By Julia Robins, Virginia Sea Grant Student Correspondent
Students aren’t the only ones tired of being stuck in the classroom doing traditional school work.
This April, 19 enthusiastic teachers from around Virginia attended a two-day workshop designed to show teachers how they could conduct meaningful watershed educational experiences (MWEEs) outside. The workshop was sponsored by Virginia Sea Grant and the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia (CBNERR-VA).
“We need to start doing less book-work and more activities to give these kids more opportunities,” said Anne Bailey, an Earth Science Teacher from Suffolk.
Studies have shown that hands-on experiences in the environment spark enthusiasm within students, resulting in higher levels of learning and performance. In support of connecting young people with their environment, the Commonwealth of Virginia decreed that each student should have one meaningful outdoor learning experience before graduating high school. These MWEEs are more than outdoor field trips; they’re meant to include an element of scientific investigation or study.
For teachers, giving students that MWEE, pronounced “me-wee,” can be challenging. There are funding and logistical issues, but getting knowledge and activities that could be used at field sites is also challenging, says Sarah Nuss CBNERR-VA education coordinator who was one of the organizers of the workshop.
“That was the basis for the workshop—to give teachers as many different field activities that we could in two days,” Nuss said.
Over the course of the workshop the teachers learned how to effectively plan and implement MWEEs for their students. After sharing their concerns, they heard from two experienced teachers about successes and challenges in developing outdoor experiences. Those who attended also received a notebook full of new resources, and teachers practiced conducting simple field experiments and using scientific equipment along the York River shoreline at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).
“I can honestly say I got more out of the workshop than any other class or course I have taken,” said Lauren Broccoletti, a middle school science teacher at Virginia Beach Friends School in an email to the instructors after the workshop. “It was very comprehensive and well-rounded… I am very excited to begin planning MWEEs… for next school year.”
“I think the biggest challenge is just building up confidence in the teachers that they can take a group of students into the field to conduct a meaningful investigation while correlating to the [learning] standards,” said Nuss. “Based on the workshop evaluations, confidence level increased dramatically in most participants.”
CBNERR-VA and Virginia Sea Grant affiliated educators at VIMS have been training teachers to develop and conduct MWEEs since 2010. Until this year, workshops have been only one day long, but teachers asked for more time practicing investigations in the field.
The MWEE activities these teachers conduct may reach as many as 2,250 secondary school students per academic year.