In Mother Nature’s classroom |

In Mother Nature’s classroom

Chyrise Harris
Post Independent Staff

Though their students’ brains switched to “off” mode somewhere in June, summer’s arrival hardly gave teachers a chance to rest their minds.

Soaking in the tricks and trades of specialists from the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Colorado State University and Colorado State Forestry, teachers switched roles. They became eager students learning about forest and fire ecology through a Project Learning Tree workshop.

Teachers who came to Glenwood Springs for the workshop worked more hours in the outdoors this week than they usually do in one week in the classroom during the school year.

“We work them way beyond 8 to 5,” said Project Learning Tree coordinator Shawna Crocker. “We’re just trying to expose the teachers to as much content, activities, background and behavior of fire so that they’re excited about teaching fire.”

Working between 55 and 60 hours over the past week, teachers learned as much as they could about fire history, fire prevention, suppression and mitigation so that next fall’s curriculum might spark the minds of students awakening from a three-month break.

Like many of their students, teachers from the workshop admitted to retaining knowledge much better without long lectures. With that in mind, Crocker and the other fire and forest specialists got teachers hot, dirty and involved in hands-on activities.

With the Match Stick Forest inquiry experiment, teachers observed the tendencies of fire.

“They love it,” Crocker said. “They can then help students to create and analyze fire behavior.”

Even more hands-on, teachers became firefighters for a day, experiencing the hot, heavy and hazardous conditions wildfires create.

“The purpose is to give a good experience and allow them to share possible careers with their students,” Crocker said.

Participants appreciated the experience. They said they were excited to take back innovative techniques to teach their students about wildfire prevention and the different careers that can come from that knowledge.

“We want them to know how to take care of the land,” teacher Pam Norton said. “They’re the ones who are going to be inheriting it, and maybe we can get them to say, ‘Hey, here’s another reason to complete my education and get a job.'”

Teachers like Jo Pustizzi realized from the workshop that she sat in the same boat as her students when it came to her proficiency on wildfires. But she said she welcomed the opportunity to increase her own understanding.

“If we’re going to educate people about things, we have to learn about them first,” Pustizzi said.

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