Bernadine Salak has attended several classes with the Keystone College Environmental Education Institute over the years to advance her science classroom.
Most recently, the Delaware Valley High School teacher attended KCEEI’s Citizen Science Summer Course for Educators.
From Aug. 5-9, Salak joined a small group of fellow educators at the college for five days of hands-on learning experiences in a variety of scientific disciplines.
“I really enjoy the classes,” Salak said. “I find them very useful in gaining ideas and insights to use in my classroom, and it’s also just a fun week of collaboration.”
Through “citizen science,” the general public can contribute to scientific research and data collection, said KCEEI Director Sharon Burke.
For example, tracking birds all across the country can be difficult for scientists, so programs exist where average citizens are asked to track bird feeders for a week and report their findings.
“It’s really scientific research that citizens participate in, and it’s becoming more and more popular,” she said. “It’s a great teaching tool, which is why we did this class.”
KCEEI has been offering summer courses for educators for over 10 years thanks to the late Keystone faculty member Howard Jennings.
Besides being able to start a new school year equipped with fresh ideas, K-12 educators can also earn different credits by taking the course.
“We try to connect all of our courses to what they do in their classroom every day,” Burke explained. “We used to really cater to science teachers only, but now we actually develop the courses so they’re applicable to whatever subject the teacher teaches.”
For instance, an English teacher attended this year’s course despite the subject matter being based in science.
“You can relate science to just about any topic at all,” Burke said. “Kids have an innate curiosity about nature, so it’s often really good to introduce difficult concepts using something that they have a natural curiosity about.”
Throughout the week, educators heard from experts in various scientific disciplines and gained field experience.
One of these experts was Keystone beekeeper and educator Ellen McGlynn.
On Friday, the group walked to the campus apiary, where McGlynn gave them an introduction to beekeeping equipment before everyone suited up to observe the bees.
The beekeeper showed how frame boxes are used to store bees, and noted that she usually keeps eight frames in each box.
When bees produce honey, one frame can weigh as many as seven pounds.
Keystone’s apiary uses langstroth hives, which McGlynn noted are standard for backyard beekeepers, and also has an electric fence to keep out bears and other pests, which the state requires.
Also, McGlynn demonstrated how to use a bee smoker, which helps calm bees before releasing them.
Once everyone had on their protective gear, including suits, gloves and head wear, she opened up the structure to show the bees in action.
Each educator also formulated a lesson plan to deliver at school, which they shared with the group before wrapping up the course on Friday afternoon.
For the KCEEI, the mission behind offering courses is to create environmental stewards.
“By reaching out to the teachers, we give them the tools to engage their students in environmental stewardship,” Burke said. “We’re not only inspiring the teachers, we’re having the teachers inspire the students.”
Overall, Salak found the course worthwhile.
“It was great learning about citizen science projects,” she said. “Dr. [Val] Titus I thought did a tremendous job sharing her enthusiasm. It was also fun to go visit Overlook [Foundation] and see the conservation efforts that are happening there.”
In the past, Salak has incorporated what she learned at Keystone into her classroom, and she plans to do it again this year.
“For this week, I definitely have some ideas for getting my students out and actually doing citizen science,” she said.