1. Job description
2. Teaching philosophy
4. Previous experience
5. Curricula taught
7. Graduate coursework
8. Representative feedback
9. Areas of improvement
10. Community involvement
I have been an instructor with the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) from August 2008 to August 2009. The position is funded by AmeriCorps and co-sponsored by the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute and the University of Idaho. I primarily taught experiential science programs for public school grades 4 - 8. These programs ranged in length from one day to one week and were conducted within classrooms, at our campus in Idaho's Ponderosa State Park, or in outdoor settings local to schools. I also have taught weeklong high school science programs for groups such as Upward Bound Math & Science. By the end of my service term I logged approximately 2000 hours, 50% of which were spent with students. While teaching I was also taking courses for a M. Ed. program at the University of Idaho.
I believe that fluency with science and mathematics for all students is a goal worth working towards, not only because of the powerful tools they give students to relate to the world, but also because of their growing importance in our society. The power of science to explain and predict has always fascinated me. However the only thing more satisfying that discovering something myself is enabling someone else to make a discovery for themselves. Thus I teach in order to create a positive scientist identity in all of my students. I work toward this by developing students' skills and confidence in areas such as critical thinking, inquiry, and mathematics use. Regardless of the subject, I always strive to make content relevant to students' experience and to make connections across disciplines. I also realize that knowledge must be paired with action, and so also focus on ethics, responsibility, and applications. Teaching with these themes in mind I hope my students can become responsible adults for whom science is a beautiful, friendly, and useful presence in their lives.
I am the students' guide and servant. As much as possible, knowledge should be created and motivated by students. Curricula should focus on and relate to student interest as much as possible. After working with a group for an extended period of time, I hope to be a resource and mentor more than an instructor.
Learning should be experiential. Students learn best when they are actively doing something - conducting an experiment, planning a project, working a problem. I try to minimize direct instruction, relying instead on group activities and peer scaffolding, student-designed projects, and hands-on experiments. While I recognize the importance of repetition and fact fluency, I try to develop these in as much of a student-centered and hands-on fashion as possible.
Science is everywhere and knowledge is always being created. I try to link curricula to real-world applications and students' experience. I believe almost any situation can be linked to some facet of science, creating the opportunity for a so-cool or a what-if moment. Additionally I believe science should not languish in the realm of textbooks and established grade-appropriate knowledge, and so try to link learning to current research and questions with yet-unknown answers. By doing so I hope to develop an understanding of science as an ongoing and creative process in which all students can participate. Inquiry is a constant focus of my lessons.
Who cares is always a good question. I always let students pause a lesson and ask me to justify it to them, because I believe students should be willing or at least informed participants in the learning process. I hope to always have a good reason for why something ought to be studied - hopefully one which will resonate with the students! Additionally I try to make science relevant by linking concepts to real-world applications and policy decisions.
You have to be able to do math and to write coherently. I believe that mathematics is the true language of science, and that science without effective communication is hopeless. I try to design lessons in such a way that basic mathematics and writing skills are emphasized, and explicitly explain this focus to my students in order to gain their buy-in.
Student voice is really important. I do my best to really listen to students in order to gauge understanding and interests. In a classroom a student's voice should always be at least as important as my own. As much as possible discussions and lessons should be led by students with me as a facilitator. Learning and development of scientific fluency happen best when they are reinforced by peers.
Higher order thinking and creativity are critical. I try to move beyond facts and book knowledge as often as I can, pushing all students to synthesize and link concepts, deepening their understanding and creating curiosity and new questions. I also expect everyone to be creative, trying or dreaming as much as they can - I don't expect (or even desire) students to always be correct when we are working on a project, but do expect them to put in their best effort and not be afraid to come up with something crazy that might be wrong. I remind students that transformative science involves a lot of hard work and usually looks crazy at first. I also try and integrate art projects into my programs to emphasize creative and observational similarities.
Everyone is accountable. I have very high expectations for mutual respect and personal responsibility. Students are always held accountable to these from the beginning. I also expect student interest, but hold myself accountable for this - if students are not interested then I need to do a better job motivating the subject. I put a lot of effort into teaching and expect students to put the same effort into learning (and to want to!).
Relationships matter more than programs. I try to develop trusting respectful relationships with my students before asking much of them. I share my background and my interests and hope to learn the same of all my students, because I believe education is more effective when all parties are motivated by a sense of care towards each other. This also lets my strong enthusiasm for science show. I keep my promises, act as transparently as possible, and treat students as much like responsible adults as I can. By showing genuine care, I hope to increase student motivation and become a credible partner in my students' education. Thus group management happens naturally: with the previous principle also in mind, clear expectations are set for all parties, students are dealt with as responsible adults, and consequences are applied transparently.
I taught a one-semester course at Swarthmore College entitled The Physics of Biological Systems. The class was offered to upper level undergraduates majoring in the natural sciences and sponsored by the department of physics. I ran it as a 3-hour seminar meeting once weekly. Students were expected to complete approximately 10 hours of reading or presentations each week. I wrote the syllabus, invited external speakers, guided class discussions, and presented an hour of supplementary material each week. While teaching this class I also was a science associate (similar to a TA) for two introductory physics classes (Newtonian mechanics and quantum mechanics). I prepared for and led twice-weekly problem sessions, sat in on lectures, and taught class occasionally. I also acted as a departmental resource and role model to encourage new students to continue in physics.
Also at Swarthmore College I spent a school year's worth of Saturdays mentoring 4th graders through the Dare 2 Soar program. These were primarily poor urban students with limited experience outside of their neighborhoods - we spent a lot of time on science and outdoors activities. The program culminated with their (and my) participation in a day-long science program designed to encourage girls to continue with science in school.
The previous summer I also co-ran a Science for Kids program sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute serving the same demographic in which we provided weekly morning science activities including rocket design and construction. This program finished with a miniature poster session and research symposium.
Biological structures. A three hour module appropriate for middle school and older. Students are challenged to build cardboard and tape structures subject to different constraints, then participate in an interactive exploration of biomaterials and natural structures. I developed and piloted this program with a group of fifty sixth graders.
Thermal imaging. A two day module appropriate for middle school and older. Students learn about winter adaptations, climate, and radiation physics through the study of thermal/infrared imaging. We discuss heat transfer mechanisms, the greenhouse effect, animal/plant bodies, then engage in a hands-on heat-loss minimization challenge. The students then participate in a series of interactive demos with a thermographic camera (capable of imaging temperature distributions) and go on to discuss blackbody radiation (if applicable). The module continues with a slideshow of infrared images of animal bodies and then finishes with a design-an-animal project where students must create, sketch, and justify a creature that is winter adapted. I have taught this program twice at the sixth grade level to approximately 100 students and also to a general audience at a community program.
Physics of flow. A one day module appropriate for late middle school and high school. Students learn about physical properties of liquids, different regimes of flow, and their relevance to biological systems. The program is typically taught outdoors at a local creek or river. Students measure several properties of water, measure the velocity distributions at different locations, calculate total discharge, explore hydraulic retention, and visualize flow at different points. Participants are given experience with USGS Type AA current meters and fluorescein dye tracers. I piloted this program with five instructors and 45 eighth graders but have also taught it at the fourth-grade, sixth-grade, and high school level.
Geology of northern Idaho. A two day program for late middle school and early high school, easily adapted to other physical areas. The program is taught outdoors and focuses on hands-on exploration of rocks, soils, sedimentation, stratigraphy, story-telling, and close observation. Students get to dig holes, smash rocks, interactively reconstruct earth's history, look for signs of glaciation and erosion, and expand their sense of time. I taught this program to a group of twenty eighth-graders.
Biomechanics of trees. A one hour easily expanded lesson suitable for an introductory high school physics class. Students review torque and force balance concepts, then write equations that model tree limbs and trunks, then attempt to build a stable model of a tree out of dowels and weights. I taught this program to six high school students, being the entire physics class for the town I was working in.
Build a tree. A one hour lesson suitable for an elementary school audience. Students are challenged to build trees out of straws, tape, and paper subject to different constraints. The trees are then tested and dramatically destroyed (snow loading, windstorms). A discussion of tree adaptations follows, and students are challenged to interpret the silhouettes of different species before completing one final round of building. I taught this program for a mixed audience (ages 6 - 16) of approximately 60 students.
Invent a creature. A two hour program suitable for all ages. Students work in small teams to design an imaginary creature which could realistically live in a local environment. Students have to answer several ecological/behavioral questions about their creature, then present and act out their creature for the rest of the group. The activity is preceded by a discussion of adaptations, animal gaits, and natural selection. I have taught this many times with large groups of sixth graders.
Foundations of an outdoor adventure. A one day program for all ages. Students learn about how to survive in the wilderness through an exploration of planning, navigation, observation, and construction skills. We teach map and compass use, build snow shelters, practice reading the land, and explore the proper use of gear. This program ties in nicely with winter science programs. I have taught this program twice, once to a group of ten fifth graders and once to a group of forty high schoolers.
Fundamentals of ecology. A one week program for the middle school level. Students explore Ponderosa State Park, using it as a context for learning about soils, fire, rangeland and forest biomes, diversity, insect communities, water quality, and watersheds. Close observation, art, and a one-day student designed inquiry project are built into the program. I have taught variants of this program nine times to sixth graders.
Snow science and animal tracking. A one week program for the middle school level. Students explore snow-covered Ponderosa State Park, learning about winter adaptations of species, animal tracking, snow properties, and heat transfer mechanisms. Students get hands-on experience with a variety of tools and have the chance to design and implement a one-day inquiry project. I have taught this program twice to sixth graders.
Riverwalking. A one week program for the elementary and middle school level. Students explore their local stream, river, or pond by studying watersheds, erosion and channel dynamics, the water cycle, water quality, and riparian life. Participants get experience with microscopes and chemical testing kits. Art and close observation are built into the program, as is a one-day student-designed inquiry project. I have taught this program eight times to sixth graders.
Water resources and climate change. A 7-10 day program for high school-age groups underrepresented in the sciences. Students explore the relationships between water, soil, fire, climate and policy in an outdoor context by participating in ongoing field research conducted by University of Idaho scientists. Capstone experiences include the design and implementation of an inquiry project and a simulated town meeting of different stakeholders on a land management issue. Basic concepts and skills are taught in Ponderosa State Park before departing on multi-day field science expeditions in the Payette National Forest. This program has been taught to four groups each of approximately 30 students.
Curriculum committee. I have helped to rewrite and streamline the MOSS curriculum to improve its content depth, provide more options for schools, and focus more tightly on inquiry and scientist identity.
Teacher institute. I co-planned and faciliated an annual institute held at MOSS for thirty public school teachers on the subject of experiential inquiry-based science education. This was an opportunity to hear new perspectives and find educational resources.
Microscope acquisition. I secured the donation of two field-portable compound light microscopes for our campus. They have been used for studying protozoa and snow crystals.
Serve Idaho. I gave a presentation to Serve Idaho, the governor's commission on service and volunteerism, on our organization's progress and goals. I also participated in and presented at the annual Serve Idaho / Title I schools conference. These opportunities connected me with funding sources and exposed me to a wider range of educational approaches and tools.
Idaho Environmental Educator's Association. I participated in and helped coordinate this group's annual conference. I had the chance to network for grant opportunities and visit an expeditionary learning charter school.
Adopt-a-physicist. I participated in a three week program sponsored by the American Physical Society where I was adopted by four high school physics classes and asked to speak about my experience and career choice. I answered almost one hundred student questions about myself, the research I've done, and the teaching I do now.
Grant: physics of flow. I successfully applied to the American Physical Society's Forum on Education for a $500 grant (matched by a NSF EPSCoR grant) to purchase equipment for my new program.
Grant: what the eye doesn't see. I applied to Idaho National Lab for a $9000 grant for a thermographic camera to be used for my new program.
Leave No Trace trainer. I was certified by Leave No Trace to teach low-impact outdoor travel and ethics.
Educational software. This winter I wrote and freely distribute two educational programs: Cavendish, a gravitation simulator appropriate for high school physics classrooms, and Structure, a protein visualization tool useful for generating interest in molecular and structural biology.
Community ecology for environmental educators. Introduction to features of local Idaho ecosystems with a focus on concepts and systems suitable for teaching at the middle school level.
Advanced instructional strategies in environmental education. Educational theory, curriculum development, and exploration of personal goals and identity as an educator.
Leadership and community development. Management, group, and communication theory. Hands-on experience with conflict resolution and group cohesion.
Grant writing and non-profit leadership. Structure and organization of non-profits, grant writing strategies and intensive grant writing workshop.
Ecological inquiry. Exploration of a controversial ecological issue through research and interviews with local stakeholders, culminating in a final presentation and field trip organized for other class members. I studied roadless areas and timber policy.
Teachers / parents. "Ben did a phenomenal job. Creative, well thought-out lessons and activities that had a logical progression. The kids and I learned a lot." "Enthusiastic - knowledgeable - friendly" "Knew the science, good at keeping kids on task and redirecting if needed. Good at teambuilding and encouraging a positive focus." "Excellent and extremely patient."
Supervisor. "Ben has a strong science background and can bring a sense of authenticity to inquiry at MOSS... he is also direct, honest, focused in group settings." "deep understanding of how science works... Ben has a consistently positive attitude and willingness to work towards the common good."
Sixth-grade students. "You lead us to victory you are a great leader, I will love to be taught by you again" "I also liked how you always let us decide by raising our hands so we don't fight" "I love how smart you are. My experiance has been magical because of you." Act like we are having fun and play games more!" "I learned a ton about science! You always seem so calm. You were also funny." "You were a great science teacher. You helped us work well together with the team building activities." "I really liked how we talked about in-fer-red... my favorite lesson was the animal tracks and the suns energy." "I liked measuring how wide the stream was and also seeing how fast the stream was in more than one way. I really like dying the stream as well." "Digging the snow pit was so exciting and I never new that you could learn that much just from a hole in the snow." "He could use some positive renforsement" "Something I learned about my group is, there are people I do like. While I was there, I learned I do like Curtis. He is probably thinking the same thing." "You rock my frikkin socks"
Speaking slowly. Sometimes when I teach - particularly when I get excited about something - I speak more quickly than I ought to, making my lesson more difficult to understand. I am getting better at this and always encourage students to ask questions or tell me to slow down.
Repetition and assessment. I would like to be more intentional about assessment metrics for some of my more experiential programs. I'm also working on spending more time on finding novel and interesting ways to repeat and reinforce concepts for students.
Building connections. Having effective and trusting relationships with students is critical to me, but I believe I can achieve them more quickly than I currently do. I will be trying to spend more teaching time initially getting to know and focusing on my students before proceeding with difficult content in the future.
Special needs curriculum. I have had only limited experience with special-needs students this year, and so have not had much experience with setting different expectations and reworking lessons to maximize teaching impact. I look forward to gaining this experience.
Be Outside initiative. I was featured teaching on KIVI-TV as part of Idaho's Be Outside initiative.
Food bank. I implemented a twice-weekly donation schedule between our kitchen and the Heartland Hunger Resource Center.
Voices of McCall. I co-organized in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day service project collecting oral histories and visions of the town of McCall's future from local residents.
Special Olympics. I served at the World Winter Games (held in McCall) as a snowshoe race timer and also as Spanish translator for athletes and coaches.
Community Health Clinic. I volunteered a few times each month as am interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients at the free health clinic in McCall.
Junior Rangers. I taught Junior Rangers programs at Ponderosa State Park every other Saturday throughout the summer of 2009.
My year of teaching at MOSS has been full of growth. Most importantly, I have found my identity as an educator - I am now comfortable in my teaching personality, and know what values and results are important to me. I can now say that I am authentic every time I meet a new group of students. The expectations I set, the passion I show, and the outcomes I desire are all natural. Yet I have also gained the experience to be creative and fluid with my material. Before I began this position I was much less flexible and more reliant on written plans; now I feel able to find teachable moments, adapt to student interests and enthusiasm, and recover smoothly from sudden disasters. I also think I leave this experience with a great big box of teaching tricks - exposure to education and leadership theory, other staff members' teaching styles, and my own experimentation have given me a store of activities and approaches that I can deploy in new contexts. Finally, I leave this experience with a much better understanding of the inner workings of the minds of children. Now I feel much more comfortable gauging and maintaining student interest.
This was also my first year fully on the other side of the educational fence; it was eye-opening to compare my teaching with the memories of teachers I had from my own middle school experiences. I have learned several important things. First, that much time and thought goes into the best, most lessons - I appreciate now how much ordering and organizing and planning are necessary to make learning easy and effective. Second, that almost all teachers intend only the best for their students, but go about it in very different and sometimes conflicting ways - I realize now how the absence of recognition of a universal 'wrong way' makes educational reform difficult. Third, that to achieve educational success it is so critical to spend time not on equipment and resources but rather on building strong and committed relationships with students. This is the most important lesson I will take with me. I look forward to working with students for longer periods of time, and with students with more diverse backgrounds. I think MOSS has given me the tools to succeed.
Email: bblonder at gmail dot com
Phone: 908 578 6526