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Summer institute for teachers

Teacher training can infuse classrooms with current scientific thinking. When teachers are confident and engaged in new concepts, students benefit. With this in mind, the Cary Institute’s Ecosystem Literacy Initiative, led by Dr. Alan Berkowitz, recently launched a Summer Institute for Teachers.

Created to provide free professional development to K-12 educators, the week-long sessions immersed participants in ecosystem science. Twenty-seven teachers took part in the pilot effort, with attendees drawn from schools throughout Southern New York, including Dutchess County, Ulster County, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens.

In addition to exposure to the Cary Institute’s scientific staff, participants were given the opportunity to strengthen their analytical skills and learn methods of integrating ecosystem concepts into their lesson plans. The training took place in July at the Cary Institute’s 2,000-acre Millbrook campus and nearby field sites.

Two sessions were offered. The first, led by Cary Institute educator Ms. Cornelia Harris, was tailored to high school and middle school teachers. Using curricula that she helped develop for the Changing Hudson Project, Harris provided participants with a framework for teaching the fundamentals of ecosystem ecology.

Each day, teachers interacted with Cary Institute scientists and engaged in experiments that could be replicated in the classroom. A field trip to the Hudson River reinforced lessons about how human activities have altered the river’s ecosystem. Some of the data used for the lesson plans was drawn directly from Cary Institute research.

Elementary school teachers were the focus of the second session, led by Cary Institute educator Ms. Kim Notin. Using water budgets and food webs, K-5 teachers honed their ability to teach young learners about ecosystems. Hands-on activities included calculating carbon footprints, documenting food chains, creating a solar oven, and using farms and homes to understand ecosystem connections.

Each teacher crafted an ecosystem lesson plan for the upcoming school year. This fall, classroom visits by Cary Institute educators will help ensure that new concepts are successfully integrated into instruction. After- school teacher workshops, offered throughout the school year, will further strengthen techniques learned over the summer.

So far, the prognosis for classroom application is good. Participant Mr. Jon Dolan, an environmental science teacher at Dover High School in Dover Plains, expressed, “Knowledge that I gained during the Summer Institute is already enriching my classroom. When teaching about the ecological impact of invasive species, I can draw on local examples and exciting facts about the Hudson River. Undoubtedly, this makes lessons more interesting to my students.”

Based on the success of this year’s program, a Summer Institute is being planned for 2009. In the meantime, all teachers are encouraged to join in the discussion at the Teaching Ecosystem Literacy Website. Moderated by Cary Institute educators, it is a forum for sharing lesson plans, posting grant opportunities, and keeping in touch with like-minded colleagues.

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