Two NCSSM instructors explore interdisciplinary teaching through National Geographic certification

NCSSM has long acknowledged the interrelationships among the humanities and the sciences, driving the school’s multidisciplinary approach to instruction. With many students increasingly substituting personal, hands-on explorations of the natural world with screen-based digital adventures, it’s becoming even more critical.

That’s exactly what NCSSM humanities instructor Liz Peeples and biology chair and instructor Kim Monahan are accomplishing with lesson plans each recently developed as part of their successful quests to become National Geographic-certified educators.

For Peeples, it began with the startling realization that many of her students seldom venture outdoors. So she posed the following question to them: What do transcendentalism, neuroscience, and the songs of bluebirds all have in common? Happiness, it turns out. In particular, our happiness. By having her students hike silently through a local forest while considering the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and a 2017 National Geographic article called “We Are Wired to Be Outside,” Peeples led them to understand that the poetic language of long-deceased transcendentalists is not simply the personal ramblings of lofty intellectuals, but an intuitive call to embrace the now-scientifically proven connection between human emotion and the natural world.

Liz Peeples’ capstone project for National Geographic Educator Certification

Monahan encouraged her students to consider broad-based approaches to challenges that bind the scientific and natural world with the human experience. Using 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a basis, Mohahan created a cross-disciplinary lesson plan that challenged students in her biology class to consider the myriad factors — political, ecological, economic — that contribute to, and are affected by, environmental issues and the way we address them. What happens to local fisheries when oil seeps into the ocean? Could the risks of introducing a genetically modified organism to fight those spills outweigh potential benefit? And how do individuals, corporations and governments benefit from or influence the decision-making process? Monahan helped students explore genetically modifying a bacterium that can aid in the cleanup of oil spills by consuming spilled oil — and whether that could be done without negatively influencing ecological or human systems.

Kim Monahan’s capstone project for National Geographic Educator Certification

Thanks to teachers like Liz Peeples and Kim Monahan, students at NCSSM are learning that rarely, if ever, do circumstances in one field exist exclusive of effects on the rest of the natural world.