Bradley Quentin and Kimberly Boyce-Quentin, a husband and wife who work as Sinclair Elementary and Piney Point Elementary STEM-lab teachers, recently went on an educational adventure they can share with their students.
With their fellowship from Fund for Teachers, a national nonprofit organization that awards grants to public, private and charter school teachers across the United States for self-deigned summer fellowships and experimental learning opportunities, the pair were able to trace the path of Charles Darwin through the Galapagos Islands this summer.
“I think that one unique element of our proposal is that we detailed how we would involve our students in the planning process for our expedition,” Bradley said.
In the spring, Bradley worked with his fourth-graders to select “must see” sights in the Galapagos. They conducted research into the islands and chose places they thought it was important for Bradley and Kimberly to visit, and had to justify their choices by explaining what was special about the places they selected.
“With their recommendations in hand, we planned our journey around getting to as many of those places as possible,” Bradley said. “The students also wrote many of the questions we asked of our naturalist guides.”
Upon returning to the classroom this month, the team will use their experience on the Galapagos to build a STEM unit for their students about Darwin and teach the Geo-Inquiry process, which poses three questions: What is it, why is it there and why is it important?
Bradley said one of the purposes of the National Geographic Learning Framework and the Geo-Inquiry process is to help students make connections between their local communities, their region, and the world and to empower them to advocate for change.
“One of the hallmarks of Geo-Inquiry is that it works anywhere, but as we both teach elementary students, we wanted to collaborate with them on a model project,” Kimberly said. “The Galapagos presents some of the most obvious cases of environmental impact on the various species; you can easily see the way the unique elements on each island have influenced the form and function of all the species that make up the community.”
For example, Kimberly said, the giant tortoise species on drier islands have significantly longer legs and necks in order to reach the sparse vegetation, while those on wetter islands have shorter legs and necks.
“This kind of island-specific adaptation is seen in the plants as well,” Kimberly said. “The land iguanas eat the pads of the giant prickly pear cacti, but not all of the islands have land iguanas. On those islands that do, the giant prickly pears develop hard, tree-like trunks and thick coats of spines. The cacti on iguana-less islands grow closer to the ground and have soft, hair-like spines.”
During the their trip through the Galapagos over the summer, they amassed more than 10,000 images and videos.
“We wanted students to have as many primary sources as possible, so every interview, every informational kiosk, and every museum fact panel we saw was recorded,” Kimberly said.
They're are also creating introductory video clips from their collection from the Galapagos so students can see the range of species, geology, climate, conservation, and human historical topics, and are able to investigate through their materials.
The students will have access to all the resources and a collection of print and digital references. Kimberly said these will help the students formulate their specific Geo-Inquiry questions, and launch their personal projects.
“Why it matters to us is that we want our students to see that their education has purpose and gives them power,” Kimberly said. “Not when they are 35 and mid-career, but right now. It is a toolkit to help them explore - their neighborhood, country, the planet, the universe, their personal microbiome - anything that captures their attention.”
Bradley and Kimberly documented their fellowship on their blog, luckybearfamily.blogspot.com, on Twitter @kboyceq and @bquentin3, and on Instagram @tortoise_finch. How they implement the material gained from their fellowship will be featured on their class sites, kboyceq.blogspot.com and bquentin.blogspot.com.