Attending this year's Environmental Issues Instruction (eii) workshop were (front, left) Steve Hummel and Bob Saunders, both from OA-BCIG Middle School, Odebolt; Lucy McLennan, West Fork Elementary and Sheffield High School; (middle row, left) Heath Ellis, Pleasant Hill; William Sieck, Tripoli Elementary School, Tripoli; Debbie Sieck, West Central Community Schools, Maynard; Kari Nydle, St. Paul the Apostle, Davenport; Rosalie Cochran, eii director emerita, Keota; James Pifer, Southeast Polk Junior High, Pleasant Hill; Stephanie Lukavsky, Seymour Community School District, Seymour; Jeff Montieth, eii associate director from New Hampton Middle School, New Hampton; Tracy Nuss, North Fayette High School, West Union; Carl Bollwinkel, eii director emeritus, Cedar Falls; Barb Ehlers, UIU assistant professor of education and eii director;(on the stairs from top) Mark Pingenot, Trees Forever, Vinton; Marty Sandberg, Denison Job Corps, Denison; Ruth Hamilton, Jesup Middle School, Jesup; Penny Jones and Greg Jones, both from Van Buren Community School District, Keosauqua; Joann Kenny, Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn High School, Hartley; Betsy Maryott, Glenwood High School, Glenwood; Cheryl Kroese, Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn High School, Hartley; John Mazzello, Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway coordinator; and Karen Sawhill, Drew DeJong, Natalie Murdoch, and Allison Martens, all from Kate Mitchell Elementary, Ames.
FAYETTE, Iowa (November 28, 2012) – Twenty years ago, when Barb Ehlers attended her first Environmental Issues Instruction (eii) workshop as an elementary teacher, the focus was rainforest education. Today's eii program has evolved, says Ehlers, who now serves as eii director and Upper Iowa University assistant professor of education.
Ehlers said eii now is based on the belief that Iowa educators and students need to learn about environmental issues impacting their own backyards. The focus shifted from far-away biomes like the rainforest to the prairie environment that once encompassed Iowa.
Ehlers was appointed eii director two years ago, bringing the program to Upper Iowa University. The eii workshops utilize teacher-leaders to help develop each year's workshops and to join with experts to conduct intensive, three-day weekend workshops with two-day follow-up spring sessions. Two eii workshops are conducted annually. This year's teacher-leaders are Tracy Nuss, North Fayette, and Jeremy Allar, Ottumwa High School.
The educators earn two hours of graduate credit and are charged a small fee to attend. The rest of the workshop is funded through grant monies. Current grant funders are the Department of Natural Resources' Resource Enhancement and Protection-Conservation Education Program (REAP-CEP) and the Iowa Department of Transportation's Living Roadway Trust Fund (LRTF). In the last two years, Ehlers and the eii team have helped secure over $150,000 in grants to fund the program.
The eii model utilizes:
- the Iowa Core Essential Skills and Concepts,
- Iowa Core Characteristics of Effective Instruction, rigor and relevance, differentiated instruction, inquiry-based learning,
- The 5 e's Learning Cycle, and
- National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Cross-Cutting Concepts and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Correlation.
The focus of the recent workshop was wildlife of prairie roadsides. According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, there are more acres of land along Iowa's roadways than in the lands controlled by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (I-DNR). The land along the roadways provides a significant resource for wildlife, according to the eii group. Building of roads disrupts habitat, but the establishment of roads can present an opportunity to restore wildlife habitat, even for endangered species. Restoring prairie wildlife also beautifies Iowa roadsides. Habitat preservation along the roadsides increases wildlife appreciation and habitat for game birds.
To earn graduate credit, the participating educators will teach the eii unit between the initial and follow-up sessions. The teachers use the four-level teaching model that includes involving their students in developing a plan for responsible environmental action. Upon returning to the update session, teachers share what they have done with students with other workshop participants. Ehlers said she has seen some very interesting and creative ways teachers have implemented the program into their classrooms. Year after year, the theme changes, but the teaching model remains intact, allowing teachers to return for subsequent eii workshops.
"The eii program has opened a door for me to change our curriculum," said Penny Jones, an elementary and sixth-grade math and science instructor from Van Buren Community Schools. Because of what she learned at this year's eii workshop, Jones has been green-lighted to introduce new science curriculum based upon the eii model and the present theme of Wildlife of Prairie Roadsides.
Debbie Sieck, a seventh-grade literature teacher at West Central Community School District, said, "Last year we seeded a wetland area behind our playground. Recently, I took my class along with their iPads to the area. We observed the stages of plants, listened to the songs of birds, found deer tracks and the highlight was the soaring of a mature bald eagle. Many of the students remembered doing prairie projects five years ago when I took my first eii prairie class. I hope to take advantage of this area as an outdoor learning area for students."
"The Environmental Issues Instruction program offers a unique professional development experience for practicing teachers in a variety of ways," said Ehlers. "It embodies a multidisciplinary-thematic approach which allows teachers of all grade levels and content areas to utilize the materials and activities from the workshop experience. The four-step teaching model of environmental issues instruction is supported by research and is based on a well-known model developed by Dr. Harold Hungerford and his associates from Southern Illinois University. The model offers a structure for the instruction that allows for engagement of the students in all four levels culminating in responsible environmental action."
The original eii team of Dr. Carl Bollwinkel, Barbara Bonnett, and Rosie Cochran-Thompson modified the model of issues investigation developed by Hungerford and his colleagues. They have offered workshops for over 25 years with a variety of themes. Through their tutelage, teacher-leaders were added to the team. The teacher-leader concept is still in play.
About Upper Iowa University
Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs and leadership development opportunities to some 6,200 students—nationally and internationally—at its Fayette campus and learning centers worldwide. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and independent study. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.