Teachers as a group are great at sharing ideas and networking. When they attend a conference or training, they often use the time to compare notes on education trends, get support from more experienced colleagues, and brainstorm lesson ideas. The conferences the Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s (OFRI) K-12 education program held for teachers via Zoom during the pandemic made this important professional connection difficult at best.
After two years of holding our Natural Resources/Career Technical Education Conference for high school teachers over Zoom, we once again held it in person in December at The Oregon Garden in Silverton. The presumption that teachers missed being together was supported by the attendance numbers. Usually about 60 teachers attend, but this year more than 100 from all over the state were there.
Because we recognize the importance of teachers making connections with each other, getting the most current information and helping their students see the real-world application of the concepts they teach, we applied a new model we hoped would better achieve these objectives.
Traditionally, the conference agenda is driven by whatever session topics are received from a “request for proposals.” For the 2022 conference, we instead asked researchers from Oregon State University to pair up with community college faculty members to deliver a session together. The researcher would present their findings, and then a community college faculty member would model a lesson that aligned with the research. The idea was to give high school teachers the latest information on current issues and research trends, as well insight into how to apply that information in their classroom to support student learning.
Here are some examples of these sessions that were held during the 2022 conference:
- A presentation called “Forests According to Pollinators” was about research indicating high pollinator abundance and diversity in intensively managed forests and forests burned by wildfires. The accompanying lesson was on how to do plant and woody-debris surveys, analyzing the data to evaluate the quality of forest habitat for bees and other pollinators.
- A presentation called “Wildlife of the Forest: Black Bears Denning” looked at results from denning research recently conducted by tracking black bears throughout western Washington and Oregon. The accompanying lesson was on how to use motion-activated cameras to teach the principles of wildlife biology.
- A presentation called “A Douglas County Case Study: Archie Creek – A Story of Reforestation, Restoration and Community” examined the impacts of the 2020 Archie Creek Fire and the resulting challenges the community faced with forest recovery. The accompanying lesson was on wildfire recovery in the Douglas-fir forests of western Oregon, and how the tree species is impacted by fire.
Teacher evaluations of the conference were overwhelmingly positive. Most teachers said they were very satisfied with the format of the conference, and their main challenge with the sessions was that they could not attend all of them. They appreciated getting the current research and then learning techniques to use with their students in the field. One teacher noted, “I like to sit and absorb information, and then do an activity.”
OFRI worked closely with the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program in designing and delivering the conference. The conference is a requirement of the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) for schools that have an accredited Natural Resources Program of Study. These schools must meet specific ODE requirements, including providing at least two high school credits specific to natural resource education.
The conference also attracts teachers from other content areas, including those who focus on biology, agriculture and environmental science. While their attendance is not mandatory, it’s a great way they can learn about forests and other natural resources, as well as ways to integrate those topics into their curriculum.
Director of K-12 Programs