how water travels through locks.

Yesterday, at the Lake Superior Zoo, I watched my fellow environmental educators run around on the trails in search of “Trouble? (the bear) when that moment of a free choice learning experience was presented to us. In search of penguins (which the zoo sadly does not have), they mimicked their best penguin walk. People went in many different directions at the zoo when we were given the opportunity, so I can’t describe everyone’s free choice learning experience, but I was able to see people become so engaged with their surroundings that they could have watched the African Fruit Eating Bats flutter around their enclosure for quite a while.

Reflecting back on the study by Falk and Storksdieck that Stefan and I read last week, which focused on how much patrons learned in a free choice learning experience, I wonder what my fellow environmental educators would say that they learned yesterday through our visit to Hartley Nature Center and the Lake Superior Zoo. And to what degree did they learn through their opportunity for a free choice learning experience?

If through my day in Duluth, I am choosing to partly define free choice learning experiences as a chance to incorporate play and exploration into learning within the setting where free choice typically happens, what does that mean for my everyday teaching in the informal setting of Wolf Ridge? How can I encourage free choice learning opportunities with my students to the degree that they feel okay leaving the bounds of their structured education?

Falk, J. & Storksdieck, M. (2005). Using the contextual model of learning to understand visitor learning from a science center exhibition. Science Education, 89: 744-778.

A Question of Personal Science: To Know or Not to Know?

In a discussion about a seemingly neutral topic, another student and I find ourselves at an impasse between Western Modern and personal science (so it does exist!).

Kelly has just launched into a story about whelks, describing in detail her encounter with these mysterious sea creatures, when I make it known that I am no longer listening.

“Stop Kelly! For God’s sake, don’t say another word!?

No one would think of calling my friend a dull storyteller anymore than they would think of me as a petulant child with fingers jammed in her ears, singing at the top of her lungs to avoid hearing some pointed reality. However, this is a case where principles hang in the balance. My shrill and mournful cry brings an end to Kelly’s description and ushers in a period of awkward silence for all those occupying my room. Inevitably, I am asked to explain myself and have difficulty summoning the proper words.

“I, um, don’t want to know about whelks because, well… I don’t really know what they are and…and I want to keep it that way.?

Blank stares and incredulous looks all around. Kelly is trying to form her mouth into the shape of a question but is unable to move her jaw. I start again,

“Well, it’s not that I’m completely in the dark…there’s this poem that explains them a bit, and it does a lovely job without giving away too much about what they look like. So I have a picture in my head of what I imagine whelks to be, and I’ve kind of been avoiding hearing about them from anyone else or seeing pictures of what they look like.?

“Are you crazy?!? (Kelly has found her voice) “Are you really saying that I can’t tell you my story because you prefer to avoid reality?!?

“Well, I honestly never thought whelks would come up in conversation!? (I honestly never thought whelks would come up in conversation.)

It is my turn to sit and stare as Kelly turns a deep shade of red, choking on a string of single-syllable vocalizations that all end in exclamation points. She has a wild look in her eye and is visibly shaking.

“Don’t be angry Kelly.?

She can’t help it, and so we agree to disagree for the time being and leave it at that – but not before making plans to reconvene and discuss the incident further when both of us have put a sizeable chunk of time between ourselves.

Hours later, we meet in the kitchen to discuss the terms of a possible alliance. No moderators are present, but the thought of one of our roommates walking in at any moment keeps the conversation civil. Kelly expresses that she is feeling a bit irritated and more than a bit censored by the fact that she cannot tell me about something that means a lot to her. In the end our second meeting, which finds us both rational and no longer emotionally driven about the subject, we are able to find some common ground. Kelly admits that because she has never had to confront anything of this sort before, she initially did not know what to do. But we decide that what we have encountered with the topic of the whelk is the heart of the definition of science, or at least what we have been considering through this class. If we define science as a way of knowing, then we have discovered through this issue that despite everyone’s personal way of knowing, they are all correct and well justified. Kelly may be baffled by the idea that I have refused to allow certain pieces of information into my sphere of knowledge. I admit that it does seem strange, but before passing judgment, consider the size of this sphere (not my sphere in particular, but the sphere of public knowledge of what is “known? and available to us). A college professor once explained this paradigm to our class by drawing a circle on the chalkboard.


This circle encompasses what humans “knew? back in the beginning, when our days were spent hunting and gathering, squatting around a fire and sleeping in caves. The space inside the circle is familiar territory, probably corresponding to actual territory in reality – the knowledge these early people gained from living on a small tract of land over a long period of time. The space outside the circle represents what we don’t (or didn’t) know. Notice the outside line of the circle. It shares an edge with the negative space that surrounds it. This boundary where knowledge and ambiguity meet is the edge of understanding where we come face to face with what we do not yet comprehend. With such a small sphere, our ancestors had a modest but deep learned knowledge of their world and, in turn, a limited edge on which to interact with the unknown. Now, turn your attention to the larger circle.


This circle signifies our present sphere of knowledge. It seems we have expanded our knowledge from the provincial intellect of the caveman to a more mature understanding of the world in all its geographies and natural laws, yes? Not exactly. Although our collective knowledge spans a great deal of area, any one individual’s knowledge may only skim the surface of this sphere. Personal knowledge can fall anywhere within this spectrum and occupy any depth, but given the great size of the sphere, no one person can achieve depth of knowledge in all areas of the circle. Our larger circle also comes with a larger perimeter and therefore a more extensive space in which we encounter the unknown. In other words, “the more we know, the more we don’t know.? While the knowledge gained by our primitive ancestors was often direct, experiential, and first-hand, the intellectual capacity of the average 21st century citizen is indirect, second-hand, and encumbered by a greater number of filters.

These filters of daily life are pervasive to the point of being hardly noticeable. They include any media – tangible or intangible – that serve as a buffer to experience. Common tangible filters include books, computers, binoculars, films, music, art, television, and even buildings and cars. Intangible filters are a bit more elusive as they are built into the fabric of our lives, making these philosophical, economic, political, and scientific perspectives invisible to the disciples of these constructs. One must move beyond one’s cultural boundaries to discover the framework where behaviors and principles lie. I do not mean to suggest that these filters are inherently negative, they aren’t. But the fact that they exist does not necessitate our unquestioning participation in them. Instead of allowing the rain of information to fall indiscriminately upon us, we can, with some forethought, situate ourselves under a less-foreboding cloud.

In a world where breadth trumps depth, it is often difficult to avoid these torrents of information that drizzle and seep into our subconscious minds. But if you find something that is sacred (an idea, a thought, an image), you do not wish to dilute it with water from any old rain cloud. This is many a child’s take on E.B.White, Roald Dahl, or J.K.Rowling. This is why most books are “better than the movie.? To maintain the integrity of a piece of literature in its rickety road to adaptation, the film director must be very careful to stay in step with both the author’s intentions and the audience’s perceptions. Case in point the special edition director’s cut of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. That, in my opinion, is a good adaptation. My central fear in the whelk saga is that Cynthia’s description will not be a fitting adaptation of Mary Oliver’s whelks, “each the size of a fist…whose edges have rubbed so long against the world they have snapped and crumbled…that wild darkness, that long, blue body of light.?

Despite the clear importance of Western Modern science – its emphasis on inquiry and comprehension of scientific theories, history, and epistemic boundaries – there are limits to its function. It cannot provide a complete answer to the question “what is a whelk?? anymore than Mary Oliver’s poem can offer a definitive truth. It is a matter of choice and preference. Not everyone would agree with this. In fact, I think one of the reasons that any refusal to acknowledge the counsel of Western Modern science is deemed an act of sacrilege has to do with the emphasis placed on our responsibility to be informed and discriminating citizens. In no way do I deny the importance of this. But I am not a marine biologist, nor do I reside in an ecosystem that contains whelks, nor do I have the commanding authority to make a decision that would affect these creatures in any substantial way. But, as Kelly might point out, who knows – maybe I am making decisions all the time that adversely affect whelks, decisions that I would make differently should I decide to Google “these long, blue bodies of light.?

This conversation with Kelly, like many good conversations with Kelly, leaves us with more questions than answers. What are the implications of applying these precepts in other contexts? Kelly reminds me that these convictions, while relatively harmless in regard to our little clash of Western Modern and personal sciences, has the potential to be dangerous in other contexts (i.e. religion and politics). Does adherence to personal science discourage involvement in the community as a responsible citizen? And what of practical application in science curriculum? Does this dichotomy pose a problem for incorporating indigenous or personal science with Western Modern science in the classroom? Who can decide these questions? And to give context to our lives as educators, what do we do when we are confronted with a student who simply does not want to know something? Is it possible to be effective educators teaching within the limits of our personal sciences without imposing too much upon our students?

Kelly Amoth & Josie Glassberg

April 29, 2007

How the Great Lake came to be

A long time ago, but not so long that you can't remember, Raven wanted to know how the Great Lake came to be. He decided to ask the oldest and wisest of the animals, Owl. He asked, "How did the Great Lake come to be?" Owl "hoo-ed" and "coo-ed" but could give him no satisfying answer. Then Raven thought to ask Trout for Trout spent all her time in the lake. "How did your home, the Great Lake, come to be?" Trout's answer was lost in the crashing waves as she dove deep into the water. Raven continued to seek an answer but grew tired. He stopped to rest near Highway 61. While scavenging on a deer carcass, Raccoon happened by. "Raccoon," said Raven with a beakful of flesh, "Perhaps you can help me. Do you know how the Great Lake came to be?" Raccoon did not know, but through his travels, from dumpster to dumpster in the big city, he had learned of a place called The Great Lakes Aquarium. He suggested that Raven explore this place. Perhaps it would give him the answer he sought. Raven set out immediately and with directions from Raccoon easily found the place.

As Raven entered the aquarium he was overwhelmed by the vast amount of displays and exhibits. "Look at all this information! Surely I'll find an answer to my question! Where should I begin?" Raven was confused. He didn't know where to go. Thankfully, he caught sight of a small sign above an escalator that read, "Start here." The first thing he encountered as he got off the escalator was a volcano. He wondered what it meant. There was no explanation. Next, his eye caught a TV screen in the corner. He eagerly approached the screen, expecting to find his answer, but alas, the TV did not work. He continued wandering through the exhibit, growing slightly weary, until he found what appeared to be a scrolling, geological timeline. As he attempted to read the events on the timeline, he found he could not see through the scuffed glass. Then the scrolling wheel came apart in his hands. Frustrated, he dropped the wheel and turned around. Directly in front of him was a lighted display case full of beautiful rocks. This was it! Each rock was accompanied by a descriptive sign, meant to tell him the rock's story. However, he did not know what any of the words meant. "Vesicular? Amygdaloidal? Extrusive? Enough!" Raven flew from the museum screaming, "I don't care how the Great Lake came to be. I never should have wasted my time."

And that is the end of the story.

April 22, 2007

Wanted: Dead or Alive (Nonliving or Living?)

The Sun: living or nonliving?

In our last class, one of the articles discussed was titled “Young Children Learning about Living Things: A Case Study of Conceptual Change from Ontological and Social Perspectives.? It revolved around the understanding that 5 and 6 year-olds had about living things. One of the questions asked of the children was “Is the sun alive?? At first thought, it doesn’t seem that it is a difficult question to answer. However, the children interviewed had many varying views. Answers included “Yes…Because it gives us sun and can move?, “yes….Because it’s hot….It can move, it moves around the area? and “No….Because he couldn’t live in a house.?
During our classroom discussion, we were intrigued and tried to remember if such questions were raised to us back at that age. Alas, it is hard to separate when knowledge and understanding was gained. To gain a student’s perspective, we decided to conduct our own, unscientific poll of some of the students and chaperones attending Wolf Ridge this week. We polled six 7th graders (4 boys, 2 girls) and three chaperones (1 male, 2 females). The question she posed was “Is the sun living? Why?? The results are revealed below in poetic verse.

To a six year old girl,
The sun is living—
It has a heart.
Where? Why, in the middle!

At thirteen things become a little more complex.
Maybe it’s like a plant, it eats things…
There are no reasons why it’s dead, so, yeah, it must be alive.
And more reasoning is tossed back and forth:
But it doesn’t have a heart.
—It gives off energy
But it doesn’t breathe!
—But it’s in the food chain….
No, it’s fire.

As an adult
(When you’ve realized all you don’t know
But try to forget and pretend)
The sun’s living or nonliving status sparks bewilderment.
I don’t consider a rock alive
—Is Saturn alive?
Can a planet even be alive?
—The sun renews itself, so it must be living, like us.
No, it’s a bunch of chemical reactions—like a nuclear reactor.
And nothing lives in a nuclear reactor!

And they turn to me for the answer—
Here’s the part I didn’t prepare for.

My idea of living is somewhat general,
I speak to rocks and to spoons
And to chairs when they stub my toe.
I don’t remember ever being told the specific difference—
Living, nonliving,
Biotic, Abiotic,
Alive, Never-been-alive…

So I say,
“It’s just a study.?

Perhaps when we’re younger,
We see more truth than fact.

April 15, 2007

Research and EE

On Natural History, and being a Naturalist:
"Telling the stories of the land is like weaving an intricate tapestry, one whose fibers integrate science and a genuine love for land. In this tapestry, science provides the strength and substance for the weave, while love is the color, giving beauty and vitality. For the weave to have integrity, both science and love must remain undaunted by the other's often intimidating presence. They must complement rather than consume one another, support rather than subvert each other. The honing of this art is the pursuit of the naturalist. The tapestry as a whole reflects the genius of natural history."
From the introduction to the book,
The Secret Sierra,by David Gilligan
(Spotted Dog Press, 2000)

Recently our class has been talking about research on students’ ecological knowledge the value of research. The quote above describes the work of a Naturalist as weaving a tapestry of science and love. We need to understand the research and science behind what we teach as well as love what we do for it to work. Understanding research is key to expanding our knowledge. Our new knowledge challenges us to create changes and therefore improve our work. Considering current research and implementing new ideas into our teaching, we are working towards improving the field of Environmental Education.

April 8, 2007

One Fish, Two Fish

We are naturalists, women, and educators in the outdoors. Sarah is an Environmental Science major and Hallie is an English major, but still currently finds herself in an environmental career. We read “Elementary Girls' Science Reading at Home and School? for our Graduate coursework in Environmental Education. The authors, D.J. Ford, et al., introduced the intriguing idea that you can make girls more interested in science by introducing “nature? or “science? literature at a young age is. There are lots of little implications here. Are boys introduced to science or nature literature that girls are not? Do girls just require more of it? To explore this idea, we decided to look at what we read that “made? us like science.
“Stand Back,? Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!? is a book about a talking elephant, but I learned what animals lived in the same habitat as elephants, and I learned what these animals looked like. Watership Down told me about rabbits in England. I am sure Nancy Drew solved a mystery or two outside. Maybe that sparked my interest in tracking animals and learning their stories. Did Sarah learn her love of categorizing things from the rhyming fantasy One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish? Definitely she found that they came in different colors. In Blueberries for Sal, we find that bears eat blueberries. Did these books lead us to our science/environment careers?
All of this just brings up more questions. What is a science or nature book? Does a book have to have a title like “Bugs in your Backyard? to be science? Does it have to be accurate? Truth? Fact? Hmm, maybe it is where we read the books. I read many on the shores of Lake Michigan. Sarah read her books in her room. Well, there goes that theory. She is the scientist.
We find it kind of a cop-out that recommending “nature? or “science? books to girls will make them more interested in science. Rather, we think that recommending books, of any kind, to all children, will help them with any field. Reading gives everyone a broader grasp of language and sentence structure, along with information relating to the genre of the book. In addition, reading and literature teach deduction, reasoning, and encourage the use of imagination. How many novels did you read in your science classes? Maybe as science educators our job should be to write reading lists into our lesson plans. Maybe our job should be to integrate novels and books into the science curriculum. Maybe we should write the books! Maybe once we start doing this, students will gain a broader understanding of how science connects to their everyday worlds, and maybe in the process girls and boys will become more interested in science careers.

March 30, 2007

Women in Math, Science, and Engineering

The two of us writing this week’s blog have many commonalities. We both attended liberal arts colleges in Minnesota. We also both graduated with majors in elementary education with a focus on mathematics. We are now both spending the current school year studying environmental education. We found the article "The Loss of Women from Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Undergratuate Majors: An Explanatory Account" by Elaine Seymour to be of interest to us. This article focuses on reasons why these particular fields have been and still remain male dominated.

Looking back at our college experiences, we found some portions of this to be parallel to what we perceived on our campuses. There were indeed less women in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering (SME). Our experiences with our mathematics courses, however, did not mirror those of the women described in this article. Neither of us were intimidated by the men in the field and felt that our professors were available to us when needed. We felt competent but did not feel the need to prove ourselves to our peers and professors. We feel that our experiences are a credit to the institutions we attended. Having attended small liberal arts colleges, is it possible that there is more of push to support women in SME fields in these types of institutes? If this is the case, we hope to see the trend spread to other halls of learning.

-Jessie Henning and Rochelle Moravec

March 18, 2007

Gender equity: A conversation

I was thinking about the discussion regarding the closing gap between genders in education during class on Friday. A few things that came to mind: Nate said that by many accounts, the gap is closing in education and that women are performing better than men in some SME subject areas, but that they are choosing not to enter the field. So the problem strikes me as one of the continued socialization of gender stereotypes. This leads me to wonder about our effectiveness within the scope of a 3-hour class here at Wolf Ridge. We can be as gender-equal as possible but, it might not make any difference at all if the child's home situation perpetuates the subjugation of women.

An example from last week: As I taught rock climbing to a group of 7th graders, one of the boys (who struck me as mature and intelligent) told one of the girls that there was a dusty spot on the wall that she needed to dust. I couldn't help but see this as an issue of gender stereotypes (as I look back now, I made assumptions about what I heard and realize that I knew little about the relationship of the two…). I recall saying in a sort of off-hand way: "You know B______, you could dust it yourself." He responded that he didn't like dusting and avoided it unless his mother forced him to. What was I hoping to change through my remark? I have often heard about the importance of standing up to remarks or jokes which are sexist or racist. I want my teaching to reflect the gender equality that I know is the truth... but is this enough?

That is an interesting situation. I've found myself in similar types in some of my classes. It is hard to know what kind of a difference we are making.

Sometimes I wonder if my students are getting what I'm trying to teach let alone complicated social issues all in three hours. I think that most times that the best thing we can do is provide a little positive influence. Even if it seems like the students don't listen, I think they do respect us and generally accept our opinions. The more people to show kids a positive influence the better. And we probably aren't going to change each child’s view of gender issues but every little bit helps.

This discussion has led me to think about the way I teach. Are there things that I do or don't do in my classes (i.e. pick on boys to answer more or give certain jobs to girls etc.) without even thinking about? I do think that we here at Wolf Ridge can be a positive influence in getting girls excited about the outdoors. I'm going to make an extra effort to examine the little things in my classes to see what I can change.

I think that you're right about the positive influence Wolf Ridge can have for girls in the outdoors. And I know that while this has been in my mind already this year, the articles we read have perhaps brought it further into the foreground. I am curious to know if there is some sort of deconstructive analysis (a la Lyn Carter) one could perform on one's teaching to search for these things we might do without realizing. After all, if we can't recognize the things we do that perpetuate gender stereotypes, we can't change the system that creates them.

Stefan Theimer and Jason Uitvlugt

March 16, 2007

EE: The Great Equilizer?

The work of an environmental educator can sometimes feel as though you’re running around in circles. The track never seems to end with the constant influx of new students, evolving curriculum and changing perceptions and attitudes about the environment.

In light of the article written by Gilbert and Yerrick about tracking in public education, the track run upon by an environmental educator is much more comfortable and responsive to each footfall during a typical day out in the field.

The beauty of environmental education is that it is trackless. The same Nature that tears through trees with its winds and bakes the desert with its heat also breaks down the walls and hierarchies of the classroom. Each student who visits Wolf Ridge begins a class with a clean slate. The instructor has no preconceived notions about his or her abilities or lack thereof. Every student is on equal footing with his peers and given the opportunity to push himself farther and beyond the boundaries he may know in his traditional classroom. Environmental education opens the gates for self-exploration, not only within the context of experiential learning, but also within the student himself. When we begin a class and look at the fresh faces of twelve new students, each possesses the same potential for growth and understanding in the outdoor environment. Tracks are forgotten. Social and cultural standings cease to exist as students and teachers engage in a common discourse of discovery. When our students return to their schools after a visit to Wolf Ridge, we hope that as they sit down at their desks, they realize a life led with curiosity and openness to the world around them will take them beyond the tracking of the public school system to heights unknown.

Kelly Amoth & Josie Glassberg

Gilbert, A. & Yerrick, R. (2001). Same school, separate worlds: A sociocultural study of identity, resistance and negotiation in a rural, lower track scheicen classroom. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(5): 574-598.

March 5, 2007

The Ways of Knowing

We want our students to become effective local and global citizens. The current research puts emphasis on students understanding there are different ways of knowing.

“Different ways of knowing may be thought of as different versions of a
screwdriver: Science might be thought of as a flat head, theology as a Phillips
head, and aesthetics as a hex head. They are all screwdrivers, but each tool fits
one particular set of problems and not another. When we offer science as a tool,
we must make it abundantly clear that we are neither trying to remove nor asking
for an exchange of any tool because all the tools are needed at different times.
The different tools are not equal, but they can be equally useful under different
circumstances.? (Smith and Scharmann, 1997, p. 506)

In a world with so many tools, who decides what tools are to be used and when? Are we as educators using all the tools that are available to us? Even though there are many tools available, often times they are restricted to the educator. Why aren’t all the tools available for the students to use? As a teacher at Wolf Ridge ELC, I see students for just three hours a day and then maybe not again. How can I help them become wise consumers of the information?
Scharmann, Lawrence C. and Smith, Mike U. (1997). Defining versus Describing the Nature of Science: A Pragmatic Analysis for Classroom Teachers and Science Educators. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Sci Ed 85:6- 34, 2001.

February 25, 2007

The Importance of Multicultural Teaching

We are white, middle-class, American woman. We’ve been brought up to value freedom and creativity and hard work. We’re expected to become contributing members of society. Our parents and teachers have always told us, “You can do ANYTHING with your life.? They told us education was the key. We both attended private liberal arts colleges in Minnesota. Now we’re ready to make our contributions, but the rules have changed, or rather, expectations have grown. Our contributions are expected to extend beyond our white, middle-class, Minnesotan communities. At a time when the world is rapidly changing, freedom is becoming a way of life. We are constantly moving, traveling and learning. How do we anticipate contributing to this global citizenry? We’re becoming teachers. We are teachers, and we understand the importance of multicultural learning because our educations not only stressed reading and writing, but prepared us to become contributing world citizens.

Current research highlight the importance of incorporating multicultural learning into all disciples, however, one area this trend has fallen short is within science education. Our science curriculums have always focused on Western science education. Multicultural science practices were rarely, if ever, taught. Due to the nature of science, or what the Western world believes to be true about science, it’s proven difficult to include other understandings of science in our curriculums.

“In 1987, the Portland Oregon School District published the African-American Baseline Essays, a set of six revisionist essays providing resource materials and references for teachers on the knowledge and contributions of Africans and African-Americans. The science baseline essay…has serious problems, but it is widely distributed because of the current pressure on school districts to incorporate multicultural material into the classroom.? (Cobern and Loving, 2000, p. 52)

As educators, we know that teaching with a multicultural focus is important, but how much is too much? There is a profuse amount of knowledge out there; it’s impossible to teach it all. How do we choose what to teach and what not to teach? Teachers only have so much time, money and energy to contribute at work. Just like all other human beings, teachers are not able to be knowledgeable in everything. How far can we bend our teachers before they break? We’ve been prepared for the challenge, but how far can we bend ourselves?

As educators at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, we spend three hours with different groups of students. We know very little about our students before they enter our classrooms. How can someone in this unique setting teach multiculturally?

Rochelle Moravec and Greta Arnquist

Cobern, William W. and Loving, Cathleen C. (2000). Defining “Science? in a Multicultural World: Implications for Science Education. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Sci Ed 85:50-67.