How I incorporate what I learned into my classes

How I incorporate what I learned into my classes

The following blog is on behalf of Sara Bourbour, a participant on the 2014 ECO Classroom trip to Costa Rica:

ECO Classroom was an amazing opportunity for me, and I definitely know it has changed the way I approach my teaching. I also feel it gives me immense credibility in the classroom when my students know that I have spent time at a biological field station in the middle of the rainforest. They think it's really cool, and I know at least at my own school site, no other science teacher has had professional development like I experienced with ECO Classroom.

I recently went to a science teacher training on Literacy Design Collaborative with three other schools in my district. Chris [my groupmate] was there with his school and some of the teachers came up to us and asked us about ECO Classroom. The trip seemed to spark enthusiasm in other teachers in our own district. Teachers I didn't even know came up to me and said, "You're one of the teachers who went to Costa Rica?"

I began the school year with an introduction about myself and spent time talking about ECO Classroom and our time in Costa Rica. I even talked about it at Back to School Night with the parents. I showed students several pictures and they absolutely loved it. Just like my team said in our application, our students (particularly in our school district) do not get exposure to nature or anything beyond their urban neighborhoods. I was also able to connect with my Sheltered Biology class on a different level than when I taught the class last school year because I told students of my experience in Central America. The class is composed mainly of students of Latino background, though not exclusively, so they were really excited to hear about the trip.

I was assigned 4 sections of Physiology and 1 Sheltered Biology (for English Language Learners) this school year. Some of things we learned and experienced lend itself more easily to a Biology class, and since I mainly teach Physiology I have not been able to incorporate my actual lesson that we came up with for ECO Classroom. I have yet to teach the unit in Sheltered Biology yet, so I am going to try and incorporate it in the unit plan. In both Physiology and Sheltered Biology I have played recordings of the rainforest that my team gathered during our time at La Selva, and I explained what we researched and the project that we worked on. In both Physiology and Sheltered Biology I have played recordings of the rainforest that my team gathered during our time at La Selva, and I explained what we researched and the project that we worked on. When I go over data gathering protocols for labs, I have been able to give examples of how we gathered data at La Selva and it makes the experience more real and rich for the students (and helps explain the importance of the scientific method). In certain units in Physiology I have been able to discuss hydration on certain human body systems and what it feels like in the tropics.

One little silly thing that I do in both of my classes is on quizzes I always have a 1 point extra credit opportunity. They draw an animal of my choosing on the back of the quiz. This helps differentiate for students who need more time to work on the quizzes, and for the fast students it keeps them occupied as they draw a sketch of the animal. Even though it's only 1 point extra credit, they love doing it (plus it helps if they make a little mistake on the quiz). I have used this as an opportunity to incorporate what I learned with ECO Classroom, and always discuss a fact or information about the animal/environment. I learned quite fast that students need to be shown the pictures of the animals because many don't know what they look like. For example, I showed them a picture of a howler monkey and short video clips of them. I have taken the majority of the pictures/video clips (or gotten them from other teachers in ECO Classroom), and again they find it really cool that their teacher got these images (and not just from the internet, though I have utilized that as well). Throughout the school year I have told several stories of our experience at La Selva and with ECO Classroom when it lends itself to what we are learning about and discussing, so I have rich examples to tell my students

Another thing that ECO Classroom offered me was the opportunity to talk to teachers from other parts of the country. I have not had the experience of going to conferences, and there are only a few opportunities a year to meet with science teachers at other schools in my district. It was eye opening and interesting to learn how things are in different parts of the country.

As of now, they are planning on giving me more sections of Biology for next school year and have asked me to be part of a small learning community for freshmen. The administration wants us to incorporate elements of project based learning, so I know next year I will be incorporating even more of the things I learned through ECO Classroom. I already know that ECO Classroom is going to be the highlight of my teaching career, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would not ever have been able to experience had it not been for the program. I would jump at the chance of other similar opportunities, and am trying to figure out what I would like to do this summer for professional development. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in ECO Classroom.