From Iowa prairies and water quality to soil and energy, Iowa teachers have the opportunity to learn how to better prepare themselves to teach these and similar subjects as part of annual Environmental Issues Instruction (eii) workshops.
Administered by Upper Iowa University since 2011, two separate eii workshops are offered to 48 teachers each academic year. Practicing teachers of all grade levels are the main audience for the graduate-level workshops, which are each based on an environmental issue theme. Additional environmental educators such as naturalists and pre-service educators are also welcome to attend. The lessons and activities are interdisciplinary in nature and the participating teachers are encouraged to modify the curriculum to fit the needs of their own students. The curriculum is also aligned with the Iowa Core and Next Generation Science Standards.
Barbara Ehlers, UIU assistant professor of education, first took a graduate level eii workshop in 1989. She was later asked to become a teacher leader and served in that capacity for several years before becoming an eii staff member and eventually its director.
“My personal goal is to offer quality professional development for environmental educators based on current environmental issues,” said Ehlers. “In addition to having the opportunity to learn content related to environmental issues, the educators discover engaging instructional strategies to use with students in their own classrooms.”
She explained the local eii is a slightly modified version of the IEEIA model developed by Dr. Harold Hungerford and his colleagues of Southern Illinois University in the late ‘70s. This year’s “Energy Systems of the Prairie” as well as all eii workshops are based on the following four-level model:
- Issue Exploration – The teachers learned the difference between a problem and an issue through the use of “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss. The story was analyzed and the teachers closely examined their fellow players’ respective points of view and motivation. Other activities in this level helped the participants understand the motivating factors of why people make the choices that they do.
- Ecological Foundations – The participants learned the scientific concepts related to energy. Examples of the guidance offered were: What is energy? Where does energy come from? How do we use energy? How does the energy usage of the U.S. compare to other nations? What are some eco-friendly sources of energy? How can we reduce our use of energy? Among the hands-on and engaging activities were the development and/or utilization of a vortex cannon, solar cars, and solar ovens.
- Issue Study – The participants studied real energy issues such as food vs. fuel and fracking. The issues were analyzed similar to those in the exploration model.
- Responsible Environmental Action – This problem-based learning model included the study of energy test results to help solve environmental issues. Upon returning to their respective schools, the participating eii teachers and their students develop an action plan based on the environmental issue. Following the energy theme, many conduct home energy audits and from the results develop plans to reduce the use of energy in their homes.
Ehlers noted the annual eii instruction is made possible through grant funding. Among the major benefactors is the Department of Natural Resources and its REAP-CEP program. In addition, Upper Iowa University awards two graduate credits to the participating teachers, and all preparation of materials is completed by the eii team on the UIU Fayette Campus.
Joining Ehlers on the current eii team are Julie Delaney, principal at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport, and Jeff Monteith, TAG instructor at New Hampton Schools. Larry Raineri, TAG instructor at Western Dubuque Schools served as a teacher leader during the most recent sessions.
Delaney attended her first eii workshop in 1998. She later served as an eii teacher leader and eventually adjunct instructor at UNI from 2003-2011, before assuming her role as UIU eii associate director in 2011. She also serves as an adjunct instructor at UIU-Quad Cities. Principal Delaney and her Davenport school recently hosted one of the 2014-2015 eii workshops.
“Eii provides teachers with a hands-on teaching model to help students learn about and understand environmental issues, while also being responsible citizens,” said Delaney. “It is a unit of STEM-based instruction that is aligned with the Iowa Core and the teachers can take and adapt to their particular students.
“From research and our experiences over the years, we’ve learned the teachers most frequently implement activities they have completed themselves in our workshops,” the administrator noted. “By having (St. Paul) teachers from almost every grade level participate in this summer’s workshop, our students will benefit from the additional hands-on activities and teacher collaboration among the grade levels.
“In turn, the students will experience a common language and model of instruction through further collaboration between the various grade levels,” she added. “This will help with vertical and horizontal curriculum alignment. Current plans are to implement a school-wide event to tie everything together and celebrate the teachers’ most recent eii experience.”
At the same time, preparations are underway for the 2015-2016 eii workshop, “Soil: The Earth Beneath Our Feet.” While the complete program has yet to be finalized, the participating teachers can be assured they will be kicking up methods to further engage their students in helping to preserve the environment. Anyone interested in the program should contact Dr. Barbara Ehlers at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the eii website at http://www.uiu.edu/eii.