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Teachers help students delve into climate science - June 7, 2012

After much hoopla, a little controversy, and a lot of hard work, our first Climate Science Issues Investigation Program concluded last week. But this is just the beginning.

Identified as the "vanguard of climate education," and heralded as "one of the most sophisticated climate change education units in the nation," by Scientific American, the program would not have been possible without the courage and dedication of four remarkable teachers -- Nancy Rowe, Kelly Hamilton, Amanda Markos and Jennifer Watson. I hope my daughter is lucky enough to have teachers like them.

Not content to teach the same content, in the same way over and over, again, these teachers are committed to challenging their students and themselves. Rowe will be retiring this year. It's an exciting time for her, but her talent will be missed in the classroom.

The 266 students who were in the program are part of Wicomico County's T.A.D. program. T.A.D., which stands for "Thinking And Doing," is an integral part of educating students identified as "Gifted and Talented" in the county. I was a Wicomico County T.A.D. student nearly 35 years ago. Educationally, it made a tremendous difference for me. That I now have the opportunity to work with the program is deeply rewarding.

The T.A.D. program challenges students to delve more deeply into subject areas than they can in the regular classroom. The program focuses on honing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Much of the learning that takes place is student-directed. The teachers facilitate the process to maximize learning and skill-building.

Rowe, Hamilton, Markos and Watson teach all third, fourth and fifth grade T.A.D. students in the county, rotating between 11 different elementary schools. Once every 6-day cycle, they have a little planning time together. It was during this time that I was able to meet with them to develop the Climate Science program. We began planning a year ago. Because they are dedicated lifelong learners, the teachers embraced the opportunity to tackle a new subject, with which they were largely unfamiliar. Thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, we had funding to provide teacher training and professional development for the teachers and partner staff, and funding for field experiences for the students.

The teachers and students were not in this alone. We assembled a team of experts to assist with the program, help provide training and facilitate student activities.

So, what was the result?

More than 250 students, 8 to 10 years old, have a better understanding of climate science, both natural and anthropogenic causes of greenhouse gases, and a grasp of sea level rise projections beyond that which most adults I encounter have.

The program had a very local focus. The topic was timely and personally relevant. After creating impact statements, students were empowered to develop creative ways to mitigate impacts and innovative ways to adapt. And, finally, they took action. They created a public service announcement about Lyme Disease prevention; they built a model of a rain capture and drip irrigation system; they wrote letters to the local newspaper, school system and elected officials; they developed campaigns to save lizards, turtles and dolphins; they designed T-shirts and brochures to raise money and raise awareness.

Yes, these T.A.D. students are our future leaders. But they are leading already. We would do well to follow, now.

If 8, 9, and 10-year olds can make a difference -- and they have -- you can, too.

Samis is the education coordinator for MCBP.


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