Despite the frigid temperatures, the wind chill, and a two-hour delay to boot, 10 teachers showed up to the Frick Environmental Center for our first ever Mission Ground Truth: 21 teacher training. Mission Ground Truth is an inquiry-based experiential science curriculum that gives middle school students the opportunity to investigate the health and value of forest and freshwater stream ecosystems. Combining classroom and field sessions, Mission Ground Truth gives students a glimpse into the everyday life of an ecologist. After piloting the program in the spring with the 7th grade science classes at Propel Montour, we have expanded our reach this school year to include Propel Homestead, Propel McKeesport, Winchester Thurston, The Ellis School, and the Environmental Charter School.
Teacher trainings are an important part of developing a partnership between informal educators and classroom teachers. We have different styles, different objectives, and different experiences to bring to the table. The training was a chance for everyone to get to know each other, establish appropriate roles and expectations, and to introduce new teachers to the content of the program. We wanted to provide a space where they could ask questions, give feedback, and learn from Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy staff and teachers who have previously gone through the program.
Many of the teachers had limited experience teaching outdoors and wanted some tips to prepare their class and themselves. As an informal educator myself, two of the most integral aspects of a successful program are ensuring that students are dressed appropriately for the weather (nothing is more distracting than discomfort) and having an enthusiastic and involved teacher on board. Really, it all comes back to communicating expectations to others. We had a great conversation about how helpful it is for the teacher to model the good behavior we expect from our students. As much as the training is for the teachers to become comfortable and acquainted with the program, it was also a space for us to get feedback on the curriculum content. From these discussions, we developed an Environmental Education tip sheet to share with all of our program partner teachers.
At the end of every discovery activity simulation, we always came back to the overarching goal: We want the kids to have hands-on experience outdoors doing what scientists do. They’re getting the chance to see what it means to be an ecologist. That means doing research and making predictions, then going out into the field to test those predictions and analyze their data. Both elements are essential. Once they understand that, then they can work through the details that make it all happen.
Be sure to check out part two of our blog next week to learn more about Mission Ground Truth:21 and how we use parks as classrooms.