What Can We Do in One Hour? An Interview with Debbie Vance – Picacho Middle School
By Ryan Pemberton
I have been an environmental educator in some shape or form for the last six years. The ways I’ve interacted with students has varied from going into their classrooms, to hosting students on field trips, to homeschool days, to birthday parties, etc. In all of the positions I have held one thing remains constant; you are lucky if you get to spend a full hour with the students you have been charged with teaching. One hour to grab their attention, teach them something, and hopefully inspire them. That is a lot of pressure on one hour. At Asombro, we are always asking ourselves how to fit all of these components into an hour-long lesson.
From my perspective, it is pretty easy to tell if you have grabbed students’ attention. Are they engaged in the activity? Are they asking questions? Are they smiling, laughing, or saying “ooo, aah.” If so, then you can check that off the list of things you were trying to achieve. It is harder to gauge if students walk away from that hour having learned what you were trying to teach them and if it inspired them in some way. Ask any environmental educator and they will tell you these same questions plague them as well.
A local teacher recently gave me the opportunity to sit down and ask how Asombro engages, teaches, and inspires her students. Debbie Vance is a 7th grade science teacher at Picacho Middle School. Since joining the Asombro team in August 2015 I have been in her classroom more than any other teacher in the Las Cruces Public Schools district, so I thought she would be a great person to ask.
Ryan Pemberton: Thank you for sitting down with me Mrs. Vance. To start off, could you give me a brief overview of your teaching career?
Debbie Vance:Long, long ago, I began teaching Kindergarten in 1986 in the state of Tennessee and adjunct faculty at East TN State University. As a coaching family, we have moved a LOT and my travels have taken me to Georgia, Florida, Ohio, and New Mexico. In June, we will be moving again to South Carolina for our next adventure. I am fortunate to again teach 7th grade science there. I have taught everything from SPED to preschool, elementary and middle school, but middle school science is my favorite.
RP: How many years has the Asombro Institute for Science Education been coming into your classroom to do lessons with your students?
DV: I have been thrilled to have [Asombro] in my classroom for 2 years while teaching 7th grade science at Picacho.
RP: What topics have been covered in those lessons?
DV: You have covered so many wonderful topics with the kiddos! We have participated in Wildlife CSI, Carbon Cycle, Decomposition, Ready, Set, Grow!, Land Use and Cover, and Data Jam.
RP: What do you believe are the students’ favorite thing/s about Asombro lessons?
DV: Students (and teachers) love Asombro for their ability to bring in all of those tools and equipment that will not fit into our classroom budget. When they get to use tools like the pipettes and carbon dioxide sensors, and all of the other things you bring, it gets those wheels turning in their minds.
RP: What benefits do you feel your students get from having Asombro come into your classroom?
DV: Where do I start? Asombro shows the kiddos a connection to New Mexico – a lens to view their community and heritage through STEM and it opens up the possibilities of giving back to the community and world in a tangible way. An example that comes to mind is the Wildlife CSI lesson. Those gadgets expose and inspire their young minds to options for a career path they may have never considered for themselves before. Data Jam is another because it is an avenue for the creative-type students to present a self-selected dataset in a non-traditional way and showcase their skills and interests.
As a teacher, I love that Asombro offers inquiry-based lessons with the incorporation of sound pedagogy based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). It is three-dimensional learning that requires students to demonstrate and participate in a working knowledge of the standard without them realizing it. Most importantly, you expose students to real world experiences and pique their interest in science.
RP: Last question. Is there anything else you want people to know about Asombro?
DV: As with any school or program, it can be good, but it’s always the staff and people who make it amazing. It’s the same with Asombro. The program is great but the people who work there raise it to the level of phenomenal! Not only do they offer science education in the classroom, they offer opportunities for the community. Asombro is “wonder”ful!
To say I am touched by Mrs. Vance’s responses would be an understatement. When our one-hour is up with students, they go back to the guidance of their teachers. We are fortunate at Asombro because we get to see many of these students again due to how several of our programs are designed, but this has not always been the case in my years of being and environmental educator. It is encouraging to know that from the point of view of their teachers we have an impact on how students view science. That to me is pretty inspirational.