Teaching the teachers to lead experience-based lessons

    School is out for the summer, and with the kids on vacation, teachers become the students.

    Nearly 200 young math and science teachers from around the country met over the weekend for a series of workshops in Cherry Hill, N.J., to pick up new ideas for the fall.

    Several science teachers at the conference sweat it out on a small island in the parking lot outside of the conference hotel during one of the workshops. Armed with butterfly nets and small plastic film canisters, they set out to see how many different varieties of pollinators they could capture.

    Kristin Germinario waved her net over a patch of wildflowers and snagged what looked like a small bee.

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    “We got it!,” she said. “Let’s check it out, what is it?”

    Germinario will start teaching high school biology in Randolph, New Jersey, this fall. The workshop leader, Minnesota teacher Jim Lane, tells her how to capture and calm the insect.

    “If you get it in your jar, you can put it right on the ice,” Lane said. “You can cool it down and it won’t even be moving, you can look at it and see what it is.”

    Both Germinario and Lane are fellows with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, a non-profit that connects young math and science teachers. Lane said he wants to show other teachers they do not have to be an expert or live in a rural area to teach outdoors. They have to get students to ask questions about what they see.

    “A lot of teachers get stuck on the idea that they have to ID everything, and that it’s going to be too hard to go outside, when it’s actually an invaluable resource,” Lane said. “No matter where you are, if you’re in the middle of the country or the middle of the city, you will find something.”

    Germinario said she hopes she can use what she has learned at the conference to make time for hands-on learning amid the push to meet state standards.

    One would think, you know, how am I going to spend all this time taking my students outside if I have to meet ten different standards this week?” she said. “But I think if you’re careful enough about it … you can find standards that will match up with what you’re doing in these fun activities.”

    Even in a New Jersey parking lot, the teachers found a wasp’s nest, flea beetles, evidence of roosting bats, and in Germinario’s jar, a halictid bee – also known as the sweat bee.

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