What I've Learned Through The National Geographic Certified Educator Course
Submitted by Spryte Heithecker, UEMS Teacher, Health & P.E. Director

I’ve loved National Geographic since I was a little girl. I remember waiting for each new magazine with great anticipation; antsy to get my hands on those glossy pages and get lost in the next series of adventures and discoveries. The ocean, mountains, jungles, canyons, deserts, mother earth, our environment -- fascinated me. Still does.

I dreamed of working for National Geographic -- traveling the globe as a photographer, capturing images of the world around me to help inspire and educate others. I still dream about it. I also know nothing about photography.

But I do know that National Geographic has an entire branch dedicated to educators. And in anticipation of teaching Ecology and the Environment, a brand new class to both me and Sterne, I took the opportunity to participate in the National Geographic Certified Educator Course. This program requires 45 hours of online course work, broken into three different modules:
    1.    Certification Workshop

    2.    Classroom Implementation and Reflection

    3.    Capstone Development and Storytelling

I found the framework for the certification program to be extremely helpful in my class - it guided daily lessons and made sure students were getting a well rounded understanding of climate change and global warming. We learned the difference between global warming and climate change. We watched videos of environmental activists including a series called Greta Thunberg Fridays for Future and various Ted Talks. 
For my capstone, I implemented a special composting project in my class. We spent time collecting all the food at school lunch that was destined for the garbage; we weighed it and did math to see how much we were throwing away. From there, students created a video to demonstrate why it’s important from a climate change perspective to invest in composting bins. The students sent their video to Ed McManis, who approved their request to institute a composting program at Sterne.

The biggest takeaways from my Capstone work 
    1.    I can be a learner alongside my students. It was new for all of us and we were figuring it out together.

    2.    It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s part of learning.

This certification program has inspired me in so many ways and I’m leveraging what I’ve learned to build upon this experience. In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I met with Kathryn Saussy, SHS Science Teacher, to discuss ideas for an all school earth day event. We also discussed the idea of starting some sort of sustainability squad that would reach beyond a specific class and into school curriculum, policies, and school-wide events. I’m also using the National Geographic framework of learning to help guide the development of an outdoor education curriculum for our physical education program.

This month I’m starting another National Geographic Certified Educator Course on Teaching Global Climate Change. It’s another 45 hour online program. It’s a lot of work and responsibility but definitely worthwhile. I’m part of the National Geographic Certified Educator network which includes a newsletter, a forum to share ideas with fellow teachers, access to a group of mentors, and special programs for certified educators. I’m really excited to be a part of this program and know that it’s not only a valuable resource for me, but the benefits and rewards reach the students directly in so many great ways.