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Supporting Teachers Through Place-Based Education in the Flathead Watershed

By Janine Doyle posted 04-12-2019 00:00


Glacier National Park (GNP) Education Specialist, Laura Law, and teachers reflecting on how science and culture are inter-twined (at Two Medicine Lake).

In 2013, the Glacier National Park Fund and the Glacier Association merged into the Glacier National Park Conservancy (GNPC) in order to better serve the Park by providing support for preservation, education and research through philanthropy and outreach.

One component of their educational support is to help Glacier National Park staff provide high quality, professional development opportunities for teachers about park resources. The Park's education staff works with researchers and community partners to develop these multi-day workshops thanks to funding made available from GNPC. The funding allows the Park to collaborate with organizations like The Glacier Institute, a private nonprofit that teaches an objective and science-based understanding of the area's ecology for adults and children. The Institute is the Park's partner to help facilitate transportation, housing, and registration for their workshops.

Modeled after the Forest For Every Classroom program, the "Flathead Watershed Through the Seasons" 2019 teacher workshop will focus on place-based education (PBE), which helps the teachers learn about and connect to the Flathead Watershed through ongoing field experiences. This workshop will bring K-12 educators together four times during the 2019-2020 school year to connect with natural and cultural resources in the watershed. Another Park workshop funded by GNPC, the "2019 STEAM Teacher Workshop - Melting Ice" will engage middle and high school teachers in learning about Glacier’s changing landscapes.

In addition to hands-on experiences with field experts as well as local community members and business owners, participating teachers are given numerous tools and resources to bring back with them to their classrooms, creating a strong, ongoing connection to the Park and watershed.

"I loved being able to explore and do some self discovery and come back, share and ask questions." - Teacher Workshop testimonial

Teachers get out in park resources at Avalanche Lake.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

“We’ve had teacher workshops before but they’ve reached a new level through partner collaboration,” said Laura Law, GNP’s Education Specialist. “In the past, the workshops have always been one-time events, but the fact that we have all of these partners and GNPC funding has allowed us to spread it out throughout the year.”

In addition to Glacier National Park, the Conservancy and the Institute, these workshops bring together a variety of partners, including:

  • Flathead National Forest

  • Northwest Montana Educational Cooperative

  • Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship

  • Montana State Parks

  • University of Montana

“We’re really trying to help the participants so they feel comfortable enough to bring the information into their classrooms,” shared Laura. “Building relationships is huge in empowering teachers, and we want them to know they can reach out to any of the partners involved for support moving forward.” Laura is also sure to incorporate teacher feedback into the curriculum, often asking them what they feel their communities and students need and want to learn about so they can be sure to cover those topics.

For the Park, GNPC’s fundraising support has been critical. “I couldn’t even think about doing this program without their support,” shared Laura. In particular, the Conservancy provides funding for presenter transportation, participant housing in the watershed itself to promote collaboration, and supplies that teachers can bring back with them to their classrooms.

"I would not have been able to attend [this professional development if the costs were not covered.] It was wonderful." - Teacher Workshop testimonial

For the Conservancy, this program has greatly strengthened community awareness of their mission. “Even in our local community, we run into people all the time who don’t even know we’re here,” said Lacy Kowalski, Grants and Project Manager for GNPC. “Providing this opportunity for teachers, both locally and nationally, has not only raised our visibility in the community but also strengthened the idea of our public lands as America's best classrooms.”

Workshop teachers present what they learned while building clay mountain models.

Learn More

In addition to these Teacher Workshops, GNPC funds a robust education program at the Park, highlighted in the video below:

Education Programs 2018 from Glacier Conservancy on Vimeo.