Learning in the field
Jim Hartmann's love for Earth is one of the reasons he decided to be a teacher. He wanted to educate the next generation of students about the negative impacts humans have had on the planet in hopes of improving the environment.
"I remember thinking if enough people knew this was going on, we would fix it. So I decided to become a teacher and teach about how awesome the planet is and how we're screwing it up," said the West Linn High School science teacher. "Thirty-one years later (I'm) still not sure if we've gotten enough people to recognize what's going on or even if I was right and that awareness will lead to us fixing our problems but I still believe that, so that's why I'm still here."
Perhaps Hartmann's passion for the subject he teaches or the way he teaches it — through a hands-on, field-based approach — are some of the reasons he was named the 2019 Oregon Earth Science Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers — an organization that works to raise the quality of and promote the teaching of geosciences.
Every year teachers are nominated to receive the award both statewide and regionally.
"It was quite a surprise but I think it's probably due to the fact (that) the teaching style we have here at West Linn, with our field sciences program, (it) really involves getting kids out in the field and experiencing things directly," Hartmann said. "The Earth is a pretty amazing place to go out and explore, so that's how we approach teaching it and I suspect that's probably why I ended up getting this award."
Earlier this year, Todd Jones — a WLHS teacher who was selected by the Oregon Department of Education as runner-up for 2019 Oregon Teacher of the Year — nominated Hartmann for the award.
"In 2004, when I was deciding whether to apply for a teaching position at West Linn High, I asked the daughter of a friend about the school. The first thing she told me was, 'I love Mr. Hartmann. He's the reason I'm going to study environmental science in college,'" Jones said. "I imagine hundreds, perhaps thousands, of West Linn grads will tell you the same thing. Jim
constantly takes his students out of our building and into forests and fields so they can appreciate the mystery and magic of our natural environment and better understand how and why it is threatened, and what we all can do to protect it. Over his career he has built an army of environmental warriors, and the world will be better for it."
Hartmann has taught at WLHS since the 1980s. He first taught biology and later started teaching geology and field ecology in the mid '90s.
"Even in teaching biology I felt like doing everything in the classroom with set-up labs and reading out of textbooks was not really the spirit of how people approach the study of life, so I started doing field-based things pretty early in my career," he said.
Eventually Hartmann brought AP environmental science to the high school.
Since WLHS received a $422,715 CTE Revitalization Grant from the Oregon Department of Education nearly two years ago, environmental science became a career and technical education (CTE) program — a set of classes taught by CTE-certified teachers who have industry experience.
"That's the sort of thing we've always been doing and now it's super-promoted really with the whole CTE thing and everybody's real big on that," Hartmann said. "What we have been doing all along in the field sciences program here is now sort of being celebrated and recognized and kids are very into it so I'm having a good time."
With the grant money, Hartmann was able to purchase radio telemetry equipment — a device used to track animals from a distance.
For example, he said wildlife biologists use it to figure out what a wolf does. The biologists would tranquilize the wolf, place the collar on it that has a transmitter and follow where the wolf goes.
"We don't actually tranquilize a wolf but we'll have a couple kids take the collar, go hide out in the woods some place and have the rest of class use the directional signal to find them, which is a skill they use all the time in environmental science," Hartmann said.
During his teaching tenure he's also enjoyed taking his students on field trips to interesting local geological locations like the Columbia River Gorge and Elk Rock Island — an island formed about 40 million years ago by a volcano — on the Willamette River.
"We live in a great place to teach geology," Hartmann said, adding that technically he could retire this year if he wanted. "(But) I'm going to continue as long as my brain and body hold up."
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