Participate in the “Educator Academy in the Amazon Rainforest” located in Iquitos, Peru to explore place-based learning and experience best practices for implementing inquiry-driven instruction in the classroom. Interact with the local people and culture of the Machu Picchu region in Peru to inform our school's global competency program.
The Educator Academy not only gave me the experience of learning in a completely different environment, but also allowed me to see that knowledge and culture develop differently depending on where one lives. For example, I worked on a “Nature Bingo” activity with students in the Amazon, and experienced that kids who grow up in close contact with nature have a much greater awareness of plants and animals around them than the students I work with in an urban environment.
I now have a much greater understanding that students’ experience shapes who they are and the connections they make. If I want students to understand the interconnectedness of the environment around them, I must take them into that environment and give them time to observe closely and meaningfully. I will embrace quiet time in nature and understand its value as opposed to feeling it is a waste of valuable teaching time.
My greatest personal accomplishment is getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing a new and very different place, not just as a tourist, but as a learner. As a result of this fellowship, I realize how significantly my experiences shape me as a teacher and thus how they shape my students. I now realize that there is a world of learning opportunities out there and travel is not simply about personal experience, but also about experiences I can bring back to my classroom and students.
My ability to make more real world connections to what I teach will positively impact the way my students learn. I have already integrated several science teaching tools that I learned about at the Amazon Educator Academy including handheld microscopes, ecosystem survey cubes, and nature journals. My experiences gave me the knowledge and tools to allow my students more time to be curious, wonder, and ask questions which I feel are the basis for scientific thinking.
One particular piece I am working to collaboratively integrate with the whole school is a nature journaling program. We have purchased a nature journal for every student that will travel with them as they progress through the grades. A professional expeditionary artist is coming in to train our teachers on using nature journals with their students and we will work together to give students several opportunities throughout the school year to document their observations of nature.
One thing I appreciate most is the documentation I kept while traveling. I can look back at my experiences and obtain something different each time I review my work. Through a cohesive science notebook and nature journal initiative I am bringing to my school, I envision students celebrating their learning with both their teachers and their parents/guardians at the end of the year. They will have the opportunity to see the progression of their scientific experiences and learning.
In the Amazon we had the opportunity to come together with a local community and complete tasks such as painting the school, building planter boxes, and leading lessons with the students. This school is part of a greater network, CONAPAC, that supports Amazonian rural communities. Our students can use their understanding of what makes a good school to support a school in the Amazon through CONAPAC’s adopt a school program.
The opportunity to not only visit a new country and continent, but also experience the most amazing professional development of my career has been wondrous. I now understand a happy life to be something other than professional success and wealth. Family, community, and joy are things I experienced with the people of Peru that I hope to draw on as I follow my dreams and give students the skills and knowledge needed to follow their passions as well.