What do four snakes, a bearded dragon, a leopard gecko, an American toad, two tortoises and guinea pig have in common? They all reside in elementary school teacher, Jackie Lacey’s classroom in San Bernardino, California!
This menagerie of classroom pets is a way for Lacey, an environmental education resource teacher at Kimbark Elementary School, to engage her students’ in science. Lacey teaches a combination of science and environmental education to the school’s K-6 students.
Like many teachers in California, Lacey is transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and is seeking ways to incorporate more hands-on, inquiry-based activities with her students.
She says the pets are a great way to engage her students in scientific topics such as adaptation, structure, and healthy ecosystems while providing them an opportunity to ask questions and apply their knowledge.
“We can talk about adaptations, we can talk about what they need to have a healthy ecosystem and what does that look like or we’ll take them out to the playground and we’ll talk about what healthy plants look like on our playground, what do they need, what do they do…”
Lacey complements her hands-on activities with materials from the EEI Curriculum. Third grade science unit “Structures for Survival in a Healthy Ecosystem” provided non-fiction readers and visual aids to help students better understand the structures of plants and animals.
“In the EEI we read about how the structure fits the animal and then we go through and examine how these structures helped the animal to survive. We also look at structures of plants because there are some really cool graphics in the book for the kids,” explained Lacey, “So we use a lot of the EEI materials for reading and background and then we pull examples from nature, outside, inside, wherever we can…”
Lacey holds a master’s degree in Environmental Education from California State University, San Bernardino and believes that using students’ local environment as context for instruction is one of the best ways to promote deeper learning experiences. California’s new science instruction framework encourages this approach to support teachers’ transition to teaching the NGSS.
Lacey finds the EEI Curriculum a useful resource in her own transition to the new science standards and encourages other educators to use the curriculum as a source for activities and background materials like non-fiction readers and visual aids.
“The EEI Curriculum helps bridge the gap between the old curriculum standards and the NGSS,” said Lacey, “It provides me with materials in one convenient location so I am not searching for resources or making things for my students to use.”
The curriculum also makes it easier for Lacey to incorporate California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts (Environmental Principles) into her lessons. The Environmental Principles are a set of five “big ideas” that highlight the deep relationship between humans and the natural world. The new science framework calls for the integration of these principles into classroom instruction and teachers can use them to highlight the complexity of human impacts and connections to the environment.
Lacey’s goal for the Environmental Principles is not for her students to memorize them, but rather that they begin to notice how their choices influence the environment around them.
“Hopefully as they go out into the world, they’ll make good positive impacts for the environment. They’ll use it, they’ll enjoy it, but they’ll also be conscious that their choices affect the things around them.”