Six local science teachers spread out across the country this summer to take advantage of two programs sponsored by The Dow Chemical Company. The teachers joined teachers from all over the United States in learning about advances in environmental science, energy, biodiversity and more, and taking home curriculum to share with colleagues and to better engage their students.
Three teachers – Kate Hessefort, Shirley Payne and Katie Melody – from Brentwood’s O’Hara Park Middle School attended the Keystone Center Key Issues Institute, an interdisciplinary training for middle-level educators to help guide students through an investigation of all sides of an environmental issue. The weeklong session in Keystone, Colo. integrates science, math, social studies and language arts as teachers investigate a simulated issue and explore new strategies to bring environmental issues into the classroom.
Payne called the experience “fabulous,” stating that the conference emphasis was “on the non-biased approach to teaching science. Discovery or inquiry-based investigations pique students interest, and the information uncovered has more validity.”
According to Melody, an Earth science teacher, the hands-on labs were “thought-provoking and gave a good idea of what scientists might do to explore community issues. We left Keystone with many science lab materials that I will certainly use with my own students.”
Dow also sponsors the Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers and provided full scholarships to four teachers – Brian O’Connor and Greg Morris at Antioch’s Park Middle School, Sandra Follansbee of Pittsburg’s Hillview Junior High and Diana Ramos of Pittsburg’s Rancho Medanos Junior High – to attend weeklong sessions in Washington, D.C.
Ramos attended the session on biodiversity, which took place primarily at the National Museum of Natural History. However, after a field trip to the Chesapeake Bay, where she performed techniques for studying biodiversity in open water and near the shore, Ramos remarked, “This session was special to me because we have the Delta in Pittsburg and we, as teachers, are not teaching students the importance of conserving it and the effect that our lifestyle has on its ecosystem.”
The session illustrated to her the need to collaborate with the community in an effort to educate students in understanding the problems of the Delta.
Likewise, O’Connor, who attended the Ecological Field Studies Academy at the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center, returned with the goal to incorporate “inquiry-centered science whereby students learn to ask questions, experiment, develop theories and communicate their ideas.” He is committed to reconnecting his sixth graders to the natural world (outdoors.)
“The Dow Chemical Company has always supported education as a way to ensure we have a qualified, skilled workforce,” said Patty Deutsche, senior manager of public affairs at Dow’s Pittsburg Operations. “However, our community has told us that this should be a top priority for Dow Pittsburg. We see supporting education as our rightful role to help improve the quality of life here in East County.
“Giving these teachers the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers, to learn from top-notch scientists and to acquire new curriculum will, we hope, inspire them to inspire their students. Keeping kids interested in science and math is critical to the success, not just of Dow, but of our entire society.”