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September 23, 2010

Teachers Bring Exploration into the Classroom

Alcoa Foundation-Sponsored Program Motivates Teachers to Take Environmental Education to Higher Level

NEW YORK--While some teachers will refer to standard science lesson plans this school year, 15 teachers, fresh from a mile-high adventure, have something else in mind to make science a big hit with their students.

These teachers, from 11 Alcoa communities, attended a week-long program in Colorado to transform themselves into curious kids and learn new ways to teach science by doing science. The program, funded by Alcoa Foundation as part of its partnership with The Keystone Center, is aimed at motivating teachers to take environmental learning to a higher level.

The Keystone Center, through its Key Issues Institute, works with teachers to bring environmental issues into the classroom in a highly interactive way and trains them to investigate complex problems with their students. At the same time, the teachers enhance their professional development skills and add to their networking circles.

Since 1997, Alcoa Foundation has sent 160 teachers from 76 U.S. Alcoa communities to the Key Issues Institute. This year, 11 Alcoa communities were represented: Goose Creek, S.C.; Ferndale, Wash., Rockdale, Texas; Wenatchee, Wash.; Muskegon, Mich.; Lancaster, Pa.; Evansville, Ind.; Port Lavaca, Texas; Winsted, Conn.; Cleveland, Ohio; and Whitehall, Mich.

“These teachers have dug through dirt and slogged through streams to learn about the environment. Now, they’ve taken what they have learned back into the classroom to inspire their students. It’s a phenomenal program, and we are proud to support it,” said Alcoa Foundation President Paula Davis.

Key Issues Framework

The teachers will use the Keystone Center’s Key Issues Framework, which meets National Education Standards in several disciplines, to implement classroom plans on local environmental matters. The framework promotes a collaborative approach to a scientific investigation that includes problem solving, labs, data collection and simulations.

“Teachers take the framework back into the classroom and involve their students to take on a local environmental issue with an unbiased, inquiry-based approach,” said Anne Love, Program Director, Key Issues Institute. “Our research shows that 89 percent of teachers say they teach environmental issues more successfully and confidently in the classroom after participating in the Key Issues program.”

Tiffany King, a 6th grade math and science teacher from Whitehall Middle School in Whitehall, Mich., plans to tie exotic or invasive species that could hinder the environment into her lesson plan on adaptation for plants and animals.

“I applied for the Key Issues program to learn more techniques to get my students excited about environmental activities happening locally in Michigan,” King said. “It is challenging to teach students science inside the classroom. I find it best if you can get them out and actually touch the leaf or see the animal. It just means so much more, and it is something they will remember for a long time”

Another graduate of this year’s program, Nancy Hudson, a social studies teacher from Horizon Middle School in Ferndale, Wash., plans to team with the 7th grade science teacher at her school on a project involving salmon rights in the Pacific Northwest. “I strongly believe integration is key to a successful learning experience. I attended the Keystone program with a colleague, who is a middle-school science teacher. Our heads were spinning with ideas on coordinating a local project that would have a sustainability angle,” Hudson said.

Past participants in the Keystone program have addressed diverse issues including water and air quality, solid waste management and recycling.

To learn first-hand about some of the Alcoa Foundation-sponsored teachers’ experiences at the Key Issues Institute, watch video at

About Alcoa Foundation

Alcoa Foundation is a nonprofit U.S. corporate foundation with assets of approximately US$425 million. In addition to addressing locally identified needs in communities where Alcoa operates, Alcoa Foundation is focused on unlocking solutions to critical environmental sustainability challenges, including global climate change. Alcoa Foundation has been a long-term partner in Alcoa communities worldwide for more than fifty years, investing over US$515 million since 1952. More information can be found at