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Georgia Southern faculty take 20 state teachers to learn in the swamp

Participants in the first summer of OUR2 SWAMP

This past summer, 20 Georgia teachers and six faculty and staff from Georgia Southern University’s College of Education (COE) and College of Science and Mathematics (COSM) took professional development out of the classroom and into the Okefenokee Swamp.

In late 2018, the Georgia Southern grant team, led by COE’s Lacey Huffling, Ph.D., was awarded a $763,897 grant from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (under award number 2000009821). The grant funds two years of the Okefenokee Understanding Real-world Relevance through Suwannee Watershed Assessment and Monitoring Project (OUR2 SWAMP). Created by Huffling and her colleagues, the project offers a summer on-site learning experience at the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia as well as continued professional development for both in-service and pre-service teachers.

“It was awesome,” said Huffling. “All of the teachers excelled and were really excited about getting students out in their communities. It was such an amazing group of educators who worked well together and were committed to learning and passionate about growing in their profession.”

Participants wading in the waters of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Activities during the week included geological analysis of watersheds, water quality testing, species observation and macroinvertebrate collection, understanding pollutants to the environment and effects on plants and animals, and political influences and effects on the swamp.

By the end of the week, all participating teachers became Georgia Adopt-A-Stream-certified and designed semester-long projects for their students. 

“What I liked most about this experience is that we not only collaborated with teachers all week, but we are following up and providing them with the necessary supplies to complete their projects and practices in their classrooms,” said Huffling.

Currently Huffling and grant team member and COE faculty member Heather Scott, Ed.D., are traveling to visit the teachers, complete classroom observations and deliver supplies for their projects. Many of the teachers are collaborating to share data and information about their projects. Nearly half of the participants will travel in spring 2020 to the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream Confluence Conference to share their classroom progress and connect with the Adopt-A-Stream volunteer network.

“A community has developed out of the group that participated this summer,” said Huffling. “We have built relationships with these educators, and we are elated to see what they will expose their students to through the experiences they gained.”

Participating teachers for summer 2019 included: Tomika Everett, Mary-Melissa May, Martha Sanderson, Chloe Chambers, Samuelle Mangibin, Tiffany Hopek, Brittany Moss, Melissa Weeks, Joe Eichfield, Nicole Jones, Alison Hunt, Corey Orr, Claudia Fraire, Alejandra Salaises, Cynthia Dean, Nicholas Hodgson, Christine Jackson, Brittain Gantt, Lisa Henderson and Laura Ike. Teachers represented Georgia’s Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) from the First District, North Georgia District, Okefenokee District and West Georgia District, as well as 11 High Schools and three middle schools. 

Jenkins County Teacher Brittain Gant spots an alligator.

For Jenkins County Middle School’s Brittain Gant, the experience changed his perspective of swamps and provided strong curriculum to take back into his seventh-grade life science classroom.

“I really love swamps now,” said Gant. “It was so much fun to be surrounded by 20 other science teachers all just as excited to learn about a swamp and outside ecology as you are. I honestly can’t speak enough on how amazing this trip was.”

The Georgia Southern grant team includes Huffling as project director; Heather Scott, Ed.D., middle grades and secondary education science faculty; Checo Colon-Gaud, Ph.D., biology faculty; Shainaz Landge, Ph.D., chemistry faculty; the Institute of Interdisciplinary STEM Education Coordinator Kania Greer, Ed.D., as grant evaluator; Mary Thaler, grant administrator; Leah Rush, graduate assistant; COE Professor Emeritus Missy Bennett, Ed.D., as an educational consultant; Chip Campbell, Okefenokee consultant; and Kathie Murry, Okefenokee RESA science education.

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