Jimmy W. Karlan, EdDCore Faculty, Director of the Science Teacher Certification Concentration
Department of Environmental Studies
Junior High Science Teaching
By the time I earned my masters degree from Antioch New England Graduate School in Environmental Education (K-12 Biology Certification, 1982), my teaching philosophy had a distinctive flavor and texture. At Thayer Junior High School, located in what was considered the poorest community in New Hampshire, my 7th and 8th grade students and I turned our science classroom into an interactive museum. There, amongst the aquaria, the see-through beehives, and the forever evolving “Challenge Board,” we explored the mysteries of the physical and living world. Before they could read about the physics of block-and-tackles, students were challenged to figure out how to lift me in a chair two feet off the ground using only one rope, six pulleys, and the strength of one arm. When learning about vision, they interviewed a blind man, spent an entire day blindfolded, and baffled themselves with illusions. And before they chose whether or not to dissect cows’ eyes, they discussed and debated the ethics of this method of inquiry. We even investigated and identified asbestos in various school building materials.
Whether we were trying to figure out how to invent a working model of a human ear or why fifteen flashlights were malfunctioning for as many reasons, students became quickly engaged with challenges that made the familiar strange, and the strange familiar. Our classroom was a place where students were rewarded for asking questions that would make me say, “I don’t know. How do you think we can find out?”
The value of experiential education oriented around solving real problems was reaffirmed when I directed Thayer High School’s Apprenticeship Program, a program in which 9th-12th graders explored their career fantasies during school time for school credit. As apprentices, they ascertained what it meant to be doctors, auto-mechanics, educators, and journalists. Apprentices and I would co-design individualized projects that complemented each of their experiences. One 10th grade learning disabled student apprenticed alongside an auto-body specialist. He documented his experience in a journal and investigated the hazardous materials used in the trade. Through his apprenticeship, he discovered his motivation to read and write, as well as to stay in school.
An 11th grader, apprenticing alongside a nurse, examined a variety of ethical dilemmas encountered by nurses. Her experience helped her discover reasons for going to college. And the senior class president, who couldn’t apprentice with a cosmetologist because she was pregnant, ultimately apprenticed alongside the director of a recreation department. She did primary and secondary research about discrimination against pregnant teens in the workplace. She said she read and wrote with greater fervor during her apprenticeship than for any of her other classes during her senior year.
Through the Apprenticeship Program I was able to customize each student’s learning experiences to their individual interests and skills. This provided innumerable occasions in which to help students improve their ability to read and write, to problem-solve, to think critically and creatively, and to …
“Wild Treasures is an exciting outdoor adventure and school-based ecology-education game for fourth through eighth graders.”
I created Wild Treasures, an innovative outdoor adventure, ecology education game for children and adults. It is a synthesis of twelve years of teaching in a variety of contexts. Wild Treasures challenges students to work cooperatively while thinking critically and creatively about natural phenomena.
The first Wild Treasures, “Recycling in Nature,” opened at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont. Throughout a hundred acre forest, small teams of 3 to 6 players and one adult helper are challenged to solve a series of problems about recycling in the natural world. They examine a dead hawk and try to figure out whether it is being eaten by adult or larvae dermestid beetles. And they sniff leaves in order to determine whether they decompose more quickly on the ground, in mid-air, or underwater. The second Wild Treasures, “Changing Forests,” opened recently at The Institute of Ecosystem Studies. It examines the disturbance and recovery processes in New England forests and challenges teams to conduct original research to determine the relative time an area will take to become a “mature” forest.
Winning requires that all players and teams work cooperatively with one another. Both Wild Treasures honor children for doing their own interpreting of the natural world, and for making their own discoveries.
Wild Treasures’ “Sustainability, Naturally” explores the many ways natural an human systems support and nourish life for future generations. The game begins in a provocative environment, where forest surrounds an 800,000 ton recently capped landfill, now operating as a recovery center. Afterward, students apply what they learn to help make a more sustainable school.
Wild Treasures consists of four parts: Challenge Trail; Researching; Proposing; and Acting. The Challenge Trail is played at the Keene Municipal Recovery Center. The other parts of the game happen at school. Total playing time at the Recovery Center is approximately 3 hours. Total playing time at school varies depending on a teacher’s interests. Each school group chooses how many parts of the game they want to play. The more they play, the more they can earn up to $1500.00 in prizes that will improve their school’s sustainable practices.
Part 1: Challenge Trail
During the first part of the game, 5 teams of 3-5 players and one adult helper walk along the Challenge Trail, a safe path around the Recovery Center and forest. Within moments they approach a problem about sustainability. It could be What is Waste? in which they have to work
together to figure out which human and nonhuman materials are useless, and struggle with the messy notion that people have different conceptions of waste. Or it may be, Exponential Growth, in which teams experience first-hand the meaning of exponential growth.
In return for solving each problem, students are awarded with a diversity of cards: Data, Research, Proposal, and Action cards. These cards will only be useful, however, if all of the teams earn all of their cards. Only then the class can unlock the Wild Treasure chest, and find $500 worth of prizes – prizes they will need in order to play Part 2.
Part 2: Researching
At school, students will have new problems to solve. First, they will need to decide on how to spend $500 toward purchasing environmental monitoring equipment and services. They will use their purchases along with their
awarded Data and Research cards to do an inventory of their school’s sustainable practices. A well written and thorough research report can win up to another $500 in prizes that they can use to turn their proposal into
Part 3: Proposing
During this part of the game, pairs of students will use their Proposal cards to collaborate with their class in the writing and submission of a proposal to change their school’s sustainability profile. A persuasive proposal submitted to the school board can win another $500 that can be used to help improve the school’s sustainable practices.
Part 4: Acting
During this part of the game, pairs of students will use their Action cards to contribute to their class’ collective action to implement more sustainable
practices at their school. Turning a proposal into action can earn a Governor’s Sustainability Award.
Curriculum and support materials for this project will be available as of Fall 2000.
The Mating Calendar
After graduating from Antioch in 1982 and while teaching in a variety of contexts, I was driven to educate the “unconverted.” Consequently, I published and wrote, The 1984 Mating Calendar: A Year of Natural Sex in New England. I thought images and text about the sex lives of local animals would appeal to a wide audience and help bridge the gap between a human obsession and nature. I have included here for those who are interested the cover from the 1984 calendar, and an informative chart that appeared at the end of the calendar that summarizes when various New England wildlife court and mate.