RISD teachers bring exploration into classroom

Local teachers attend Colorado program

KEYSTONE, CO.–While some teachers will refer to standard science lesson plans this school year, 15 teachers, fresh from a mile-high adventure, have something else in mind to make science a big hit with their students. These teachers, from 11 Alcoa communities including Rockdale Operations, attended a week-long program in Colorado to transform themselves into curious kids and learn new ways to teach science by doing science.

Among the participants were Jennifer Schilling, Ericka Trotty and Jennifer Keen, math and science teachers at Rockdale Intermediate School. The program, funded by Alcoa Foundation as part of its partnership with The Keystone Center, is aimed at motivating teachers to take environmental learning to a higher level.


ROOM– The Keystone Center, through its Key Issues Institute, works with teachers to bring environmental issues into the classroom in a highly interactive way and trains them to investigate complex problems with their students. At the same time, the teachers enhance their professional development skills and add to their networking circles.

“Keystone Institute has given me a unique opportunity to work with the students to solve an ‘environmental issue’ in a community by following the scientific method and using skills from all content areas,” Schilling said.

“Students will be using their math skills in creative ways such as human and 3-D bar graphs. They will also combine math and social studies skills to plan public transportation in this community while considering its environmental impact. Science skills are needed to examine the evidence and conduct water quality testing to find possible sources of contamination. This is just to name a few activities. We did so many activities and came back with lesson plans and materials for weeks of activities that it is hard to believe we did so much in just a few days.”


Trotty also thought the Keystone Experience was worth it.

“The Keystone Science experience is one I think everyone should try. We learned some great classroom lessons that were based on environmental issues. During our lessons, we talked to ‘community members’ to gain their input on why the people of Silver City were getting sick. Reasons went from water pollution to aliens.

“Our classroom lessons helped us sort through the problem and come up with a solution through a town hall meeting. At the end of the session, we received a kit and binder that included all of the activities we completed, plus a few others. These activities are cross-curricular and can be adjusted to the levels of the students. I really appreciate the opportunity to have been a part of this educational program.”

TOP EXPERIENCE– Keen thought it was a top experience.

“Having the chance to attend The Keystone Institute was an amazing opportunity for me as an educator,” Keen said. “Seeing the different ways to incorporate all of our core academic studies into Science was eye opening. I feel that with the materials, ideas, lesson plans and the experience of all the hands on activities we took part in, I am able to comfortably utilize our science lab with my students, and provide them with a more hands-on learning experience. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to further my education as a teacher to help our students grow in their education. It is an opportunity that I hope more teachers will be able to experience and an opportunity that I hope to take part in again.”

Since 1997, Alcoa Foundation has sent 160 teachers from 76 U.S. Alcoa communities to the Key Issues Institute. This year, 10 Alcoa communities were represented along with Rockdale: Goose Creek, South Carolina; Ferndale, Washington; Wenatchee, Washington; Muskegon, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Evansville, Indiana; Port Lavaca, Texas; Winsted, Conneticut; Cleveland, Ohio and Whitehall, Michigan.

“ These teachers have dug through dirt and slogged through streams to learn about the environment. Now, they’ve taken what they have learned back into the classroom to inspire their students. It’s a phenomenal program, and we are proud to support it,” said Alcoa Foundation President Paula Davis.

FR AMEWORK– The teachers will use the Keystone Center’s Key Issues Framework, which meets National Education Standards in several disciplines, to implement classroom plans on local environmental matters. The framework promotes a collaborative approach to a scientific investigation that includes problem solving, labs, data collection and simulations.

“Teachers take the framework back into the classroom and involve their students to take on a local environmental issue with an unbiased, inquiry-based approach,” said Anne Love, Program Director, Key Issues Institute. “Our research shows that 89 percent of teachers say they teach environmental issues more successfully and confidently in the classroom after participating in the Key Issues program.”

Past participants in the Keystone program have addressed diverse issues including water and air quality, solid waste management and recycling.

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2010-10-07 digital edition

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