Educator Spotlight: Creating Opportunities for Interdisciplinary Education

The following post was written by Alex Oberle, a geography professor at the University of Northern Iowa and the coordinator for the Geographic Alliance of Iowa.

Kailyn Bettle, this week’s Educator of the Week, is creating a curriculum that shares the power of national parks and supports more than 700 students in Iowa bioblitzes. Kailyn is a teacher education student at the University of Northern Iowa.

Kailyn and her family hiked to Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park in 2006. Photo courtesy the Bettle family

National Parks
Was it a ranger’s campfire talk under the starry skies of Mesa Verde? Maybe it was seeing Ansel Adams’ iconic Moon and Half Dome photograph for the first time? For many of us, there was one moment when we became part of the American national park experience. Hiking with her family to Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park, Kailyn Bettle had that moment. Something just clicked—a combination of mountains, family, and adventure.

As a teacher education student focusing on middle school English, Kailyn is captivated by the way national parks can enhance student literacy by linking content areas. When we talk about parks, we’re talking about geography, history, science, and social studies—and we’re telling a story (language arts!) about our collective identity. Kailyn also recognizes that many students haven’t had the same opportunities as her, so she’s eager to create ways for them to experience parks from afar.

Working with the Geographic Alliance of Iowa, Kailyn is taking the lead on drafting 4th grade and 7th grade Common Core E/LA text sets that draw heavily on geography and history primary sources to advance student knowledge about parks. And she’s developing a curriculum to complement My National Parks: Connecting Visitors to the Nation’s Backyard, a digital exhibition that showcases UNI students’ experiences with national parks.

Kailyn exploring Badlands National Park this past spring break. Photo by Kiersten Bettle.

Kailyn is also helping support more than 700 K-12 students in bioblitzes throughout Iowa. (A bioblitz is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. Learn how to join one through National Geographic or start your own!)

In particular, Kailyn will be sharing tips passed along from Nat Geo photographer Mark Thiessen to help kids use their phones to better photograph species. Ultimately, students will upload their photos and data to an international citizen science database.

Do you want to teach across disciplines with a bioblitz in your state? Kailyn recommends checking out National Geographic lessons “Classifying Information” and “Observing and Recording Habitats to get started.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to the whole Iowa BioBlitz team: Kathy Sundstedt, Dr. Steve O’Kane, Dr. Alex Oberle, Nicole Hindman, Shantel Kahrs, Olivia Mutchler, and Elyse Borchers. Thank you to our outstanding County Naturalists and NPS Education Specialists including Katie Shelton, Matt Crayne, Steve Martin, Todd Vonehwegan and Merle Frommelt. None of this would be possible without the support of teachers, administrators, bus drivers, parent volunteers, and outstanding groups of smart, enthusiastic, polite Iowa kids.

New Hampton 7th Graders: We returned “Nemo” the fathead minnow, along with his aquatic friends, back to the pond just like we promised.


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