Wild On The Prairie: Learning
Teaching teachers extends the audience of the Sibley Nature Center
July 30, 2008
The staff of the Sibley Nature Center teaches teachers, too. The Texas Education Agency awarded the Sibley Nature Center CPE (Continuing Professional Education) provider status. In late June Sibley staff, ranch owner Marisue Potts, along with Rick Day and Charles Hemann of the Andrews Independent School District presented a two-day field studies class near Matador, Texas to 9 teachers from several West Texas towns (Ft. Stockton, Crane, Rankin, Andrews, and Tahoka.) This week we presented an all day inservice at the Sibley Nature Center to 58 teachers from even more towns across West Texas. We are also beginning to work with the three new Science Coaches for the elementary schools in Midland to incorporate bioregional information into daily lesson plans.
The two-day inservice was held at the Mott Creek Ranch owned by Marisue Potts. The ranch was once part of the famous historic Matador Ranch, situated at the very edge of the Llano Estacado. Creeks trickle by red cliffs under juniper covered hills. Ms. Potts is an avid historian who has published a history of Mottley County and is active in the local museum. She instructed the group on the history of the ranch. On the ranch are two dugouts (one from the days of sheepherders from New Mexico before cattle ranchers arrived,) and the other was an early settlers homestead. One of the houses on the property has a Texas Historical Commission Historical Marker in front of it that mentions a gunfight on the ranch.
Mr. Day has been excavating a buffalo-kill site dating from the 1400s with 8th grade gifted and talented students from Andrews at the ranch for the last three years. He discussed the geology of the region, as well as his archaeological site. Mr. Hemann had originally planned to present an astronomical program about West Texas stargazing, but thunderstorms drove everyone inside, where he talked about the Mars Lander and told American Indian stories of the constellations. Michael Nickell of Sibley gave information about the animal life of the ranch. I discussed the 23 microhabitats of the breaks and canyon habitat, fire ecology, ethnobotany of the Indians and early settlers, and along with Ms. Potts told about the history of the region.
To learn a little bit of what we taught at the inservice, visit this photoessay entitled Mott Valley inservice. Together the instructors presented a broad overview of the region and talked about the various methods and activities to get children outside. Learning about the natural world presented by out-of-doors activities has become a major issue for the educational community, even at the national level.
A United States House of Representatives press release recently stated; Last year, Congressman John Sarbanes worked with a coalition of hundreds of education experts to introduce The No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act, a new initiative to strengthen environmental education programs in Americas classrooms. On June 18th, 2008, the House Committee on Education and Labor passed the legislation by a roll call vote of 37 8. The bill will be presented to the full House of Representatives later this summer. The NCLI Act would significantly expand and amend the National Environmental Education Act.
The original National Environmental Education Act promoted education about green issues such as recycling and alternative sources of energy, and had a strong component that focused on the various forms of environmental destruction our modern society has inflicted on the Earths ecosystems. The No Child Left Inside Act is more focused on ecology (the processes and cycles of the natural world.) The No Child Left Inside Coalition is a broad-based organization made up of almost 500 member groups from across the United States that has diligently worked to bring the No Child Left Inside Act to the legislative process.
The legislation would authorize major new funding for states to provide high-quality instruction. Funds would support outdoor learning activities both at school and in non-formal environmental education centers, teacher training and the creation of state environmental literacy plans. Sibley staff is urging the coalition to promote bioregional education. We hope to encourage the coalition to recommend that each state in the United States to develop their own curriculum and not to rely on textbooks produced for national consumption.
The Coalition states; Americas young people are growing increasingly disconnected from nature spending more time inside and not outside playing, exploring and learning. This is a disturbing trend that is contributing to a host of problems, including childhood obesity and nature deficit disorder. Even outdoor recess is in jeopardy according to the National PTA. As author Richard Louv has documented, students who take part in environmental learning do significantly better in school. Why? Because the best learning takes place when all the senses are engaged, and that happens most readily outside in nature. Kids who get caught up in the wonders of nature will also be far more engaged when it comes time to learn about science in school.
The Sibley Nature Center has gotten West Texas kids outside for twenty years. (Over 400,000 kids have hiked on our trails since we opened our doors!) Our recent story and photoessay about the beetles utilizing cryptogamic soil has been circulating among biologists and educators, some of whom sent us emails with more information about what Zach Reynolds discovered. Some also complimented us on our website, like Dr. Wendy Hodges of the University of Texas, a lizard specialist, who said, I love the photoessays that are on the center's web pages - they spark a great sense of exploration and wonder. Getting out and poking around is glorious!
We believe the Sibley Nature Center website is the best bioregional education website in the nation and others are beginning to pay attention. In June the nationally distributed Orion Magazine published a blurb about our work. I spoke at the EPA cosponsored Borderlands Environmental Education Conference in Juarez, Mexico in late June and I am on the list of speakers for the annual meeting of the Texas Association of Environmental Educators in October. We hope you will become a member and support our work just mail us a check for $25 or more!
Related Photo Essay: Mott Valley Teacher In-Service