From the Classroom

Strategy Share: Environmental Literacy and Connections with STEM Californians

Strategy Share: Environmental Literacy and Connections with STEM Californians

Hi to all the global citizens, explorers, and educators! In my previous post, I shared how I use National Geographic Young Explorer Magazine as a powerful tool to empower my students to make interdisciplinary connections and explore like paleontologists, ichthyologists, and oceanographers. Kindergartners have a natural sense of wonder and curiosity, and they inspire me to see the world in all its interconnected beauty. I want them to appreciate all of the amazing beauty on Earth, as well as the beauty in their own world, which is California!

This time, I’m writing to share about two other resources I frequently pair together in my classroom: the California Education and the Environment Initiative Curriculum (EEI) and local, real-world scientists. The EEI are free K-12 units are aligned with social studies, Common Core and NGSS standards: Interdisciplinary connections for an interconnected world! Most importantly, to empower my students and make what we learn with EEI tangible, I connect them to STEM Californians (like National Geographic Explorers) who are making the world more awesome by protecting, studying and conserving these natural resources on land and in water.

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Jessica Dennen, Watershed Educator of the Year

Jessica Dennen, Watershed Educator of the Year

At our 2019 Student Showcase this past April, we recognized the commitment and passion of Jessica Dennen by awarding her the Watershed Educator of the Year. This year we were particularly struck by Ms. Dennen’s consistent enthusiasm for her students, for her curriculum, and for our Petaluma Watershed. We are honored to have her participate in the Watershed Classroom.

In 2017, Jessica Dennen was nominated for the Sonoma County Teacher of the Year Award. Carpe Diem and Sonoma Mountain principal Gregory Stevenson described Ms. Dennen as "a teacher that both recognizes and embraces the gaps in achievement of her students, and works extremely hard to differentiate instruction, cater to individual needs, and make every student feel important while moving them forward academically and in life.”

Ms. Jessica Dennen, who has taught in Petaluma for 15 years, is one of four full time teachers at Carpe Diem and Sonoma Mtn. High School. These two magnet schools offer an alternative program for students struggling in the traditional setting. Much of the success of the schools and students can be directly connected to the close relationships between the teachers and students, a bond strengthened by a unique daily schedule. Students receive instruction from only two teachers each day; the educators are responsible for providing the complete core program in English, History, Math, and Science. Ms. Dennen is responsible for teaching both Science and Art, and is the online coordinator as well.

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Tabling at our Student Showcase

Tabling at our Student Showcase

As Watershed Classroom projects progress students produce and collect materials and data. These artifacts highlight different aspects of their project and are ideal for creating tabling displays. The tabling portion of the Student Showcase is held a half-hour before and after the students' presentations to the community. It is an opportunity for visitors to interact not only with students, but also with the materials gathered and displayed; it is a tactile, physical way to engage with each project.

In past years classes have displayed work samples and photographs on poster board surrounded by additional artifacts; another class transformed their table into a riparian plant identification quiz. While they differ in approach, class tables are a terrific way for guests to better understand the scope of each project.  

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Watershed Classroom Student Showcase

Watershed Classroom Student Showcase

This April we will have our annual Student Showcase, an essential component of the Watershed Classroom. The Watershed Classroom supports educators throughout the district, and we have the pleasure of watching hundreds of students as their projects develop over the course of the year. We are constantly impressed with the work being done, and so we developed the showcase as an opportunity to for students to share their incredible projects with other educators and community members.

Two or three students from each class participating in the Watershed Classroom will share a presentation explaining the scope of their projects, the work that they produced, and their impact and achievements. The presentations vary: some are slide shows of pictures taken throughout their project; others share PowerPoints; or present student made videos. It is always such a pleasure to hear what students take away from their projects, and how it has affected their attitudes of our local watershed. There is a clear sense of pride and accomplishment as students present to the audience.

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