Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Overlook Middle School Teacher Awarded for Excellence

Teacher, JoAnn Mossman, Awarded for Excellence in Environmental Education

Joann Mossman receiving award from Matthew A. Beaton, Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Awards at the Massachusetts State House on May 11, 2015

JoAnn was one of 6 teachers in the state to win "First Honors". Read about her impressive work below:

JoAnn does not only tackle environmental education via one or two events or class sessions or by engaging in only one aspect of natural science.  Instead, she partners with local nonprofit organizations and brings her own personal passions to bear in order to engage students in ongoing, long term projects that allow them to go deeper and deeper in their learning process over time. She not only engages students who are academically advanced, but she provides detailed scaffolding to support all levels of learners.  Her lesson plans and activities are well thought out and detailed, addressing all kinds of learning styles as well as National and State Science frameworks. 

JoAnn involves her students in hands-on ecological and agricultural studies all in walking distance to their school.  She and her students participate in a field study called “Buds, Leaves, and Global Warming” looking at how the local growing season of native trees changes over time.  With her leadership, the Overlook School has contributed five years of fall and spring leaf fall and budburst data to the online database that serves an entire network of schools in Massachusetts.   From there, students have been able to download and graph their data, looking for patterns or trends in the length of the growing season.  Along the way, they have learned about identification characteristics and seasonal changes in their own adopted trees. 

JoAnn’s students also get down and dirty as participants in a school garden program.  JoAnn led a group of teachers in writing a grant to their local educational foundation (The Ashburnham-Westminster Foundation for Academic Excellence) to get the funds to build a school garden. Work on developing the garden included involving students in engineering design activities to clear the area and build and install 4 cedar raised bed gardens. The first year JoAnn had the students research native pollinators (bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds), their decreasing population #s and the foods they need at the different phases in their lives. They then researched the plants these pollinators require and came up with a list of the ones that will thrive in their zone in Ashburnham. They then went to the staff for donations, received a bunch, planted and now care for the two beds for the pollinators. Later classes have done population counts and replaced plants that didn't make it.

JoAnn also sets up a worm composting bin in the classroom that her class uses for open inquiry lessons. It ties in with articles from Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening, regarding the severe lack of viable topsoil the world has to grow all the food it needs to sustain all of the living organisms on it. By using the classroom composter they see how easy it is to "make" compost and think about what if every one of the 7 billion humans put just one handful of new topsoil (compost) into the environment? She is trying to get the students NOT to be overwhelmed by the huge problems of the world's environment but to see if everyone did one small action to help.

As if studying the ecology of trees, complete with data management;  writing a grant; building a school garden with worm composting were not enough, JoAnn and her teammate created a computer course called "Researching Your Environment" in which students choose their research topic from a number of native plant and animal species who are listed as endangered or threatened. They research the organism, the reasons why they are endangered or threatened (mostly human impact: habitat loss, pollution, etc.), and come up with some solutions to help the organism better survive. Along with their solutions, students have to come up with both positive and negative implications for their ideas. The students really get into it; they create Microsoft brochures and PowerPoint projects to see how different information can be conveyed in different ways.
JoAnn takes a leadership role in all of these ongoing projects.  She is called on by both Harvard Forest and MAC to mentor other teachers as a presenter at workshops, as well as a contributor of lesson plans and learning resources that all teachers can access.  JoAnn has taken the Mass Agriculture in the Classroom (MAC) graduate course for the past 3 summers visiting a number of different farms all over Massachusetts She hosted one of the MAC workshop days at her family’s 96 acre tree farm/ 4 acre- vegetable, fruit and perennial garden. She has been invited to present her worm composting lesson at additional MAC workshops. She has presented at several spring workshops for teachers at Harvard Forest as well as mentored new teachers at the Schoolyard Ecology Summer Institute. The quality of her presentations and the resources she generously shares is really makes JoAnn stand out.   

According to JoAnn, her primary motive driving all of this work is “getting kids to see what is right in front of them and right around them here in New England, and how their actions, both positive and negative, can make such an is so important to me.”   In other words she would like them to learn to take civic responsibility through individual choices and actions drawn from knowledge gained through their multifaceted education at Overlook Middle School. 

Overlook Middle School science teacher Joann Mossman, left, is honored at the Statehouse on Monday by state Sen. Anne Gobi. Mossman received the
Senator Anne Gobi personally commended JoAnn for her achievement.  The senator provided a guided tour of the State House after JoAnn received her award in the Great Hall. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, thank you for another wonderful write-up in the head is swelling!
    I so appreciate your time and recognition!

    -JoAnn Mossman