This fall, the 13 students in Nicolette Cagle’s on-campus course ENVIRON 737 Environmental Education & Interpretation took to classrooms at three elementary schools around Durham to teach environmental education lessons.

For years, DEL has organized volunteers to lead environmental education activities in local classrooms. Recently, I have partnered with Dr. Cagle to add a service learning component to her environmental education class. I help her students get hands-on experience implementing skills from the class; simultaneously, she trains our volunteers to lead high-quality environmental education lessons.

Eileen-Charlene Wu

Charlene Wu engages children in a science lesson at Forest View Elementary School. (Vicki Isley photo).

The Duke undergraduate, masters, and PhD students worked with 3rd, 4th and 5th grade math and language arts classrooms for academically or intellectually gifted (AIG) students. Because these classrooms have a topical focus, our students had the challenge of including mathematics and language arts learning objectives in their environmental education lesson plans. Charles Marx had students identify recyclables and estimate their personal production of recyclables. Jianyu Wu taught students about from where their water comes, and Charlene Wu taught students about food webs. Erika Hansen had students read a passage about pesticide drift from a family farm and debate the rights of farmers and neighboring families.

At Fayetteville Street Elementary School, AIG instructor Tomika Altman-Lewis received funding from WRAL to plant 50 azaleas in a large bare courtyard at the school. She requested that we help plant them. I organized tools, such as gardening forks and shovels. Children from across the school came out to participate, including second graders who quietly told me that they’d never worked with plants before, but that they liked it, and fifth graders who exuberantly shoveled hard clay and told me that this was the best day of their lives. Students were fascinated to learn from DEL volunteers that plants eat sunlight and that a lot of soil is worm poop. They seemed thrilled to have a hand in making a long-term improvement to the school grounds.

Eileen-Anne Liberti

Anne Liberti joins students to establish an azalea garden at Fayetteville Street Elementary School. (Eileen Thoros photo)

DEL also financially supported the SciREN Triangle networking evening, held Nov. 13, which brought together about 60 Triangle-area researchers with several hundred K-12 teachers, all at the N.C. Museum of Natural History. The event was designed to introduce scientists and their lesson plans – based on current research – to teachers who might use these lessons or might invite the researchers to visit their schools. Earlier in the fall, the organizers hosted a lesson plan development workshop, which introduced the scientists to lesson design for K-12 students.

Many of these researchers focus on the environmental sciences. Lesson topics related to environmental education included nitrogen cycling, marine mammals, bioaccumulation, ocean food webs, marine microbes, mercury exposure risk assessment, wind energy, air pollution and health, water quality, cicadas, and climate change. We look forward to the classroom visits and activities that will arise from the connections people made at this event.

SciREN Triangle events are organized by graduate students at NCSU, UNC and Duke, with leadership from students at Duke’s Marine Lab and UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences.

All of DEL’s K-12 environmental education work was funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation.

—Eileen Thorsos is Sustainability Education Program Coordinator for the Duke Environmental Leadership Program.