Proctor's environmental mission has long driven the school's decision making process. The AP Environmental Science course first entered the academic curriculum under Nelson Lebo's guidance more than a decade ago and has now grown to a full enrollment in two sections.
Alan McIntyre, the school's environmental coordinator and science instructor, has the privilege of teaching these students about environmental issues and how each individual interacts with the environment around him or her.
This fall, the class' focus has been on water issues and ecosystems, spending much time studying local water sources and environmental systems. Field trips to Two Mountain Farm, Pleasant Lake, and the Blackwater River have given opportunities to personally engage with the concepts learned in class.
While rain canceled today's field trip to study food webs on campus, Ethney McMahon shared the following video clips of this class' adventures this fall.
Evaluating student learning in a content-heavy course with an AP exam awaiting in May can be a challenge for an instructor. Alan, like some other teachers at Proctor, has taken a fascinating approach to assessing learning. Alan has helped facilitate the building of a class blog site (LINK). Each student then has the opportunity to blog about their learning in this course.
The use of a blog to assess learning accomplishes many goals; students are writing for a wider audience than just their teacher, they are able to have an on-going portfolio of their writings, and students are able to read and assess each other's work. While these are all valid reasons to use student blogs as a learning tool, perhaps the most valuable process is that of self-reflection.
Student submissions range in style, but the quality of self-reflection found in their posts is indisputable. To critically evaluate and then articulate through writing the personal impact of a learning experience brings "thinking" to a higher level.
Self-reflection is not always an easy process, but coming to honestly understand the intersection of learning and your own identity can be a powerful process.
Parker Palmer writes in his book, The Courage to Teach, "Identity and integrity are not the granite from which fictional heroes are hewn. They are subtle dimensions of the complex, demanding, and lifelong process of self-discovery. Identity lies in the intersection of the diverse forces that make up my life, and integrity lies in relating to those forces in ways that bring me wholeness and life rather than fragmentation and death."
Helping students understand the fluid nature of identity through the process of self-reflection is an incredibly important step in each student's educational journey. How will their identies evolve as they are exposed to new ideas?
As students study trophic levels, researching individual species and the specific flow of energy between trophic levels, assessing the health of each habitat is critical. One cannot help but think about our role, as humans, in this diverse world. What species do we impact with our habits? From where do we gain our calories and what impact does our waste have on our surrounding environment.
Alan's work as environmental coordinator extends far beyond the classroom to implementing programs that help our community become more aware of its impact on local habitats. The most recent movement by the school toward streamlining our waste disposal into a single-stream recycling system speaks to the continuing evolution of Proctor's identity.
If we (as adults) can learn anything from what our students are willing to do, it is that we, as an entire community, must be willing to remain engaged in the on-going, sometimes painful, but always useful process of self-reflection. It is from this process that we truly learn.
Alan McIntyre comments, "Here in the post-modern globalized digital world, students craft blog entries that echo the essence of journal writing that Lewis &amp;amp;amp;amp; Clark and others, have practiced over many years."
Students have the opportunity to not just learn by doing, but then reflect on both the doing and the learning through their own writing.
Reflecting on a recent trip to Proctor alum Kat Darling's ('98) Two Mountain Farm in East Andover, one student writes, "The diversity, which is a catalyst for economic success is also, ironically, a way in which her [Kat] land can be more resilient. Insect life, soil, and the creatures that feed on the brush that surround her farm all help to create a miniature eco-system that has its own, natural balance."
Another writes, "Through Kat's knowledge I was able to learn so much about organic farming and how the environment works with the food we eat."
Students hopefully begin to understand that our actions as individuals and as a school community impact the environment around us.