Educator Spotlight: Female Environmental Superheroes

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Becky Deehr, this week’s Educator of the Week, is a life science teacher for 7th grade girls. She created an impactful, low-maintenance project that fused art and science, recognized female environmentalists, and inspired her students to fight for what they believe in. Becky teaches at Hutchison School in Memphis, Tennessee.

Becky holds the water sampler used for her class’s lake project. Photo by Becky Deehr

What drew you to being a teacher, and why did you choose to teach at your current school?
I teach at an all-girls independent school in Memphis, and I’ve been teaching life science to 7th graders for the past three years. I landed here because I knew that I wanted to help students find what clicks for them in science. They don’t have to love everything about the discipline, but I want to inspire them to investigate through multiple angles and perspectives until they find what draws them in.

I also think it’s important, especially as a woman, to encourage females to get involved in science because historically it’s been a male-dominated field. The 7th graders I teach are naturally curious, creative, and willing to try new things so I want to encourage these girls to consider options in science.

You came up with a project that encompasses science and art while highlighting women’s achievements. Tell us about it.
I knew that I wanted to assign an environmental science project for Earth Day, and I wanted it to be relevant for the students. I encouraged them to choose and research one of the ten female environmentalists from an article found on A Mighty Girl website. Afterward, the girls created a superhero logo that represented the life and work of their female environmentalist. It was interesting to see how the students connected with the environmentalists’ work and how they communicated their respective missions through a creative design.

The project allowed the girls to learn about ten very different women involved in environmental work. They recognized that women from around the world are important in science, and they saw how women have followed their passions to help tackle big problems.

The wall outside Becky’s classroom displays the girls’ work. Photo by Becky Deehr

That’s awesome that you were able to incorporate art with science. Do you think including art enhanced the overall project?
You know, I think the whole push for the STEAM initiative, instead of just STEM, is really worthwhile. The “A” representing the art component is a great way for students to express individuality. Incorporating art in this project allowed the students to show what they learned and communicate their message creatively.

You also gave a fair amount of leeway for your students to explore what makes them tick. Did every student stick to researching a female environmentalist from the original article?
Actually, no. I had a student reach out with her own ideas, which I loved! She had been reading about Erin Brockovich and wanted to focus on her story. I told her, “yes, go for it!” I don’t know if the student learned about Erin Brockovich accidentally or intentionally, but I knew that it was important to encourage her enthusiasm.

How did having an all-female list of scientists hit home for your class?
I could see it starting to hit home before we even got into the project. To introduce the subject matter, I assigned a couple of readings and we watched a video about the environmentalist Rachel Carson. I had the students reflect on what it must have felt like to be her, and their responses were fascinating. The girls identified with her womanhood, with her strong sense of family, and with the determination she showed in spite of challenges.

The responses were heartfelt, and I think it set the stage for the creation of these logos.  The students figured out what was important to the environmentalists and to themselves–then they learned how to communicate that passion.

One student’s project depicts the life and work of Nat Geo Explorer Sylvia Earle. Photo by Becky Deehr

What was the impact of this project on your students?
Overall, I think my students grew in two ways. First, they gained an awareness of problems and solutions. They learned that people can work towards correcting a problem and that many actually do fight for what they believe in. Secondly, they learned how one’s passion can inspire their fight. The girls internalized that environmentalists are real people who are able to effect real change—and that’s something they can work towards themselves.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


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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.

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