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Photo Gallery | Teachers' project focuses on water conservation, sustainability

The Polk Public Schools partnered with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFMD) and the Polk County Board of County Commissioners in a teacher professional development project focusing on water education. The professional development learning opportunity was held near the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

More than 70 fourth and fifth grade teachers visited the Polk Nature Discovery Center and received training in the Project WET curriculum.  Project WET is a Bozeman, Montana-based non-profit organization that promotes water sustainability and personal water responsibility through education and training. 

The Polk Nature Discovery Center, a project of the county commission’s Environmental Lands Program and SWFMD, is a 1,267-acre former cattle ranch preserved as an indoor and outdoor classroom providing visitors an opportunity to discover water, wilderness and wildlife. The center features hands-on exhibits, plants and animal life on a natural landscape.

Teachers received training and lessons at the center in the Project WET curriculum aligning with the state’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards curriculum guidelines. Teachers will implement the Project WET concepts into their classrooms and also share the teaching concepts with their colleague teachers.

“Project WET consists of activities that require students to think about as well as do science,” said Milton Huling, secondary science coordinator for the Polk Public Schools. “Students need to be actively participating in the processes of science, form understandings of how scientific knowledge emerges and have opportunities to discuss moral and ethical implications of science as it is related to society.”

SWFWMD grants paid for Project WET trainers to conduct the sessions, science materials for teachers to bring back to their classroom and for substitute teachers to cover their classrooms while they took part in the professional development. Teachers received supplies, materials, books and equipment to carry out science laboratory investigations in their classrooms. The teachers also took a tram ride through the Nature Discovery Center.

“The teachers were all interested, engaged and attentive,” said Sally Unser, a SWFWMD youth education specialist summing up the learning activities. “The tram tours offered by the Nature Center’s staff were icing on the cake as they expanded the hands-on learning with real world observation of land resources.”

“People, water, wildlife and wilderness, it is all connected,” said Tabitha Biehl-Gabbard, the event host and Environmental Lands Stewardship coordinator. “Valuing and understanding our natural are tremendous steps in gaining scientific knowledge that will follow students as they become our future decision makers.”

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