Expanding the field: Cary invites teachers to study ecology at the Institute

Some of the research projects will involve the streams and ponds in eastern Dutchess County. Cary has conducted research into issues plaguing our waterways — such as pollution through medicine dumping and invasive species that have come to sites nearby — and their possible solutions for years.

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Expanding the field: Cary invites teachers to study ecology at the Institute

MILLBROOK — Starting this summer, nine math and science teachers will be spending six weeks at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies doing collaborative research in ecosystem science.

They’ll continue meeting throughout the school year, to develop curricula together based on the work and research they conducted over the summer.

Funded by a three-year award from the National Science Foundation as part of the Research Experiences for Teachers Sites in Biological Sciences (BIORETS), the goal of the program is to build teachers’ knowledge and enable them to develop more engaging learning experiences around ecology.

The curricula they’ll develop together will focus on helping students not just to learn about ecology, but also to deepen their understanding of the environmental needs and problems that exist in our current, crisis-state ecological situation.

Such courses have the added bonus of providing students with another entrée into the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math).

Cary is currently accepting applications to the program from teachers. They intend to prioritize educators from groups underrepresented in STEM fields, and those who work in schools that serve significant minority populations.

So far, teachers from four under-resourced Hudson Valley school districts, serving both urban and rural populations, have expressed interest in the program. Teachers from across the U.S. are invited to apply, with travel and housing covered. Participating teachers will receive an $8,800 stipend.

Rebecca Van Tassell, program coordinator for Cary BIORETS, emphasized that the program isn’t just for biology teachers: “We would love math teachers to apply. We would love computer science and chemistry teachers to apply.

“The sticky, urgent problems of global change need to be approached through the thinking of many different disciplines so that we can come up with novel solutions.”

Cary Institute is located at 2801 Sharon Turnpike in Millbrook, N.Y.Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Some of the projects that the teachers will explore are related to wildfire, aquatic ecosystems, disease ecology, forests, and nutrient cycling — all issues that Cary has been engaging with consistently.

The teachers will have the opportunity to do projects like creating and running simulations of future forest and fire dynamics, or conducting field surveys of tick density and distribution — a field something Cary had been at the forefront of for many years. They may also explore soil food webs, or identify tree species.

Cary hopes that educators will develop new materials to aid in their instruction in introducing ecological ideas to their students based on their research experiences.

The participants will also be expected to share their research by contributing to a professional publication, presenting at a conference, or conducting workshops in their school districts.

As well as having the support of one another, they’ll also have support from the Cary education staff.

During the ensuing year, Cary will host four virtual meetings supporting the teachers as they unroll their new curricula. They’ll have the opportunity to receive feedback on the teaching stratagems and the materials used to determine the effectiveness of the new methods and materials.

Working together is one of the main points of the program, Van Tassell emphasized: participants will learn through sharing and workshopping ideas. The process is designed to be collaborative.

Cary has worked throughout its 40-year history with educators in creating curricula and fostering professional development. Van Tassell feels that part of the reason Cary BIORETS is unique is that it is tailored to each teacher’s interests and classroom dynamics:

“By letting teachers engage as learners in this authentic and inquiry-based way, we can work with them to develop materials that allow their students to learn in the same way,” she noted.

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