Earthwatch Mondays: The Teacher Chronicles

January 25, 2010

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Welcome to the final installment of our January Earthwatch Mondays series.

Dodge has been working with the Earthwatch Institute to offer Educator Fellowships to New Jersey’s K-12 public school teachers “so they can return to the classroom and community to advance an ethic of environmental stewardship and empower the students’ voices.”

You can see the first installment of the Teacher Chronicles here, the second here and last week’s installment here.

This week, read about Cindy DeMaria’s adventures during her “Whales of British Columbia” trip.

Whales of British Columbia

I had the privilege to attend the Grey Whales of British Columbia expedition with Dr. D. Duffus and Dr. W. Megill from July 19 to July 25, 2009. It was an incredible experience to say the least!

First of all, the jaw-dropping scenery of British Columbia lends a sense of adventure and magic to every moment you spend searching for whales or taking chemical readings of the ocean. The two scientists and their dedicated graduate assistants were an unending source of information and a model of commitment and dedication. It was truly an honor to work with them and witness not only the depth of their expertise but also their love of the ocean and its creatures.

While the life of a field researcher may sound glamorous and exciting, it entails a lot of sacrifice as well, and this team did not flinch from duty no matter what it entailed. So, a vital part of what I learned was the importance of academic rigor in applying the scientific method in the field. It is essential if you really want to get answers that you can rely on and use to solve problems.

Cindy DeMaria

In addition, I learned how complicated it is and how difficult it is to find clear-cut answers. Is human-caused climate change leading to declining whale populations, or is it overfishing? It may be a long time before we know the answer.

I also questioned the scientist on the state of the salmon industry to try to figure out if farm-raised or wild caught salmon was a better alternative. I got conflicting advice from them and the local fishermen, and the reading I did while I was there. I would like a clear-cut black or white answer, but that is not the way it works. It is complicated and messy. There are pros and cons on both sides. I posed the same question to my students, and they learned a lot from the struggle to find and defend an answer. I gave out the seafood wallet card and got them thinking about sustainable fisheries and the impact of the decisions about what they eat have on the environment.

Furthermore, the history of Clayoquot Sound, and the activism that saved some of it from the loggers, provides wonderful examples of how important a sense of place and individual action is protecting our natural world.

Cindy DeMaria in British Columbia

I feel certain that the students benefited from my deeper understanding and ability to illuminate numerous ecological concepts and issues in many ways. One of my favorites was their reaction to the friendly whale story. They were truly mesmerized by the story of the “friendlies.” What are they trying to tell us, I wondered aloud? “Everything is connected,” one student ventured. “We need each other.” “Share the earth,” offered another.

The year is not over and I have many other plans to bring what I learned into the classroom. The experience in the field rekindled my commitment and enthusiasm to teaching my students the concepts of sustainability and stewardship. The scientists who do the work day in and day out in the field deserve that. The beautiful creatures from whales to salmon to old-growth trees need it. My students, who will need to take responsibility for stewarding the environment, require it.

I will be offering a workshop for district teachers later in the year to explore EarthWatch and other opportunities for fieldwork with them. I hope that many of my colleagues will have a similar opportunity because I know of no better way to inspire our students to environmental literacy and action than to provide authentic field experiences to their teachers.

I would like to wholeheartedly express my gratitude to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation for supporting me in this unparalleled opportunity for personal and professional growth.

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We hope you have enjoyed the Teacher Chronicles this month. Our thanks to our friends and partners at the Earthwatch Institute and to Kathy Geiger, Matt Farber, Phil Germakian and Cindy DeMaria for sharing their wonderful stories.

Earthwatch is the nation’s leading environmental volunteer organization supporting sustainable development worldwide, recruiting volunteers from stakeholder groups (notably teachers, students, journalists, community and government leaders and multi-national corporations) to participate in innovative research programs benefiting environmental issues and capacity building. Earthwatch’s mission is to engage people in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable world.

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