Broda uses ‘dirty learning’ to teach students
Cheyenne – Buffalo Ridge Elementary math and science teacher John Broda is leading the charge with a new form of learning. By bringing students outside to learn, Broda calls his new type of education “dirty learning.”
“It’s a new dynamic of taking kids outside,” states Broda. “We get the best of their creativity and the best of their inquiry all around when we are outside.”
“The kids get stuck in a classroom, and science needs to be hands-on,” states Broda. “When kids are outside, there isn’t the classroom discipline, and they are engaged.”
One of the bigger projects Broda has done with his students is a yearlong water quality study, where the students collected water samples from water drainages above Cheyenne, on school district and agricultural lands, past the water treatment center in Cheyenne and before and after the HollyFrontier oil refinery.
The students also worked with HollyFrontier’s scientists to learn about their water treatment processes.
“We thought the water sample after the refinery were going to be terrible, but that was one of the cleanest spots we found,” says Broda. “It was even better than the water way above town.”
“We don’t do these sorts of things enough with kids, and the students get cabin fever,” adds Broda. “We coop them up in a building, and we try to teach them as fast as we can and as much as we can. We don’t let the kids enjoy learning.”
Another hands-on project Broda has done with his students involves range management, where they look at noxious weeds and observe trees that are susceptible to pine beetles. At the same time, they also learn about how to use GPS coordinates and geographic information systems (GIS).
“We’ve also tied wildland fires into the learning and had a volunteer fire department come and talk to us,” comments Broda.
In efforts to tie it all together, students learned about the effects pine beetles have on wildland fires and their effect on water and water runoff.
The students also caught grasshoppers while outside and learned some entomology.
“We work a lot with our Conservation District in the county,” says Broada. “At the beginning of the year, we spend a day up in the district lands, or we are outside putting our hands in the dirt.”
At the end of the school year, Broda and his students take a trip.
When Broda taught sixth graders, the trip was to Yellowstone for a week. In Yellowstone, students worked with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to learn about wolves. They then went into Yellowstone Park and talked about geothermal activity.
This year, Broda is teaching fourth graders and is in the process of finalizing plans to take a three-day trip to the northeast part of Wyoming.
“Our focus is going to be more on Wyoming resources and the history of Wyoming,” says Broda.
Activities planned include a visit to a bison ranch to observe grazing practices and learn more about range management. The students will also learn about lumber production and the reproduction of lumber at a lumber mill while on the trip and tour Devil’s Tower.
“We are also going to tour a coal mine because that is such a huge part of Wyoming and our whole economy,” describes Broda.
“When we come back, we are going to go in a different direction and go through Lusk, where we will have a presenter from the ranching community,” says Broda. “She is going to talk to us about some of the history in the Lusk area.”
“Now that the science curriculum we are required to teach is coming to a close, we are really going to focus on all the pre-teaching stuff for this trip,” states Broda. “We’ll have a bunch of folks coming in and talking to the kids.”
Funding for the class trips comes from grant writing and fundraising events, like the carnival the school puts on.
“Every year at this school we have phenomenal parents who step up and are willing to meet once a week to try and get thing going for these trips,” explains Broda. “The community also always steps up and rewards us every single time.”
Broda adds, “We’ve been doing this for a number of years, and people know this is a big thing for this school. We want to continue to do these sorts of things.”
Broda has been teaching for 14 years.
In 2012, when Broda was teaching sixth graders, he was nominated to be a recipient of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE).
PIAEE represents teachers across the nation and their leadership in the field of environment education in formal school settings. Broda was one of the 18 teachers who received the prestigious award.
“Science is in everything, and it doesn’t have to be just in teaching about light or sound waves,” explains Broda. “We just have to be creative to tie it all together. It just takes a little bit more effort, a few more phone calls and the will to teach the kids about it.”
“When kids go home after school, they don’t want to sit inside of the house and do nothing. They are outside, and they want to get their hands dirty – that’s how they play,” states Broda. “Teachers will be amazed by what being outside and utilizing outdoor education will do.”