August 18, 2010
As everyone knows, one of the main responsibilities of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment is to protect and preserve Michigan's natural resources while promoting their wise use.
One of the best ways to make sure that mission is fulfilled is to make sure the state's citizens are educated about those resources. And what's the best way to accomplish that? Many believe the best way forward is to educate educators.
That's exactly what the DNRE's Academy of Natural Resources does. Every summer, the department schedules a weeklong program at the Ralph A. McMullen Center at Higgins Lake to teach teachers how to teach students about natural resources.
Kevin Frailey, the education service manager for the DNRE, says the department has been educating teachers in one way or another since the 1930s. At one time, the state cooperated with the Teacher's Environmental School, a cooperative program of six state universities. But the universities began dropping out until, in 2006, only Wayne State was still involved.
So Frailey decided to take the bull by the horns and in 2008 the department started the academy, "to continue the tradition of educating teachers," he explained.
That year, 16 teachers participated. In 2009, 24 took part. This year, 49 teachers from Head Start to high school, teaching everything from science to art to special education - spent the week at the RAM Center.
Teachers attending the academy can get graduate credits through Central Michigan University or simply qualify for State Board of Education continuing education credits.
As Frailey explains it, the program began in 2008 by offering teachers Natural Resources Curricula Certification, teaching them the basics about already available national natural resources courses. Teachers learned about Project Wild (created by game and fish agencies), Project Learning Tree (created by forestry agencies), Project Wet (about watersheds, water quality and wetlands) and the Leopold education Project, named after noted conservations Aldo Leopold.
Although the academy has added two additional tracks, the curricula certification course remains the most popular, Frailey said.
"Teachers go home with ready-made activities to use in the classroom," Frailey explained. "They have a wealth of material."
Natalie Elkins, a DNRE education and outreach manager who teaches Project Wild, said the material suits the academy perfectly.
"It was developed by professionals for use by professionals," Elkins said. "The program is aligned with the educational community's expectations for K through 12 and I hate reinventing the wheel. I love this part of my job."
In 2009, the academy added Field Camp a week made up of programs put on by various DNRE divisions. DNRE professionals walk the teachers through their programs foresters, for example lead tour through various aged forest, mark timber and visit mills. Fisheries division took teachers out on a netting survey on Higgins Lake and an electro-shocking survey on the Au Sable River.
"This is fun," said fisheries biologist Steve Sendek. "Part of it is the enthusiasm of these educators. I enjoy sharing knowledge with them about things I'm enthused about.
"This is a cool thing, fisheries management, and having people who are interested in learning about it is great."
Scott Martin, a Redford Union High School English Teacher, who participated in this year's field camp, said he took the class because he had a deep love for the outdoors and thought the program might help him pass that love along to his students.
"It's a blast," he said. "Fun, educational, interesting, fascinating - all kinds of adjectives. I'm asking myself, 'How can I work this into my curriculum.' "
Pinewood Middle School science teacher Shannon Goodwin of Kentwood has no such question.
"When you can go back and show your students how this relates to the real world, it's great," she said. "For any teacher, the more you know about your subject, the better you're going to be able to teach it."
Goodwin said the hikes forest hikes were eye-opening.
"Just to walk into those areas and see the red pine plantation and the Kirtland's warbler habitat was just fascinating," she said. "The best part about it is it's all hands-on. I want to come back."
For 2010, the new track is "Nature Quest," a kind of crash course about Michigan flora and fauna. Instructors teach teachers about Michigan mammals, trees, birds, reptiles and amphibians - all manner of flora and fauna.
"Its' kind of a 101," Frailey said.
Kim Chumney, a Walled Lake Western High School chemistry and physics teacher, was done of seven teachers who attended the academy for the third year.
"It's new and fresh every year," she said. "One of my goals is to take the accumulation of all we've learned and share with other teachers how to incorporate that into any discipline."
img alt="Teachers had a chance to help net fish in an electro-fishing demonstration on the Au Sable River as part of the DNRE's Academy of Natural Resources.
The cost for the weeklong course is $295, which includes room and board. But this year, every teacher who attended received $100 scholarship from the Novi chapter of Safari Club International, something Frailey hopes to be able to continue in the future.
Although next year's academy is slated to be held July 17-22, roughly the same dates as this year, Frailey said he hasn't figured out what next year's new track will be. But he's collecting ideas.
"The teachers kind of help determine next year's course," he said.
For more information on the Academy of Natural Resources, visit the DNRE website at www.michigan.gov/anr.