Teachers teach. Students learn. But for two weeks at Oxford College, teachers are back in class.
Teachers from around Georgia and Florida converged upon Oxford last week to partake in the 17th annual Oxford Institute for Environmental Education Live Oak Initiative.
Since Monday, elementary and middle school teachers have been learning how to conduct field studies and record data in order to get a better understanding of their surrounding environment. The objective is for the teachers to be able to take what they've learned back to their classrooms where they can teach the investigation project to their students.
Thus far, the group of teachers has been studying the biological framework of the areas surrounding Oxford's Oxhouse including studying freshwater marine life and micro and macro organisms found in leaf litter and soil.
"An investigation is basically a project that's set up to teach some ecological principal through inquiry base learning," said Oxford professor of biology Steve Baker. "Part of the class is designed to have teachers come up with their own investigation that they can use in the classrooms."
Three instructors from Oxford's diverse biology department have been a part of the program, now in its 17th year, from the beginning. Senior lecturer of biology Theodosia Wade and professor of biology Eloise Carter join Baker in sharing their immense experience with the eager group.
Each instructor has an area of expertise and spearheads different sections. For instance, Baker specializes in freshwater marine ecology and taught a class on the ecosystems found in the pond near Oxhouse. Conversely, Carter, who specializes in botany, taught a plant identification class on Wednesday.
"There are some neat aspects to this method of teaching," Baker said. "It becomes their project and they become invested in it so they really take ownership of it. This is a nice way of letting them become scientists instead of teaching science as a memory based course."
Throughout the first part of the week, the group made Berlese funnels constructed from 2-liter bottles and plastic onion sacks. The students will use the funnels to separate insects and microorganisms from the cool depths of leaf litter collected from the shady areas beneath trees. By placing an incandescent light bulb over the funnel, the organisms and insects will move through the sifter and accumulate in a collection bag where the students can remove them to study and document their findings.
The plant presses are designed to serve two purposes. The group learned to construct presses so they can show their classes in school how the project works. At the same time, the teachers will leave with a few preserved plant specimens they can also use in the classroom.
The group will travel to sites such as Bear Creek and the Alcovy River and investigate the wetlands while also traveling to East Newton Elementary School where a former student of the two-week course has been working on her investigation.
John Thompson, who teaches fourth grade at Middle Ridge Elementary, says he already has an idea of what he wants to do with his students this fall.
"I was thinking about having students build a compost pile," he said. "Later in the year, after it's grown larger, I'll have the kids investigate what's living in the pile."
Thompson added his investigation will encompass several of the standards the group has learned including the cycle of nutrients in the water cycle and flow of energy through the environment.
Some of the teachers received financial help via a grant through the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation (AVDF). The teachers from Florida are staying in campus dorms while the college provides transportation to and from research sites.
"We have several teachers from outside of Newton County and we went away from what we actively recruited," Baker said. "The grant helps. It gives those who receive it a little stipend that helps with transportation costs. The grant will also help us get a Web site, which we're excited about."
Baker and the rest of the instructors and assistants don't teach the course for any reason other than that they enjoy their fields of study and want to help nurture science in the schools.
"It's like the pyramid scheme," Carter said. "The K-12 teachers really know what they are doing. It's been a great partnership for us because they do things we can't do. We hope to send teachers back to their schools where they can teach potentially the whole grade about what they've learned."