Charlene teaches in Toledo, Ohio, where the school district is struggling with federal mandates and is reeling from the loss of manufacturing jobs and the resulting increase in student poverty. Her school has the highest achievement test results in the district. She has been teaching for 23 years, artfully weaving together Fine Arts and Chemistry-she says, "There is no science without fancy and no art without fact"—and is now teaching 7th grade Life Science. She enrolled in Water in Summer 2009 as part of her recertification process.
Experiencing "best" professional development as in-depth, knowledgeable conversations about the subject: water
Charlene described Water as the best professional development she had ever participated in. The course was truly about water, as opposed to teaching about water. She spent 25-30 hours a week "voraciously" working on the course, soaking up all of the information and online dialogue.
I was blown away by the quality. I was absolutely, wow.
Not only were the instructors knowledgeable and interactive, but each of the other participants also offered a wealth of information. She particularly enjoyed that the participants came from diverse professions, ranging from an English teacher to participants whose work involves water management and water issues.
It really was a very rich experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone that is looking for professional development, no matter why you want to take it, even if you just want to hang out with some really neat people.
Exploring new knowledge and issues: from the New York City water system to the education of women in third world countries
The course led Charlene on a rich exploration of the issues related to water, opening doors to many areas she had never explored and teaching her new skills. Conversations about water availability in third world countries, for example, led to discussions of economics and education.
We often had issues where we would talk about water, but then it led into the economics of the area and the role of women in securing water, especially in underdeveloped countries. [We learned why] the women basically were uneducated-because they were in charge of walking six miles to get the water for the day and therefore the boys went to school, but the girls didn't because they were carrying the water.
As for skills, Charlene learned how to interpret a water quality report, and as a result was better able to understand a recent report at her summer cottage on Lake Michigan. She also learned about the ins and outs of the New York City water system, and she can explain with great enthusiasm the current repair of part of the city's immense water system. As part of a course project to research a local wetland, she learned how to use Google Maps, and as a result was inspired to take a class at a local public television station about Google applications. She is now using Google tools to help her bring concepts to life in her classroom.
Becoming a more knowledgeable and proactive citizen around water issues
Charlene believes that the course has made her even more aware than she was before about the scarcity of water as a vital natural resource.
I feel like a much more knowledgeable citizen... I truly believe in serendipity, sometimes those things that cross your path when you least expect it and enrich your life… I was at my local craft store, and I had occasion to use the restroom and the faucet was dripping and I went to the manager and I said, 'Do you know how much water you are wasting? You really need to get a new gasket.' You know, I always thought that I was frugal about natural resources, but boy, I have become more so now.
Using the topic of water to engage her students in many different aspects of our world-health, economics, the environment, and politics
It [studying water] weaves such a spider web of ways to engage the students in thoughtful conversation.
Charlene brought her enthusiasm and new awareness into her classroom by using water as the theme for the year in her honors life science classes. She set the stage with the water cycle and from there led the students in an exploration similar to her own in the SOS class-ranging from global water issues to local water issues related to the Great Lakes and Toledo waterways.
Because her students are middle school students and "kind of quirky," she often focused on finding unique or unusual examples to teach them about the issues. For example, when teaching them about how people in different places get fresh water, she found examples that they could relate to or might find especially interesting.
There is a pump developed for outlying areas, especially in underdeveloped countries, where water is pumped to the surface by using a merry-go-round on a playground. In turning the merry-go-round, children generate the energy necessary for the water to be pumped to the surface. My students love that kind of stuff! They just eat it up because it is somebody their age that is doing those kinds of things.
Charlene had her class look at local issues as well, with attention to their nearby body of water, the Great Lakes. The students read articles in the local paper about the invasion of Asian carp into the Great Lakes and the controversy around the proposed channel to link the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. She says she "continuously stressed" the fact that the Great Lakes is one of the largest areas of fresh water and told the students they should never vote away their rights to the Great Lakes.
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