The science classroom offers an opportunity for students to not only learn about the mechanisms that set our great world in motion, but also to inspire students to make exciting connections between the natural world and everyday life. Tapping into her own excitement for environmental education, Kristen Grote focuses on creating lessons that allow students to discover their connectivity to the natural world.
Teaching middle school science at Grand Traverse Academy, Kristen’s enthusiasm for chemistry, biology, and ecology sparks classroom participation and effective instruction. Showing off pictures of a recent owl pellet dissection project, it’s obvious how her excitement for teaching translates into engaged students. In this particular project, students dissected owl pellets and then reconstructed the skeletons of the mice and other tiny mammals found within. More than just a lesson in anatomy, Kristen used the dissection as a catalyst to talk about food chains, adaptations, and ecosystems – “encouraging students to find extended connections to the outdoors and what they are playing with out there.
One of the great “goals of environmental education is to increase the appreciation of natural things and encourage students to look closer at environmental relationships.” In order to take an actual “closer look,” Kristen recommends that every classroom have some type of magnification tool such as hand lenses, microscopes, or binoculars, on hand for students to use and discover new perspectives. Bringing the tools of the trade outside promotes “thinking like a scientist,” supporting the teaching potential of some of Kristen’s favorite class activities like plant identification, investigating vernal pools, or surveying butterfly populations. These activities contribute to the natural progression that occurs from teaching life sciences to addressing conservation to communicating the importance of environmental stewardship. Complimenting this progression with her students’ growing outdoor interests fosters personally crafted and thoughtfully made relationships with the natural world.
Before teaching science at the Grand Traverse Academy, Kristen worked at the Grand Traverse Conservation District’s office as the Coordinator of the Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative where she empowered student stewardship through place-based education county-wide. Inspired by the camping and canoeing trips she took growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Kristen’s passion for environmental education is a truly contagious force. When not at work, Kristen can be found gardening in the sunshine, hiking the trails at Grand Traverse Commons, or cross-country skiing on the Vasa. Her advice to other educators is to focus on the positive moments from each day and to remember the great accomplishments your classroom has achieved together.