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Past Education Event

Washington’s Web of Life Teacher Workshop

The First of December Brings Snow – and Lessons on Biodiversity!

As snow drifted down on the University of Washington campus, 26 teachers were busy thinking about ways to connect their students to Washington's incredible diversity of life.

The Washington's Web of Life workshop was the final leg of a three-part workshop series titled "Biodiversity of Washington." Designed by Seattle Tilth, the Woodland Park Zoo, and the Burke Museum, the goals of this innovative workshop series were to provide teachers with a better scientific understanding of biological diversity and to demonstrate educational activities and resources for teaching students about the range of life in the Evergreen State.

The workshop featured a mix of content, hands-on activities, tours, and – as many teachers pointed out – "fun."

The first activity challenged teachers to construct a dichotomous key. Based on characteristics like color, size, or shape, a dichotomous key is a tool for classification. Burke Environmental Educator Tim Stetter introduced the activity by working with the teachers to create a dichotomous key to everyday objects: their shoes! In groups, teachers then created their own keys for identifying bird eggs, shells, feathers, leaves, and insects.

One teacher wrote, "The classification exercise was fun. While I remember doing it before at some time in my life, I enjoyed applying it to anything – even shoes!"

An especially popular activity was a session on nature journaling. Nature journaling combines writing and sketching to practice outdoor observation skills. After a few sketching warm-ups, the teachers headed outside to create their own journal pages. They drew plants in the Burke's ethnobotanical garden and recorded sounds, air temperature, and other signs of the approaching snowstorm.

The week after the workshop, one teacher had already tried out this activity in her school: "I started the journal activity this morning in my writing class, to help my writers practice "zooming in" on the details they choose to write about. We have been practicing "living like writers" by recording the smallest details of situations in our lives, so this activity fit in just perfectly."

Other sessions in the workshop included a demonstration of an old-growth forest ecosystem; a tour of the Life & Times of Washington State exhibit; a behind-the-scenes tour of the bird and mammal collections; a map activity emphasizing how land use decisions impact wildlife; and a hands-on session featuring the resources available through the "Burke in a Box" program.

This workshop series demonstrated the power of partnership. As one teacher commented, "the combination of Seattle Tilth, the Zoo, and the Burke Museum as venues was excellent!"

The Burke workshop instructors and facilitators included Dana Beaudry, David Williams, Briana Nino, and Kathy Hall with the Burke Museum; Lisa Taylor with Seattle Tilth; and Katie Remine and Jenny Mears with the Woodland Park Zoo.

Watch for future teacher opportunities at the Burke!

Snow on Single Fin
Snow on Single Fin outside the Burke
Photo by Dana Beaudry
Teachers create a key
Teachers create a key for classifying Washington bird eggs
Photo by Briana Nino
teacher's journal
A teacher's journal shows her observations of plants and weather
Photo by Tim Stetter
Environmental Educator
Environmental Educator Tim Stetter discusses physical characteristics of an oriole
Photo by Briana Nino