Robert Dribble, an elementary teacher at Blue Ridge School District examines macroinvertebrates found in a stream at Keystone College which can help gauge the health of a watershed area.
Left, teachers taking the weeklong ’Watershed Explorers’ course at Keystone look for macroinvertebrates in a kick net they used to fish material from the stream. The lesson teaches the teachers about how to determine the health of a body of water. Above: Kelly Driscole, a substitute teacher in the Montrose Area School District, pans for living creatures in the stream.
Angela Lambert, environmental education specialist at Lackawanna State Park, right, shows the group a unique specimen they discovered in the stream. It could be mistaken for a tiny piece of driftwood, but it is actually a living organism, she said.mary ondrako photos / the times leader
LA PLUME -- Some teachers this summer are finding themselves back in school.
It’s a lesson about understanding the environment and one that will help them nurture better future stewards of it.
Now in its sixth year, the Keystone College Environmental Education Institute at the Keystone campus in La Plume is conducting weeklong courses designed to help teachers teach their students about the environment.
Nora Dillon, operations coordinate at the institute, said four courses are being offered this summer at the 160-acre woodland campus: Watershed Explorers, Forests and Society, grades seven through 12th, July 12-17; Climate Change and the Energy Challenge, grades seven through 12th, July 26-31, and new this year, Flora and Fauna of Pennsylvania, grades kindergarten through 12th grade, July 19-24. About 25 teachers are participating in each course, she added.
About a dozen teachers participated in a Watershed Explorers class Tuesday, led by Angela Lambert of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of State Parks and an environmental education specialist at Lackawanna State Park. The hands-on, science-based course is meant to help teachers of kindergarten through sixth grade explore watershed concepts and the interdisciplinary nature of environmental issues. By learning the basic processes and activities occurring in the watershed and understanding how they impact downstream areas, either land or water, the teachers are better equipped to teach their students about the importance of protecting the environment.
The course brings participants up close and personal with nature, with a woodland setting for a backdrop to enhance the learning atmosphere. Some time is spent in the classroom to familiarize the “students” with the concepts before going out into the field.
Interest is growing in the courses, said Dillon, noting that 90 people were signed up for the program this year, up from 66 last year.
Since its founding in 2004, after this year, more than 500 teachers representing more than 100 school districts will have passed through the courses, said Howard Jennings, institute director.
“The teachers leave here with a better understanding of the environment,” he said.
The new course especially was popular this year and filled up quickly, Dillon said. The Climate Change course also is filled.
Space is available for the Forests and Society course, she added.
A majority of the participants are science and biology teachers, Dillon said, but they are also noticing some English and history teachers, among others, taking interest. They credit this to diversifying the program offerings to cover more environmental topics.
“We are trying to reach a broader scope of educators,” Dillon said.
“Our goal is to educate the next generation of students how important it is to care for the environment and the importance of getting outdoors,” she added
That goes for the teachers, too.
Dillon said being able to place them in natural settings helps them relate issues locally and see the beauty of the natural areas Lackawanna County boasts.
A natural stream that traverses the campus is beneficial for illustrating the institute’s message.
It was there on Tuesday afternoon that Lambert had her students wading knee-deep in the moderately moving stream with kick nets to capture specimens of macroinvertebrates. These tiny creatures, almost unnoticeable under any other circumstance, actually are key indicators of a stream’s health and their presence is a good sign, Lambert explained. The teachers were collecting the specimens, which were found plentiful in the stream, in various forms, back to the institute where they would learn how to identify them and what that indicated of the stream where they dwell.
Robert Dribble, an elementary teacher at Blue Ridge School District, said it was his first time taking the course.“In these times, I think it’s important,” he said, noting he was particularly interested in teaching about water conservation. “We have to integrate everything into language arts.”
“I was interested in the continuing education credits and to learn more about water contamination,” said Melissa McTiernan, school nurse for the Scranton School District.
Various speakers from industry and the environmental fields also address the group.
In addition to on-site activities, participants also spend a day touring other nearby natural areas, including Lake Manataka Environmental Field Station, Little Rocky Glen.
The teachers are also provided contacts to assist with their own classroom exercises. Jennings also noted teachers can get additional assistance from the institute Web site at www.kceei.keystone.edu as well as a water discovery Web site that acts as a “virtual field trip” and can be used in the classroom, at www.atlas.keystone.edu. “It’s an invaluable tool,” Jennings said, adding that the Web site was developed through a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection. And each participant receives a microscope which can be hooked up to a computer using a USB port for use in the classroom, Jennings said.
Completion of the courses also qualifies for Act 48 certification, can earn undergraduate credits, CPE credits and other continuing education credits, Jennings added.
Funding for the institute is provided by the U.S. Forest Service through the Education and Research Consortium of the Western Carolinas, Keystone College, the Willary Foundation and the Overlook Estate Foundation.