On Saturday I led outreach activities on behalf of the EPA for the Watershed Academy at SEEDS, an urban garden and kitchen classroom in Durham.  I led a Project Wet lesson called Sum of the Parts that helps students realize the communal impact of individual pollution. I also built a web with students to show them to connections of ecosystem services and human health benefits.  This was my last day with the EPA and it reflected my role and my internship experience perfectly. I was planting the seeds of environmental issues and communal problem solving with these young children and their families. This outreach was essentially my internship – learning how EPA science is taught to the public, especially students.  And I LOVED it! Talking about these issues with the kids was motivating for me and empowering for them.  

Saturday’s experience also left me thinking about the seeds I want to plant in my students this upcoming school year.  How do I use this experience to create a meaningful project for my students? I think the most difficult part of translating my internship experience into educational resources is focusing on one topic and scaling it appropriately.  I’m also wrestling with how to incorporate all of the resources I’ve learned about in a way that is accessible for early readers. I found it helpful to think of big topics, implementation timelines, and my standards to narrow down the resources I will use.   Additionally, my school intentionally focuses on culturally responsive teaching. We use the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards as a framework for grounding our instruction each quarter of the school year. So I am considering the lens of identity, diversity, justice, and action when I plan my internship resources. 

In the majority of my conversations with folks at the EPA, most people shared the same skill set they found necessary to do their work – geospatial thinking, coding, communication, and collaboration.  This balance of technical know how and the social skills influenced my thinking about my project as well.  

Ultimately, I decided to focus on geospatial thinking and utilize one of the first resources I learned about in my internship – EnviroAtlas.  EnviroAtlas is a mapping application based on GIS that looks at the benefits of ecosystems, both to the environment and human health using national and community data.  Fortunately, one of the community data sets is Durham, North Carolina. I want to pair this tool with a project created by a previous teacher at my school – the Neighborhood Project (a set of neighborhood walking tours for students to learn about neighborhood history).   

Essentially, I’d like students to understand how humans influence their environments through a comparison of their own perceptions to that of mapped representations.  Students would embark on neighborhood tours with an environmental lens. They would use a checklist or an app like GooseChase to record their findings such as their observance of tree cover, pollinators, storm drains, green spaces, etc.  Students would also analyze how their neighborhoods compare to other parts of Durham, the state, and the country using EnviroAtlas. Then, through a series of field trips and guest speakers, students would learn how communities work together to protect their ecosystems.  This project would culminate in the creation and presentation of a Story Map where students would identify strengths in their neighborhood that protect ecosystems and human health and suggest ways their neighborhoods could further protect their environments, especially in the face of climate change.  

Luckily with this project, I have a plethora of resources at my fingertips in terms of data, neighborhood history, and individuals who would like to talk to my students.  The biggest challenge I face with this project is creating resources appropriate for early readers. For instance, EnviroAtlas provides amazing fact sheets to explain each of their layers.  However, many of my second graders could not access them as they are now. Once my students choose the layers they would like to focus on, I plan on rewriting the fact sheets to make them more accessible to them.   

I hope this project plants seeds in my students – seeds of inquiry to study environmental science, seeds of investment to commit to protecting environments, and seeds of community to realize this work requires the collaboration of different people, expertise, and perspectives.

Planting Seeds