Local educator travels to Tanzania

ESCANABA – An Escanaba Area Public Schools teacher will be among a group of science teachers traveling to Africa this summer in an effort to bring experiential learning into their classrooms.

Colleen Martin is a fifth-grade science and language arts teacher at Escanaba Upper Elementary School and will join 14 other science teachers from around the state of Michigan in Tanzania for 20 days this July. Two other Upper Peninsula teachers will also make the trek – Kristy Gollakner from Gwinn and David Rowe from Bessemer.

The opportunity is made available to teachers through the Michigan Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program and through Michigan Technological University’s XSci program for experiential science learning and research. This is the fourth year teachers have traveled to Africa through the program, according to Martin. The last three years, teachers from Colorado made the trek, but since the University of Colorado – Denver has branched out and collaborated with Michigan Tech, this marks the first year involving solely Michigan teachers.

Martin said her selection to the program all started with an email sent from the ISD to each school’s principal, which was then forwarded to teachers.

“There was an application that we filled out and we just had to answer questions about why we would want to go to Africa and how we would use it in our classroom, who we are as people, who we are as teachers and what our strengths are as teachers,” she said.

There were more than 400 applicants received through the program throughout the state, but Martin was one of the lucky 15 chosen based on her responses.

Throughout the group’s 20-day trip, participants will make the six-day hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. They will also take part in a safari in both the Serengeti and Tarangire, and visit the Gombe Chimpanzee Research Institute started by Jane Goodall – with the possibility of meeting Goodall herself.

Other highlights include visiting some Tanzanian schools and an AIDS orphanage to meet and talk with the students. The teachers will also spend one day teaching at St. Timothy School in Moshi, Tanzania.

Martin said the whole goal of the program is for the participating teachers to experience science and bring it back into the classroom to make learning more realistic and more experiential for their students.

“I really hope to experience things that I can bring back to my classroom and really show my students how experiential learning works and how it’s just so much better to get them to really live science instead of just learn science,” she said, noting the trip will impact her life in many other ways.

Due to the physical nature of the program, Martin said there is much physical preparation involved. This includes mandatory hikes each participant must make prior to their departure to Tanzania.

“They’ve told us in order to do this you need to commit to becoming physically and emotionally prepared for it because what we’re going to do and see is like nothing we’ve ever done and seen before,” she said.

The participating teachers are also involved in an online community through the XSci website where they will create presentations to learn about the places they will visit.

“I just think for this opportunity, for teachers to be able to have this opportunity … whoever can needs to grasp that and try for it because it will impact your teaching and your life more than you could ever do on your own,” she said. “I think that’s so important and I’m so happy that I stepped out there and put myself out there to do this.”

Martin, a graduate of Northern Michigan University, from which she holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree as a reading specialist, has been with Escanaba Area Public Schools for three years. Prior to that she has taught one year at North Dickinson and one year at Menominee Catholic Central schools.