When Julia Booth arrived on Blair’s campus in 2019 she brought more than just a passion for teaching, she brought a passion for the environment and its importance in our lives. Ms. Booth, who graduated from Hamilton College in 2019, came to Blairstown prepared to change the lives of science students for years to come.
This year, Ms. Booth was put in charge of running the environmental science course at Blair, taking the reins from science teacher Caroline Chamberlain. According to Ms. Booth, she pulled from her own learning experience to craft a brand-new course dedicated to firsthand experience of environmental science and its impact on the environment worldwide in 2020.
The course prepares students to deal with the complex environmental problems that confront society by providing a broad, basic understanding of the interactions among the physical, biological and human components of the environment. Students are learning about topics including energy, earth systems and resources, the living world, population, land and water use, energy resources and consumption, pollution and global change.
“The course is project-based, and students investigate basic principles behind climate science, with the goal of understanding how our changing climate will impact the global economy, society, international relations and the physical environment,” Ms. Booth explained.
When Ms. Booth was asked to teach this course, she was also asked to redesign its structure. With creative liberty, she knew exactly what experience she wanted to create for students.
Rather than taking tests, students work to create their own case studies for issues affecting them personally in the world. She noted the first half of the year has been spent learning the basic foundations of climate science and connecting its impacts to our society.
The second half of the year will be dedicated to solution-based group projects in areas such as renewable energy, pollution and environmental justice. Ms. Booth explained that her students will have the opportunity to dive headfirst into hands-on learning projects to investigate topics about which they care deeply.
“As climate continues to change at an unprecedented rate in human history, so much of what students are studying is changing just as rapidly,” she said. “It’s been really challenging, but this class structure is working well for them.”
During the signature assessment for environmental science, students choose an issue facing either the Blair community or their own community at home. They then collect data on their chosen issue and create an awareness campaign, which includes custom websites, videos or flyers. Topics will include the plastic and water use on Blair’s campus, renewable energy and more.
Ms. Booth’s students are enjoying the investigative nature of the class and the connections drawn between the real world and the practical classroom knowledge. “They’ve told me that it’s really interesting to take a class that explores so much practical and relevant knowledge they’ve already learned in the classroom,” she said.
Selena Sanchez ’22 chose environmental science as her science elective because she hopes to learn about the environment and ecosystems around us, as well as the impact of humans on the world.
“My favorite thing about our class this year is our debates, where, instead of presenting traditional arguments, it is more of a sharing of ideas by two opposing sides,” she said. “This allows for our best discussions and makes the class a lot of fun when we're able to work on presentations and research as a group.”
When asked about her favorite part of teaching the course, Ms. Booth had one answer —students’ curiosity. She noted that students often bring in background knowledge or interests from other classes or experiences and that these interests vary across the class. She has enjoyed watching students build connections between their Blair education and the real world and can’t wait to see how the class will evolve over the years as new environmental issues come to light.
As students and faculty take a break this holiday season, Ms. Booth is looking to next semester when students will enter the exploration phase. She is most looking forward to seeing what students choose to explore.
“There are so many issues including energy, pollution or environmental justice that students can pick as their topic, and each of these issues is very important in the world,” she said. “I’m excited for them to explore energy options, propose solutions for non-renewable energy sources or even understand the impact of pollution. The spring looks bright for many reasons, and I’m excited to see what change these students will seek to make.”