July 17, 2018

New study concludes mentoring helps teachers in environmental education

Rivers2Lake alumni teacher Jill Shane coordinates a MWEE experience on Lake Superior's Madeline Island.

Rivers2Lake alumni teacher Jill Shane coordinates a MWEE experience on Lake Superior's Madeline Island.

A mentor may offer the support needed to reduce barriers to outdoor and environmental learning

Researchers at the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve and the University of Minnesota Duluth found that regular support of a mentor helps teachers implement environmental education (EE) confidently. These findings appear in new peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Environmental Education written by Dr. Julie Ernst and Reserve Education Coordinator Deanna Erickson.  

The research investigates the impact mentoring has on environmental education practice and the impact of the Rivers2Lake program on teachers and their students. Rivers2Lake offers teachers the opportunity to learn from the Lake Superior Watershed as well as integrate regular outdoor and inquiry-based learning in classrooms and offers “extended training and mentoring during the school year,” the article states.

The study revealed that mentoring fosters encouragement, increasing feelings of confidence in teachers, which provides a higher level of energy in day-to-day lessons. A mentor may offer the support needed to reduce barriers to outdoor and environmental learning by continually offering ideas and initiating conversations that result in commitment to environmental education. These results suggest that mentor-to-teacher training may benefit other organizations that seek to raise science literacy in K-12 classrooms.

Rivers2Lake involves a 4-5 day summer institute providing experiences on the St. Louis River Watershed so that, “teachers gain regional scientific, historic, environmental, and cultural understanding of the watershed while practicing skills such as outdoor lesson planning, environmental issue investigations, scientific inquiry, and canoeing”. This extended training provided information but was overwhelming when the teachers reached the classroom. With the help of a year-long mentor, teachers are provided with, “the moral support that energizes and fuels them for navigating through the powerful philosophical, political, and logistical barriers to environmental education,” while developing lessons that incorporate what they’ve learned.

Rivers2Lake is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) Great Lakes Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program which funds K-12 students through Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs). Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences are created through multi-stage activities that combine learning outdoors and in the classroom. The National Estuarine Research Reserve system also provides funding for this Teachers on the Estuary program, one of 28 high quality teacher professional development programs around the country, through NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management.

Rivers2Lake alumni teacher Jill Shane coordinates a MWEE experience on Lake Superior's Madeline Island.

Rivers2Lake alumni teacher Jill Shane coordinates a MWEE experience on Lake Superior's Madeline Island.

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