Campus News

June 21, 2010

Applying science to the schoolyard

With temperatures stuck in the 90s, just the thought of wading creeks or combing schoolyards would make most people wilt. But 22 teachers in grades K-12 from across Georgia and north Florida not only think it’s great, they competed with dozens of other teachers to do it. They are the 2010 class for the Oxford Institute for Environmental Education, which took place June 7–18 at the Oxhouse Science Center, the science field station of Oxford College. 

Now in its 19th year, OIEE teaches the basic principles of ecology in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and teachers leave brimming with ideas on how to apply such knowledge to their lesson plans. One OIEE specialty is leading the participants in developing a schoolyard investigation plan or SYIP, a method in which teachers look to their own school’s grounds for places to demonstrate environmental lessons.  Entomology, botany, geology are just a few of the areas that teachers come to realize have applications literally in their own backyard.  

“OIEE has changed my perspective,” says Jody Davis, third-grade teacher at Atlanta’s Mary Lin Elementary School, a partner with Emory through the Roots and Shoots organization. “It has helped me see things through the lens of science.” She and second-grade teacher Posey Arillo are third-generation attendees from the Mary Lin faculty. Arillo concurred with the changed perspective and added, “It helps me understand science-minded children and how they see the world. That’s a gift that is not always rewarded in the normal realm of gifted education.”

Davis and Arillo also say that OIEE has left a positive stamp on Mary Lin. Former OIEE attendees from the school have enhanced Mary Lin’s outdoor education habitat with their SYIPs, installing urban gardens and a Monarch butterfly way station.

An unexpected benefit that Davis and Arillo also noted was the opportunity to work alongside high school teachers, most of whom teach science or math exclusively. Daily contact through OIEE creates an exchange that helps both groups understand the jargon and challenges of the other, and all participants benefit from the instruction of veteran faculty from the Oxford biology department.

The two weeks of OIEE include frequent forays away from Oxhouse; the most popular is what has come to be known as “Creek Day” on Bear Creek in southern Newton County. Participants seine the creek and go through aquatic-life and floral identification exercises with Oxford’s Steve Baker, a fisheries biologist; Eloise Carter, whose expertise is botany; and Theodosia Wade, environmental-science specialist.

Since it was founded in 1992, OIEE has trained more than 300 teachers. Considering the extended reach of those individual teachers in toto, OIEE has had an impact upon thousands of students. Though environmental concern is global, making an impact begins on the local level.

OIEE’s success has been recognized by the National Awards Council for Environmental Sustainability and the Georgia Wildlife Federation.

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