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Project Wild Trains Texas Teachers in Wildlife Science
AUSTIN, Texas — The new teacher was anxious. Four of the boys in her class were often rowdy.
But when the third grade class lined up to go outside, a calmer sense of expectant excitement and cooperation took hold. It’s one benefit teachers are reporting from Project WILD, a teacher-training program involving wildlife ecology and the natural environment.
Outside, the students played a game in which rabbits had to “freeze” in order to stay safe from coyotes. After playing several rounds and returning to the classroom, the students split into groups and were able to predict what would happen in different scenarios.
“They were so excited to report what their group thought was the ‘answer’ and also learned that different groups sometimes had different perspectives on the same situation,” said Lubbock Independent School District Science Demonstration Teacher Tammy Motley, who is using the Project WILD curriculum to teach the third-grade science class about wildlife behavioral adaptations.
Project WILD trains teachers to teach Kindergarten through twelfth grade students about wildlife and resource conservation through science, math, social studies, and reading both inside and outside of the classroom.
“The curriculum utilizes fun, engaging activities that often look like games of tag but they are really effective tools at getting students to understand complex topics like wildlife population dynamics,” said Cappy Manly with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Manly coordinates Project WILD across Texas, working with educators, volunteer instructors and other partners.
“They begin by squealing and acting silly about it, but before the activity is over they are observing, debating ‘quality’ and it is not hard to imagine the scientists they may become. The teachers and students get a big kick out of it and learn a lot about data collecting and deer biology,” said Thea Platz, who teaches the curriculum at a special 3-day camp for fifth graders in North East Independent School District in San Antonio.
Jill Nugent, a biology lab coordinator who teaches college freshman at the University of North Texas, agreed.
“I love each workshop as each group is so different, but the one thing that is constant is that AHA! moment on the participants' faces—they get it! Project WILD is so much fun, they don't even realize they are learning important and complex environmental science concepts,” Nugent said.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Project WILD coordinator organizes a cadre of Project WILD trainers who donate their time to teach educators in their local communities. Curriculum materials are given only to educators who complete a daylong workshop. Both the workshop and the curriculum are free.
“We have nine major universities include Project WILD in their teacher training and science methods classes so that when their students become teachers, they will use it in their classrooms,” said Cappy Manly, Texas Project WILD coordinator.
Allan Nelson instructs would-be teachers in the curriculum at Tarleton State University.
“The last time that I taught Project WILD, students said that it was the best activity that we did during the semester and many were thrilled to receive free materials for their future classroom,” Nelson said.
Each year in Texas, around 2,600 educators go through the training—making Texas the state with the largest annual number of workshop participants. The educators reach around 50,000 students each year. In addition to schoolteachers, groups like scouts, 4-H, community centers, zoos and aquariums are invited to participate.
More than 54,000 educators have completed a Project WILD workshop since the program came to Texas in 1985. Teachers who participate are able to receive TEA continuing education credit. The curriculum, which teaches young people how to think about wildlife not what to think, is aligned to state standards and aids in TEKS and TAKS preparation.
In 2005, the state evaluated Project WILD using 3rd and 4th grade teachers from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston. The study considered the effectiveness of instructing classroom teachers about program content and increasing appreciation of wildlife. Program supervisors say results were very positive—teachers were able to correct misconceptions, learned new information about wildlife and intended to use Project WILD more than was required.
“I can use it as a supplement in almost any science class I teach. Its strongest points are that it is concise, requires few materials and yet is thorough in every respect in dealing with concepts of wildlife biology and environmental science. What I really like is that I can accomplish in a class period or two major science activities that would normally take several days using most other curriculum materials,” said Bill Ingram, who teaches an Advanced Placement environmental science course at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School in Fort Worth.
Project WILD can even help teachers learn more about the environment.
Tammy Motley, the Lubbock instructor, was adamantly against hunting deer after watching them on her parents’ Iowa farm as a child. Project WILD made her change her mind.
“It made me realize why it is necessary to control the animal populations and that scientists do this in order to protect the animals from overpopulating and starving. As I participated in other activities, it made me much more aware of how human decisions can affect wildlife in so many ways!” she said.
Established in 1983, Project WILD is the nation’s longest standing wildlife education program and is distributed nationwide by the Council for Environmental Education through partnerships with state wildlife agencies. CEE is a national non-profit environmental education organization, founded in 1970, and based in Houston, Texas. Project WILD was honored at the White House in 1991 as on of the first recipients of the Gold Medal of Education and Communication in the President’s Environment and Conservation Challenge Award program.
For more information about Project WILD, visit the TPWD Web site, where teachers can also find a schedule of workshops around the state.
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