Originally appears in the Winter 2017 issue
WITH THEIR NOSES pressed to the glass, a group of curious high school students stood watching baby turtles with large white numbers painted on their shells swimming in a crowded kiddie pool. They hurled question after question to the unsuspecting worker tending to the hatchlings. “How old are they?” “How old will they be before they get released?” “Where do you let them go?” “Do they all go to the same place?” The students were getting a chance to witness conservation in action in their city after weeks of discussing biodiversity and extinction in the classroom. Making connections to classroom learning is essential if a project and content are going to have a lasting impact after a field trip. The tiny turtles and their conservation, which captivated my students, was the connection that helped to draw my students into creating a conservation plan and an animated video about another local endangered species.
If teachers at urban schools are going to implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and help students demonstrate a true understanding of the Earth, its ecosystems, and the importance of conservation, the curriculum needs to be relevant to the students’ lives. Conservation education tends to focus on global not local issues and thus loses relevance for many young people. Students living in Chicago for example, have difficulty understanding the importance of the Amazon rainforest when some have never stepped foot into a forest of any kind. To make these issues relevant and meaningful, students need to make connections to the environment around them. Watching the adorable turtles swim in the pool and asking questions of those responsible for the turtles was the beginning of that connection for my students.
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Sarah Compton teaches high school science at an alternative high school in Chicago, Illinois. Her focus is on helping students make connections to local nature and incorporating technology wherever possible.
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