Preparing for the Future: an Interview with an EV Intern

We recently sat down with Tiffany Hopkins to learn more about her experience as an EV Teaching Intern this year.

Tell me what it is like to teach an EV program in the classroom?

Each classroom has kids from different backgrounds, experiences, knowledge, and capabilities. Each child brought a unique perspective to the material they were being taught. It was always amazing to see how the students shared their knowledge and worked out answers between themselves. Honing their critical thinking skills and allowing their creativity to flow was vital to making each program and field trip meaningful to the students.

Each program made direct connections to the children as we focused on aspects of the environment right in their backyards. Our subject areas cover the marshlands, forest, and woodland regions of the foothills. The programs teach children about the Bay Area and the state that they live in. The behind-the-scenes work that the volunteers and staff of the EVs do helps to educate the younger generation. The carefully created kits help students feel the value of understanding their world and how it works.

Give me an example of one classroom program, how does it work?

For example, we teach fourth graders about earthquakes, which are prevalent in the San Francisco Bay Area. When earthquakes happen along the San Andreas fault, it forms landscape features such as sag ponds and pressure ridges.
In the classroom session, we map out many of the earthquakes that have actually hit California. We explore the formation of landscape features with clay and paper as materials.

The models we provide for the kids show them the physical properties of their world and help to align their imagination with reality. Many times, each classroom would have diverse ideas for the same project. For instance, the kids present a lot of different ideas in the engineering safe structures project. In an earthquake-prone area, buildings and bridges are engineered to withstand seismic forces. We have the students build structures that they can test on a shake table to see how well they stand up to shaking.

During this activity, you could see their minds working to create different buildings that would stand during an earthquake. Each group would create final products that were a variety of shapes. They would create cubes, pyramids, and sometimes shapes I couldn’t describe.

This classroom program on earthquakes is paired with a field trip at Los Trancos. Both the program and the field trip uncover evidence through models and real events.

How do field trips get folded into EV programs?

During the field trip to Los Trancos, the hike would explore the different pressure ridges created by the San Andreas Earthquake of 1906.

As the kids would look out beyond the horizon and see hill after hill that was created by the North American and Pacific plate that built up pressure as they moved against each other. Each physical landmark that they see on the field trips helps to ingrain a fuller knowledge of each event that occurs around them.

Even kindergartners learn about the vast world that they live in when they dive deep into each one of their senses and act as scientists to explore gardens and grasses that are teeming with life. With every field trip and class that we taught, it was amazing to see the visible shift of knowledge gained in each child. They would all have something that they learned that they would want to share at the end of class.  

This program on earthquakes is paired with a field trip at Los Trancos. Both the program and the field trip uncover evidence through models and real events.

You mentioned behind the scenes work. What is involved with that?

Each grade was presented with material that followed their school curriculum closely. I worked behind the scenes with Christine on all of the education materials to help make repairs and improvements to keep things in their best shape. This was one of the keys to my success in the growth in my knowledge.

Every day was a learning experience in which the volunteers around me would share their knowledge. Even behind the scenes on Special Project Days, the volunteers, Christine, and I would be doing hands-on work with the programs and coming up with new ideas to improve them.

How have you grown in your internship?

After learning fun facts and other tips and tricks from the staff and volunteers, it was fun to adapt my own teaching style to the children’s learning style and even build up my own stash of tricks and tidbits of knowledge that I knew the kids would enjoy (like how styrofoam is made from petrol which is even what the gas in cars are derived from).

Helping the children make important connections in their studies and their world is definitely one of the most fulfilling aspects of my work with the Environmental Volunteers. As they learn and connect important ideas, like where our gas and energy sources actually come from or the effect of pH and salinity of water and how to measure it, they can better understand how to protect their environment for generations to come.

Our ecosystem and the biodiversity in it are incredibly important to sustaining human life and I’m grateful to be expanding the knowledge of our future generations. Knowing that I could help the upcoming generations in becoming more educated about their world and how to treat it was such a fulfilling experience and the knowledge gained will stay with me throughout the rest of my career and my life.