Educator Spotlight: Dirty Hands for Inspired Hearts

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The following post was written by Kailyn Bettle, an undergraduate research assistant for the Geographic Alliance of Iowa at the University of Northern Iowa.

Katie Shelton, this week’s Educator of the Week, works to show students that they can appreciate and advocate for the environment around them. Katie serves as the naturalist for the Blackhawk County Conservation Board in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where she heads up the education arm, educating people of all ages through field trips, special events, summer camps, and public programs.

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Katie discusses garlic mustard, an invasive species at George Wyth State Park in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Photo by Waterloo West High School student

Last spring, one of Katie’s young students identified a plant species that had never before been documented in the area. That sort of empowering moment makes students into scientists, and it’s exactly what Katie is going for. The big discovery happened during a BioBlitz, a citizen science initiative where teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, educators, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species as possible in a specific geographic location.

Katie loves hosting BioBlitzes because they encourage students to be the boots on the ground, discovering and monitoring the world around them, just as scientists would. By thinking like scientists and seeing what role they can have in furthering discovery, students begin to get excited about nature.

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A camper explores a pond at Hartman Reserve Nature Center. Photo by Katie Shelton

Plus, many students relish an excuse to get dirty. Instead of just looking at a pond, they have the opportunity to wade in and scoop around in it. When students see that they can touch nature, and that it okay for nature to touch them (excluding poison ivy and gooseberries with thorns, of course) any fear begins to slip away. They’ll even be willing to put leaves in their hair, hide in bushes, or slide across the ground to avoid being “caught” by a counselor in a camouflage game.

This enjoyment of nature is Katie’s goal. She believes that enjoying nature is the first step to becoming advocates for conservation. Whether or not students go on to become naturalists or scientists, their connection to nature will inspire others. Katie often encourages youth to become active participants in conservation by fundraising or volunteering, remembering that they’re never too young to make a difference.

blue nominateDo you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!

The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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