Summer Vacation for Science Teachers?

About the author: Kelly Leovic has been with EPA in Research Triangle Park, NC since 1987 and loves sharing environmental science with teachers, students, and her own children.

Last summer, I discovered how many N.C. science teachers spend their summer vacation — they become students! I participated in the NC Summer Science Leadership Institute in New Bern, which offers N.C. science teachers an opportunity to learn new skills that they can apply in their classrooms.

I held three EPA workshops during which I shared our favorite hands-on activities typically used as part of our environmental education program for middle school students. I linked my activities to science topics in the NC Standard Course of Study and included one for each middle school grade.

My first activity demonstrated a fun tool for teaching students (and their parents) how to understand and hopefully reduce their energy usage. We used a Watts meter to measure the energy consumption of everyday appliances, including comparing regular and compact florescent light (CFL) bulbs, a hairdryer, a toaster, and a plug-in air freshener. The next step was to discuss how students could use these data to calculate how much energy each appliance used in a day, week, and year. For example, the hairdryer used about 1,600 Watts but is only used for a few minutes each day, whereas the air freshener used only 1 Watt but is plugged in 24/7.

Next we talked about air quality where I shared the multitude of resources available from EPA, and then we each measured our lung capacity.

Finally, I shared three fun water-related activities: one on water conservation and two on watershed pollution. My favorite activity is called Sum of the Parts and is from Project WET. One of the teachers even suggested an improvement to the activity which I was able to implement my first day back at the office when I did the activity for a group of high school students from Raleigh who came to EPA to learn about careers. Even when they are students, teachers are still teaching!

The teachers seemed excited about the new activities and eager to apply them in the classroom. I did the math and realized that this is a good thing…20 teachers times four science classes each, times 20 students in each class equals 1,600 students.