Sara Plowman, this week’s Educator of the Week, has been a special education teacher for 11 years. She believes in the importance of outdoor experiential education to help students actively observe, experience, and question the world around them. Sara teaches science at Millennium High School and Piedmont Middle School in Piedmont, California.
Who or what inspired you to teach?
My first classroom of students inspired me. I had no intention of becoming an educator and fell into the job accidentally. When I was hired to be an assistant teacher in a special education classroom, I had no real experience outside of tutoring and zero experience in special education.
That first year, I taught geometry, history, and English to a group of mostly autistic high school students. Their resilience, hard work, and patience with my numerous mistakes—as well as their willingness to teach me, in their own ways, how to be better—inspired me.
Although learning was incredibly difficult for each and every one of my students, their hard work, perseverance in the face of challenges, and willingness to reflect on their mistakes amazed me every day. I saw that they were everyday learners, and I realized that I wanted to be my own kind of everyday learner: a teacher.
You recently designed a card game about the biodiversity of your region. How does it work?
Each card has a plant or animal from our region printed on it. Working outside in teams, students collect cards by spotting the corresponding plants and animals in nature.
Each team is allowed to receive multiple cards of the same type up to a certain limit. At the end of the day, teams can trade cards with each other. Whichever team ends up with the greatest biodiversity in their hand wins!
What was the student impact of this lesson? Did you notice a change in thought process, behavior, or perspective?
I noticed a change in the amount of attention that students paid to their surroundings as we were hiking and participating in other activities. When they couldn’t identify a particular plant or animal, they actively sought out descriptions of that species.
If you could take your students on a field trip to anywhere, where would you go?
I would take them time traveling to show the struggles that various scientists and other thinkers went through before arriving at their conclusions. Students often understand the end result, but not the process. Because of this, they sometimes give up or feel like failures when they’re not successful on the first try. If they could see that successful people struggled too, it would help build their confidence.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Do you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!
The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.