The Many Roles of ACES Educators
February 19, 2015
“Good afternoon Ecologists!” I say as I welcome my 1st grade students into the ACES Ed classroom at Basalt Elementary School (BES). “Guess what I saw yesterday while I was leading a tour up on Aspen Mountain?”
“What? A lynx?” one enthusiastic student exclaims. A lynx is just one of the predators we are studying in ACES class, and for them, one of the most interesting. Maybe it is because we have a taxidermy lynx watching over them in the classroom.
“No, but I did see the tracks of the lynx’ favorite prey.” A thoughtful pause fell over the classroom.
“Snowshoe hare!” a student chimes.
This is why I love my job! Every year, one ACES educator takes the role as the “swing” position. This season I am “swing” and I spend half my week as an Environmental Educator and the other half as a Naturalist. Two days a week, I teach ACES Ed to over 600 students at BES, grades kindergarten through fourth. The other three days, I guide Naturalist-led snowshoe or ski tours at local area treasures including Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, and up the Castle Creek Valley at Ashcroft. Every day is different; however what I find extremely special about my job is how I get to blend the two positions together.
The way I introduce new concepts to adults visiting the Roaring Fork Valley on a tour is similar to the way I teach new curriculum to my elementary students. Observation and experience contribute to learning in all walks of life and spark interest for lifelong learning. In both instances I use rhymes, stories, analogies, anecdotes, universal comparisons, pictures, props, and opened-ended questions to inspire curiosity of the natural word. The natural world is changing day to day and my first-hand experiences on my tours often become teachable moments for my students. I also take the information I am teaching in the classroom and directly apply it to my tours.
For example, in ACES Ed class at BES the 4th grade is studying ancient life zones and fossils, perfect material to bring on my ski tour off of Elk Camp at Snowmass! 3rd grade is studying the water cycle, one of my favorite topics to introduce on my tours as we cross the Castle Creek in Ashcroft, or as we admire river and glacial valleys from the top of Aspen’s Richmond Ridge. Kindergarten is studying animals in winter, and 1st grade is studying predators and prey, curriculum that are enhanced by stories and observations from my tours.
As a Naturalist, I feel one of my areas of greatest strength is reading a landscape and looking at the world as many systems and connections. As an Educator, I strive to teach about these connections, fostering a sense of understanding in all age levels. Questions are derived from observations, and then answers are constructed through research. For me, this position is the best way to learn about a place, develop a strong attachment to it, and cultivate interest and appreciation for the natural world in local youth, adults, and visitors of all ages from across the globe.