Earthwatch Mondays: The Teacher Chronicles

Posted on by Dodge

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Welcome back to our January Earthwatch Mondays series.

Dodge has been working with the Earthwatch Institute to offer Educator Fellowships to New Jersey’s K-12 public school teachers “so they can return to the classroom and community to advance an ethic of environmental stewardship and empower the students’ voices.”

You can see the first installment of the Teacher Chronicles here.  For the next three Mondays you will read teacher fellow responses to a series of questions regarding expeditions that have helped them build science skills, increase scientific literacy, and improve environmental stewardship through hands-on, inquiry based learning.

Matt Farber in Costa Rica

This week, meet Matt Farber, who participated on “Costa Rican Coffee – From Community to Cup” from August 9-16 2009 with Earthwatch Scientist Sebastián Castro Tanzi. Matt is a sixth and seventh grade social studies teacher at Valleyview Middle School in Denville, NJ.

Q. What did you learn in the field and how did you bring your experience back to the classroom?

The Earthwatch expedition I took, “Costa Rica Coffee – From Community to Cup,” was a natural extension of what I try to bring to my students. I am a social studies teacher at Valleyview Middle School, in Denville, New Jersey. This expedition was an excellent opportunity for me to show my social studies students how we can maintain a sustainable future. My ultimate goal was for my students to see themselves as global citizens.

In the field, we randomly picked coffee plants and counted productive and non-productive branches and berries. We also took soil samples. The coffee farms were sometimes very steep. We learned the benefits of having shade-grown coffee plants. Banana trees often provide the shade. The idea is that shade trees prevent erosion & return nutrients to the soil. This is a sustainable way to farm without using harmful herbicides and/or pesticides.

Matt Farber Digging in Costa Rica Earthwatch Team in Costa Rica 2

Earthwatch Team in Costa Rica

Q. What did your students think of the lesson?

The first topic we cover in seventh grade social studies is the Jamestown Colony. Jamestown succeeded due to its successful cultivation of tobacco as an exported cash crop. It was easy to point out the parallels that exist between the world of 1607 and today. My students got a lot out of the lesson. Three of my classes created a collaborative slideshow on VoiceThread.com:

2nd period slideshow

5th period slideshow

7th period slideshow

I created a bulletin board detailing my experience, as well as the town newspaper’s coverage of my adventure. I often refer to the pictures I posted when I teach about global citizenship.

Costa Rica Bulletin Board

This experience left a lasting impression on many of my students. From bananas to coffee to chocolate, I receive regular reports when my students spot the Fair Trade logo in stores. One of my students pointed out that his family gave out Fair Trade candy for Halloween. As a holiday gift, that student gave me a container of Fair Trade certified cocoa.

Q. How did you benefit both personally and professionally from your Earthwatch experience?

This experience helped me to become even more of a conscious consumer. I understand better that we have the power to “vote” simply by making better decisions when I shop. By paying a little bit more for Fair Trade certified products, we receive better quality products and help local communities. Witnessing the success of the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica was all the proof I needed to see the “win-win scenario” that can exist!

Collage of Costa Rica photos

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For a really thorough and interesting look at his fellowship, you can visit Matt’s Earthwatch blog here.

For his terrific classroom blog, click here.

Dodge is in conversations with Earthwatch to explore how the fellowships might become more closely aligned with other programs that emphasize sustainable community practices, including the Cloud Institute’s NJ Learns program, the Monarch Teacher Network and Sustainable Jersey. We welcome your thoughts about the teacher expeditions and potential connections to related efforts in New Jersey.

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Earthwatch is the nation’s leading environmental volunteer organization supporting sustainable development worldwide, recruiting volunteers from stakeholder groups (notably teachers, students, journalists, community and government leaders and multi-national corporations) to participate in innovative research programs benefiting environmental issues and capacity building. Earthwatch’s mission is to engage people in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable world.

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