It doesnt take too long to figure out that, of the couple
dozen people wading through Bear Creek in southern Newton County
on this fine Friday in June, at least a few are not the type to
be wading through creeks, Bear or otherwise.
There are nervous giggles. There are sudden blurts of vertigo.
There are even shrieks of feigned panic. But, more importantly,
there is learning, and that is why these folks17 participants,
four instructors and one student assistant in the Oxford Institute
for Environmental Education (OIEE)are here in the first place.
Now in its 11th year, the OIEE is a 10-day program designed to
help teachers bring the natural world into their classrooms by taking
their classrooms out into the natural world. Participants go into
the field and learn not only how to conduct their own ecological
investigations, but also how to teach their students to do it, too.
Studies have shown that inquiry-based teaching is one of
the most effective ways to teach science, said Steve Baker,
associate professor of biology at Oxford and OIEE director. A
lot of people have these wildlife habitats or butterfly gardens
[at their schools], but they dont use them. Theyre too
nervous about taking their classes out.
That nervousness, and the unfamiliarity with ecological fieldwork
that invariably accompanies it, is exactly what OIEE is designed
to overcome. Baker and Eloise Carter, professor of biology, launched
the program in 1992 after Oxford was granted a nearby tract of property
that became the Oxhouse Science Center: an ecological laboratory
complete with its own small lake and 47 acres of forest and grassland.
Oxford professors immediately began bringing their own students
to Oxhouse, but Baker and Carter saw an even greater use.
If we worked with teachers, Baker said, those
teachers could then teach ecology investigation to their students.
And each teacher probably will have hundreds of students, so we
could really make a large impact in that way.
That summer the two organized the first OIEE, and each summer since,
a small group of teachersmostly from the Atlanta area but
some from farther awayhas come to Oxhouse for 10 days to wade
through streams, float on lakes, visit rock outcroppings and generally
familiarize themselves with natures own laboratory.
The program is free, and participants even are awarded a $100 stipend
through an Eisenhower Grant and additional funding from Georgia
Power. Most participants live within driving distance of Oxford
and are able to commute each day, but for those who must travel
farther, Oxford Campus Life makes housing available during the program
for a minimal fee.
For example, one of this summers student/teachers is John
Taylor, who teaches at the Eckerd Youth Alternatives School in Blakely,
Ga., just inside the state line above the Florida panhandle. Taylor
is no neophyte to the outdoors, but hes learned ways to further
integrate learning from books with learning from nature.
Classroom and field work go hand in hand, said Taylor,
who learned about the program through his principal. I try
to teach that way too, because hands-on work is more interesting.
There are also participants like Tamie Clark, who teaches first
grade at Jackson Elementary School in Newton County. I love
being outside, but teaching bugs and all that stuff? Ewww,
Clark said. Its fun, though, and the children love it,
which is why Im doing this even though it freaks me out.
Shes not the only one it freaks out, as evidenced by the
aforementioned shrieks when some of the participants step on or
happen to pick up something creepy and crawly in Bear Creek. But
even their fear is lighthearted, and its clear
that each of the 17 participants is having a grand time tromping
through the water, picking up bugs and fish, and getting their clothes
dirtygenerally, acting like kids again.
Its like music, said Esther Brinson, an environmental
teacher at Clarkston High School. The language of the environment
For more information about OIEE, contact Baker at 770-784-8446.