Monday, February 28, 2011

Right in our backyards....

One of the changes I've tried in my teaching this year is sharing the stage. Stepping back and allowing my students to learn from experts, family, and even each other has reaped tremendous rewards. The level of engagement and achievement could not be higher! As with anything new, it seems to get easier as the months go by. Our next project has uncovered treasure right in our backyard! The last Shout event, Study the Land, provided ideas for learning about the effects of climate change on the trees. I also came across a lesson plan from the Smithsonian that I was given last summer in Washington, D.C. about plant fossils found in nearby Wyoming. It contains photos of leaf fossils and a graph of the climate change that took place during the time in which they were formed. The Epals website had a link to information about a coal mine and rain forest fossils. Things began to connect and I made a few calls. It turns out that the husband of our physical education teacher is an environmentalist at the coal mine that we can see from our school playground. A call to him confirmed that there have been plant fossils found right here where we live. Some are large fern fossils, too large for him to bring to school, but he is going to gather what he can and pay us a visit. I can't think of a more engaging way for the kids to learn that there used to be a rain forest right where we live! Even better, he is the uncle of one of my students. Equally important, all the kids are aware that our pine forests are dying. You can't drive into the mountains in Colorado without noticing vast areas of reddish orange pine trees. Pine beetles are killing them. We are inviting someone from the National Forest Service to pay us a visit as well, to help us understand what is happening. Apparently the pine beetle problem is also related to global climate change. A lesson from the rain forest of the past, a lesson from the pine forests of the present, and questions about the future of forests here where we live will undoubtedly be interesting and meaningful to my second graders. I won't be teaching any of those lessons. I will facilitate the learning by inviting those who know much more than I. We will all learn together. The focus will be on learning, not on my teaching. The lessons will not be found in a text book or teacher's manual, but I have no doubt that the learning will be powerful and the reflections of the students will last a lifetime.

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