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Fund for Teachers Journey: Climate Change in the Wetlands

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    Sarah Norris

Rebecca Wenstrom teaches at Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington DC. She was part of the 2018 cohort of Fund for Teachers Fellows, awarded a grant for transformational self-designed summer professional development. Click here to learn more about Fund for Teachers and EL Education's partnership with this extraordinary organization. 

I am committed to teaching my students to imagine a different kind of good life in which balance and sustainability are of paramount value. Rebecca Wenstrom, FFT Fellow

What did you set out to do?

Research with the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in Manitoba, Canada, the evidence and impact of climate change on nearby wetlands to learn skills and methods of scientific field research and develop an authentic fieldwork component for a sixth grade earth science curriculum.

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

My knowledge and understanding of the science behind our changing climate is much stronger, thanks to Dr. LeeAnn Fishback’s dedication and expertise. I also have a more robust understanding of the way scientists design and conduct experiments and ecological studies, how long those projects often take, and the bulk of data they require. I have gained discreet skills: reading GPS. Profoundly, I saw how the pace of scientific research is outstripped by the rate our climate is changing.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

Our school endeavors to nurture a diverse group of students to be active participants in their own education. I cannot imagine a better way to achieve this mission than by engaging students in authentic fieldwork as we did in Churchill. This experience has motivated me to create similar opportunities for my students so that they not only study the science of climate change but produce it!


What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

My great grandparents, Mardy and Olaus Murie, spent their adult lives studying and advocating for the wilderness of the Arctic. At the end of her book, Mardy writes, “Do I dare to believe that one of my great-grandchildren may someday journey to Sheenjek and still find the gray wolf trotting across the ice of Lobo Lake?” This expedition felt like the beginning of an answer I have been longing to give my whole life: Yes. Seeing the beautiful tundra gave me new hope, determination, and gratitude.

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

In one of her lectures, LeeAnn spoke about our linear consumption model - a system in which natural resources are extracted, processed, packaged, consumed, and discarded routinely and rapidly. Our planet cannot sustain this kind of consumer-based economy, and yet so few of us seem willing to imagine a different way of living. I am committed to teaching my students to imagine a different kind of good life in which balance and sustainability are of paramount value.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

My team and I are working on forging partnerships with local conservation groups such as the Anacostia Watershed Society and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to develop a fieldwork component that would provide students with a similar field experience to mine in Churchill. We expect to teach climate change in our math (data, graphs), ELA (dystopian novels), and science (Earth systems) curricula so students have a multitude of different access points to the subject and the content.

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

In the past, we have submitted students’ final projects to a local environmental film festival. I’m interested in having them present about their fieldwork experience as well, perhaps during the festival’s intermission. We will also share and celebrate student learning through existing school structures like our weekly Community Meeting and our end-of-year Community Showcase.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

As an EL Education School, our whole approach to learning is centered on addressing real-world problems like this one: An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that our climate is changing and human actions are to blame. Climate experts have recommended that countries take urgent action, but our government is not taking the necessary steps to mitigate and adapt to our Earth’s changing climate. As 6th graders, what can we do locally to address this global problem?

I have always been committed to conservation and, since the election, have begun volunteering with climate justice organizations and coalitions. I find myself more committed than ever to the principles of conservationist living. The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, and, as polar ice melts, it has the potential to speed up the warming across the globe. It’s zero-hour. We all have to make some changes.

The Fund for Teachers grant application is available October 1, and proposals are due January 31, 2019. Learn more at fundforteachers.org.