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This Colorado teacher connects science to everyday life

This Colorado teacher connects science to everyday life
This Colorado teacher connects science to everyday life

How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask great educators how they approach their work.

Decorating cookies with constellations, chatting with scientists on bi-weekly video calls and visiting a local nursery to select plants for an outdoor classroom.

These are just some of the activities Stacy Wolff does with students as a science resource teacher at Flagstaff Academy, a charter school in Longmont. Part of his goal is to create memorable hands-on science lessons that engage children in the same way that churning butter, studying life in ponds and practicing bird calls enriched his own experience. school.

However, Wolff’s lessons don’t just happen during class. Five years ago, she helped form a club called the Green Team after students told her about their concerns about Flagstaff’s recycling program. Since then, she says, the group “transformed our school,” revamping the recycling program and launching an effort to reduce food waste in the dining hall, among other things.

Wolff was one of two teachers recently named Outstanding Environmental Educator by the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education. She told Chalkbeat how she teaches students about planetary orbits, what question started the school’s “Marsketeers” club, and why she changed her approach to science fair projects.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Was there a time when you decided to become a teacher?

There wasn’t really a moment when I decided to become a teacher, but a movement in time. My love of animals, nature, and science kicked in when I was a young girl, so it seemed logical to get a degree in wildlife conservation.

After graduation, I alternated between positions in avian research, science education, and outdoor education. While I love all of my work, I wanted to focus on science education: inspiring students to become lifelong learners, to better understand the natural world, to engage in their community, and to get excited about science.

How has your own school experience influenced your approach to teaching?

My most memorable experiences in school were hands-on and research-based. I remember learning about the phase changes of matter by making butter from scratch in second grade, doing a pond study in the forest adjacent to my middle school, and doing field trips for school lessons. geology and ecology in high school. In college, I learned the most – and had the most fun – through labs and field research. I fondly remember listening to recordings of bird calls in the library and then having the satisfaction of identifying them in the wild.

Tell us about a favorite lesson to teach. Where did the idea come from?

My favorite astronomy lesson was developed by Mike Zawaski and Cherilynn Morrow. In the kinesthetic astronomy lesson, students create a scale model of the earth and the sun and learn about the motions of the earth relative to the sun. Students assume the role of being the Earth, and once they learn to rotate and orbit a model sun, they can then learn to answer many astronomy questions using their bodies. They can discover answers to questions such as “Why does the full moon rise at sunset?” “Why do we see different stars at different times of the year? and “Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the west?”

You helped create a food rescue table in the cafeteria. How it works?

The Food Rescue Table was created to reduce food waste and address food insecurity in our school community. Our Green Team student and staff advisors worked with district lunch staff to ensure we were following USDA guidelines and collaborated with our paraprofessionals to decide on the best way to collect food during lunch periods.

If a student finishes their lunch, they can ask permission to visit the food emergency table and if there is food or drink available, that student can take it. At the end of the dinner period, the students add some leftovers from the school dinner to the table. These foods include whole fruits and unopened foods like milk, yogurt, cheese sticks, cookies, and juice. Our amazing district lunch team checks the temperature in a cooler throughout the day. At the end of the last lunch period, the bins are placed on a shelf so that students can access the leftovers for afternoon snacks and the next morning.

Tell us about your school’s green team and Marsketeers club.

Five years ago, three college students asked to meet after noticing recycling was not being disposed of properly. They wanted to create a solution to this problem, so we formed the green team. This student-led group has transformed our school. With guidance from our district’s School Wellness Coordinator and Eco-Cycle, along with grants from the Colorado Department of Education and our parent-teacher organization, we created the Food Recovery Table, revamped our recycling program and built an outdoor classroom.

The Marsketeers club started after a fifth grader asked me during our astronomy unit why he couldn’t see Mars then. I asked the student how he could understand it. After considering a number of possibilities, he decided to ask a scientist. After that conversation, we created the Marsketeers Club to help students learn more about Mars, the search for life, and how scientists learn to ask good questions. Each bi-weekly Zoom meeting is hosted by myself and Dr. Mike Zawaski, a Mars 2020 mission scientist and Texas A&M University scientist. We start each meeting with a presentation from Dr. Zawakki or another scientist friend of his. We focus on recent discoveries from Mars or other exciting Earth and space science missions, and then the 15-20 students ask questions.

What is happening in the community that impacts your students?

Something that is always happening in the community is change. Children often come to me with stories of new discoveries and questions about their world. One of our big topics in second grade is monarch butterflies and their journey through Colorado. The students made the connection that every action can have a positive or negative impact and that there can be many perspectives to a given situation, such as the decision to use pesticides. Our students have begun to realize that they can conserve monarch butterflies by planting milkweed seeds and other flowering plants for all life stages of the monarch, which in turn will help create an ecosystem balanced for our human and non-human communities.

Tell us about a memorable moment—good or bad—when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.

When I started my teaching career at Flagstaff Academy, students in grades three through five participated in a science, technology, engineering, and math fair. I inherited the traditional way of facilitating the program in which students chose a topic and completed their project at home. After my first year of teaching, I realized that this approach created stress for students and their families. I surveyed my students and created a focus group of parents and our principal, confirming my prediction that the students did not feel ready to conduct a full experiment on their own, and that many parents were doing much of the work.

As a result, I revamped the STEM fair to include classroom activities where students planned and potentially began their experiences. I provided guidance, used graphic organizers, and a timeline of steps. From there, students had the knowledge to do more work themselves, get feedback from their peers, and the confidence to complete their project.

What do you read for fun?

“Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Begins in Your Backyard,” by Douglas Tallamy, and “A World in Flight: A Global Migratory Bird Odyssey,” by Scott Weidensaul.

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, covering early childhood issues and early literacy. Contact Ann at [email protected]

. This teacher colorado connects science life everyday

. Colorado teacher connects science everyday life

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