By University of Michigan undergraduate students Jessica Ankley and Samantha Searles

“Model your ecosystems curriculum on the Great Lakes. They are a precious resource. Help your students explore the natural world around them.”

From Liz Glynn, Matthaei-Nichols Youth Education Coordinator:
In March 2019 I presented a workshop with this premise, along with Matthaei-Nichols docent Marilyn Wooten and student workers Jess Ankley and Sam Searles, at the Michigan Science Teachers Association Conference in Grand Rapids. I came away with insight and a renewed sense of respect and appreciation for educators, who spend countless hours on lesson plans, teaching, and supporting youth. Jess and Sam experienced first-hand the process of educational development and give their takeaways from the student point of view.

By Jessica Ankley:
“My time experiencing the Michigan Science Teachers Association Conference (MSTA) in March 2019 was eye-opening and refreshing. During the conference I attended lectures and assisted a presentation on Matthaei’s Great Lakes Garden, which involved hands-on activities and in-depth conversations with Michigan educators.

“Place-Based-Education (PBE) was a major theme at MSTA, which is precisely what field trips to Matthaei provide for students. In one workshop, I learned about how incorporating hands-on work into science lessons helps children conceptualize how science is part of our daily lives, rather than simply in textbooks. This really hit home for me, as my own youth education was very different. There was little engagement in outdoor ecosystems, which for me made science a subject that was uninteresting and unrelatable. MSTA showed me a glimmer of hope in the future of science education, as it’s a place for children to be curious about the world and the adventures it has to offer. The conference was a place where many great minds we able to come together and share how our communities can improve through science education, which is something that I plan to take with me long after my time in college. Thanks Matthaei-Nichols for this awesome opportunity and for providing the tools to further my own personal growth in education!”

By Samantha Searles:
“I have been working in the youth education department at Matthaei since September 2018, and since then Liz Glynn and the docent team had been working on developing a program for students that emphasized the importance of Great Lakes ecosystems here in Michigan. In March, Liz graciously invited us students to aid in presenting that program at the 2019 Michigan Science Teacher Association (MSTA) Conference. The experience provided me with insight into the web of passion and knowledge that goes into raising generations of environmentally-aware community members.

“Ever since middle school I’ve dreamed of attending the MSTA conference as part of my career when I was a trained adult, yet instead there I stood, a wide-eyed college student among educators who had decades of experience on me. These professionals provided me with immediate acceptance that allowed me to experience the conference fully—to partake in conversations as an educator, listen and learn from presenter as an educator, and on Saturday afternoon even aid in presenting to an audience of educators, as an educator myself. In those moments, my work study position at Matthaei became real to me as I realized that I have similar potential of influencing youth as the skilled professionals who stood around me.

“A recurring theme of the workshops that weekend was the importance of place-based education and how to engage students in hands-on learning when resources are limited. I was aware of the idea that teaching children about the natural world within the framework of a familiar landscape can create lasting curiosity and an understanding of how tangible science really is. Bringing kids to their own schoolyards to learn about soils, plant adaptations, textures, and natural dyes can empower them to see science more intimately, producing community members that care for the natural world around them. After college, I hope to work with local communities on gaining information, pride, and management of their natural resources amidst environmental issues. Understanding the principles and positive impacts of place-based learning has enhanced my confidence and desire to do so.

“I attended a workshop about equity discourse that provided educators with tools to allow proportionate engagement in a diverse classroom. I have encountered inequitable discussions with children at Matthaei and have deemed them as simply unavoidable, Some students are more engaged, and therefore will contribute and learn more from these events. The workshop acknowledged the falsities of that claim and taught me that educators can provide environments that empower even the most reserved children through collaboration, intentional leadership roles, and an active demonstration of reciprocated respect. I walked away from the lecture excited to return to Matthaei, my academics, and personal life with more awareness in the equality of my impacts.

“Whether I choose to take a path towards formal education or not, I am revitalized with a desire to make a difference similar in magnitude to the kind my educational influencers have had on me. The resources I gained from attending MSTA have allowed me to see the connection between how the educational approaches we use with youth today will impact the state of our society and environment in the future. The hopes I have for my professional life will continue to unfold as I use the knowledge I gain from experiences such as attending this conference and working at Matthaei.”