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Connect, Explore, Engage in Inquiry

Monday, December 10, 2018

Science and environmental education have long been paired together in Wisconsin’s schools. With the release of the Wisconsin Standards for Environmental and Sustainability Literacy (ELS) in May 2018, educators are seeing strong connections with Wisconsin’s revised social studies standards as well as other content areas.

Two of the ELS writing team members, Kelly Koller, a middle school teacher in Oconto Falls School District; and Dave Landers, a science teacher in Pulaski School District, participated in professional development experiences with National Geographic last summer. Koller received a Grosvenor Fellowship: a partnership between National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions, which involved spending a month in the Arctic. Landers received a scholarship to become a Geo-Inquiry Ambassador in Jackson, Wyoming this summer.

For Landers, attending the institute is the first step to attaining National Geographic Educator Certification, which is “a free professional development program that recognizes pre-K through 12 formal and informal educators committed to inspiring the next generation of explorers, conservationists, and changemakers,” according to National Geographic’s website (2018). He will complete the process this year working with his cohort in webinars and developing units of study.

Landers said, “It was a fantastic experience to not only learn about the geo-inquiry process and explorer’s mindset but also connect with educators around the country and learn about their communities and the special things they have going on.”

Dave Landers, science teacher in Pulaski School District
Dave Landers, science teacher in Pulaski School District 

So how does geo-inquiry relate to the ELS and social studies standards? Landers explains, “learning about the geo-inquiry process reinforces the importance of place-based education and brings together project- and problem-based learning, local and global issues, and much more through a geographic and scientific lens together in one. One of the most important aspects of the process is student involvement in taking action in their local and global communities to make a difference. Geo-inquiry connects to both the natural and cultural systems concepts found throughout the ELS standards. Additionally, the third strand is ‘Engage,’ which calls for students to conduct an inquiry, design an investigation, and implement and evaluate a project.”

Koller is a National Geographic Certified teacher and a trainer for the Educator Certification program. She provided a first-hand look at the importance of civic engagement during her Grosvenor Fellowship experience in the High Arctic. “While taking in the profoundly beautiful environment of the Arctic, I am also deeply aware of the delicate interconnected web that we are all a part of together no matter where we are on Earth, and inspired to help work towards solutions.”

Beyond the expedition, the entire fellowship is a two-year commitment that involves creating deliverables from the experience and assisting in the leadership of the National Geographic Education Community.

Kelly Koller,  middle school teacher in Oconto Falls School District
Kelly Koller, middle school teacher in Oconto Falls School District

Koller said, “The ELS standards provide strong connections between the natural systems students would normally study in isolation in science class and cultural systems students would get in social studies. Both the broader National Geographic Education Certification program and the more targeted Geo-inquiry process are great tools that connect directly with the new standards. What I Iove the most about the new ELS standards and the Nat Geo resources is the empowering way learners are encouraged to engage in their communities.”

The spirit of both platforms helps students connect, explore, and engage in their world and provides teachers with resources to integrate topics in science, social studies, and English with Wisconsin’s new ELS standards, along with math for authentic investigations and projects. Teachers and students learn to be explorers, using curiosity to drive the learning process and make discoveries about human and natural elements in the world.

The DPI, in partnership with Koller and Landers, will be offering “Connect, Explore, Engage in Inquiry” workshops to dig deeper into the standards and inquiry process. To be notified of dates and locations, interested parties can sign up through the Connect, Explore, Engage in Inquiry form.

Educators can stay current with opportunities to learn more about the revised standards by visiting the Wisconsin Standards for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability page and the Social Studies Standards page.

For more information, visit

The National Geographic certification process and the Geo-Inquiry process

The Grosvener Teacher Fellows


National Geographic. 2018. Educator Certification. Accessed Nov. 8, 2018.

Subscriber Submission: Victoria Rydberg, Environmental Education, and Service-Learning Consultant, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction