May 2023 Newsletter
Park for Every Classroom
May 2023 Newsletter
We hope this month’s newsletter finds you all doing well and enjoying some spring weather, even as this time of year is often packed with end-of-school-year events. We are excited to share an update from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park team on their teacher professional development (PD), some thoughts on the intersection of AI, climate change, and education, and ideas/resources about how to incorporate art into your educational work. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
(If you would prefer not to receive these newsletters, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll take you off the list.)
🌳 Mapping Out PD at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
This month, we’re featuring the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CUVA) PEC Team’s first half of their professional development workshop series. Located between Cleveland and Akron, CUVA presents a rich opportunity to connect with a big population. This month, I (Ingrid Thyr, PEC Program Coordinator) got to talk to two members of the team, Amanda Schuster (Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center/Conservancy for CUVA) and Heather Berenson (Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center/NPS), to learn more about their PD plans and how it’s been going so far.
Along with their teacher partner Anthony Rodgers, Amanda and Heather hosted approximately 16 teachers from Rhodes School of Environmental Studies (which is in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District) at the Environmental Education Center in the park this past February for a day of learning about equity-centered climate change education. They invited their NPS colleague, Emma Johnson, to lead a session on the basics of climate change to make sure all of the teachers had a solid foundational understanding.
In June, the PD will continue with another day-long session. Participants will return to plant trees in the park (climate action!) and plan how to integrate what they’ve learned into their own classrooms in the coming school year.
Highlights So Far:
Mapping Activity - This PEC team really enjoyed the climate mapping activity at the Great Smokies PEC workshop they participated in last August, so they decided to bring the same activity to their own PD – and it was definitely a highlight of the day! Heather said the teachers were “highly engaged” in the activity, and it was cool for the PEC team to be able translate a meaningful learning experience from the PEC workshop to their own PD session.
Familiarity/Relationships - Both Heather and Amanda emphasized how helpful it was to have all the teachers coming from one school for this PD. This meant the group already knew each other, which lent itself to a “very rich experience,” especially with Anthony (who is a teacher at the same school) as a “trusted conduit” between the PD facilitators and the teachers.
Sharing Knowledge - Because these teachers were all coming from the same school, they had a shared knowledge of the geography of the school and its surrounding area, resulting in meaningful conversations. The workshop also represented an opportunity for these teachers to share knowledge across disciplines, from math to language arts to sciences.
Pages from the mapping activity
Lessons Learned So Far:
Never Give Up! - As I’m sure anyone who has planned any PD can relate, this team experienced its mix of roadblocks and setbacks on the path to making this PD happen. The CUVA PEC Team’s number one piece of advice is to be persistent and stay determined together as a team!
School Administration Support - Having a member of the school administration supporting your PD can be super helpful! For this team, having the support of the school’s assistant principal was key to making their PD happen.
Teacher Planning Schedules - In the future, the CUVA PEC Team hopes to figure out the best timing for teachers so that they have enough opportunity to incorporate what they learned into the coming school year’s curriculum. With much of the curriculum planning happening before August for teachers from Rhodes Environmental School, the CUVA team hopes their June session will keep these topics fresh for teachers!
On that note, we wish the CUVA PEC Team the best of luck with their second upcoming session, and, of course, a huge congratulations on all of their hard work so far! I really enjoyed hearing all about it and hope you all enjoyed reading about it. Thanks to Amanda and Heather for sharing their thoughts and experiences!
🏫 Thinking about AI, Climate Change, and Education
Ever since the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI chatbot, conversations surrounding AI and its use have been in the mainstream. In particular, I (Ingrid Thyr, PEC Program Coordinator) have seen a lot written about the ways that AI could transform our approach to both tackling climate change and education.
With climate change, there seems to be a lot of hope about what AI can do: In a world awash with data, maybe AI can help us identify unseen patterns and trends that lead to new solutions. AI could have the potential to help us all become better environmental managers as it provides accessible, tailored expertise. While it remains unclear just how helpful AI will be and many worry about future energy usage, ideas abound.
With education, the response has been a little more lukewarm: Although many have pointed out potential benefits of AI in an educational setting – as a free, personalized tutor, editor, or idea generator (for teachers too) – many more have expressed concerns about how AI could stunt learning, provide incorrect or decontextualized information, and reproduce existing inequalities and injustices.
It’s important to remember, however, that we are very much still in the early days of AI’s development and usage, and so it’s hard to say with any certainty what will happen. There are reasons to be concerned and reasons to be hopeful. From my view, total denunciation and total embrace of the technology are not the ways to approach AI at the moment: A healthy dose of skepticism about its abilities is absolutely necessary (ChatGPT is, after all, basically an averaging of everything that’s been said on the internet), as is a realistic recognition that tools like ChatGPT and future versions are here to stay.
Education is fundamentally an act of caring about the future; whoever is being taught and whoever is doing the teaching are both engaged in preparing for the coming days, months, and years, which makes educators central to this AI discussion. So, as educators, specifically educators focused on equity-centered climate change education, how do you approach AI in ways that expand possibilities, include more communities, and ultimately work towards a livable future?
We are curious to hear your thoughts about AI, education, and climate change, and your experiences with it. Do you have ideas about how to incorporate AI into education? Have you already done it? How? What are you worried about? Hopeful about? Maybe you think AI will be irrelevant in 15 years – that’s interesting too! Tell us all about it at the link below, and we’ll try to keep the conversation going in future newsletters.
🍄 PEC Community of Practice on May 25th
This past week, members of the combined NPS Region 1 and National Cohort 1 PEC Community of Practice met for their third meeting of 2023. The meeting opened with a reflection activity led by Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO) team member Barbara Sabin (teacher at the Volcano School of Arts and Sciences). Then, generally feeling more refreshed, centered, and/or focused, participants got to peer into the HAVO team’s recent PD and other educational events through presentations from Barbara, Scott Laursen (PI-CASC), and Jody Anastasio (NPS). We spent our final chunk of time together discussing how to talk about climate change with young learners and how to make sure a sense of empowerment is at the core of any difficult discussion. It was an enlightening, inspiring, and warming way to wrap up a Thursday (or start a Thursday, depending on your time zone!). Huge thank you’s to Barbara, Scott, and Jody for presenting, and thanks to everyone else who was able to come - so nice to see you all there!
The next CoP meeting will be on Thursday July 13th at 3:00-4:15 pm EDT, and the team from Everglades National Park will be presenting on their recent PD workshop, so mark your calendars (if they’re not already) and get excited!
🎨 Climate, Art, Education Resources
Some of you have mentioned your interest in using more art in your work. Art can be a powerful and empowering way for students of all ages to express concepts, ideas, emotions, messages, and more about climate change. Below are some links to examples of how organizations are bringing together art, education, and climate, as well as a couple of lists of resources for bringing climate art to your own educational setting:
Harvest 2023 - “A collaboration of urban farming and art” + Boston Public Schools
“Artistic Engagement in Schools Prepares Students for Climate Activism” - a blog post from a student about feeling empowered by a school art project to take climate action
Art/Act: Educate - a program out of Berkeley, CA that provides a prompt and a platform for student art, as well as resources for teachers
🌱 Thanks for reading!
That’s all for now! You can send ideas, questions, and/or feedback about this newsletter to email@example.com.