Building a Model: A 3rd Grade Teacher’s Unique Teaching Method

By Emily Carpenter

Alhough he is 39 years old, Eric Freeman looks comfortable sitting in the small chair at the low table, the surface of which is littered with partially finished paper projects. The classroom is covered in children’s artwork. Everywhere there are cans of pens and pencils, bottles of glue, and on one wall hangs a small red model of a guitar painted with the words “Eric Rocks.”

Freeman is a third grade teacher at Camas Ridge Elementary School in Eugene. Teaching is in his blood. His father was a college professor, and his mother was an English teacher in the small farm town where he grew up. He loves the outdoors, the fields and orchards, and as a child, he believed he would become a farmer. However, he followed his love for working with kids through a series of experiences – at day camps, little league, and preschools – and fell naturally into his role as a teacher.

eric-freeman-teacher_copyright-jonathan-lange_metroleta-8186851501s

Eric Freeman, teacher at Camas Ridge, photo copyright Jonathan Lange

Throughout his teaching career, Freeman has held to the philosophy that school should be fun. “I had such a miserable experience in my own schooling,” he says, but one second grade teacher stood out to him. While other teachers smacked rulers on desks, demanding fearful attention, Mr. Sheehy had designated the book area with a picket fence and decorated the walls with hand-drawn pictures. He went beyond the required material, teaching his students about other interesting subjects, like opera. Just as his teacher Mr. Sheehy created an environment where learning was enjoyable, Freeman strives to bring life and color into his classroom. He likes to listen to live music, particularly Widespread Panic, and plays a little guitar himself, so he performs for his students.

Because of these efforts Freeman won the 2010 Eugene School District 4J ACE award for “Eugene Teacher Champion.” There are 20 elementary schools in the Eugene School District and only one winner per year. When Freeman won, it was said, “In his second-grade classroom at Camas Ridge Community School, Eric makes school magical and learning fun.”

Freeman became an elementary school teacher specifically because he wanted to help students who don’t learn effectively by filling out a worksheet. “It’s about being a learner yourself and sort of modeling the excitement of learning as you have kids around you,” says Freeman. He describes one evening, sitting in a restaurant and looking at a menu. Realizing that he had an example of good writing in front of him, Freeman decided to turn it into a lesson. He collected several menu samples and brought them to class, thinking he would have each student write an example of one menu item. However, as the students demonstrated interest, it turned into a project with each student designing their own menu. While students like what they are doing, Freeman can teach them about adjectives and word choice. The students don’t feel intimidated by the writing or bored by complex explanations.

It is important for students to get a diverse educational experience, says Freeman. Rather than each classroom experience lining up perfectly with the next, he says, “I want to be a patchwork quilt, not a uni-colored quilt. They both keep you warm, but one of them is a whole lot more interesting to be near, and to touch, and to look at, and to feel, and to smell, et cetera.” He is worried standardization will lead to the idea that students are a uniform body. To Freeman, these students are individuals. “Sure you have to use some data, some scientific approach to teaching. You’re dealing with human beings.”

Of course in the current economic recession Freeman has seen classrooms affected not only by standardization but also by a lack of funding. In the past Freeman has had to spend hundreds of dollars each year of his own money to buy classroom supplies the school was unable to purchase. He needed these supplies to give his students the classroom experience he thought they deserved. Partly to address this need and partly to offer more communication to the parents of his students, Freeman participated in the pilot project for Metroleta, and the online tools became an efficient way for him to communicate. “Just to be able to have it centralized, just to be able to put in graphics, links to things that we are studying,” says Freeman. It was easier than using the old paper newsletter approach.

His passion for helping children to an effective education early in life is great enough that Freeman wishes he could teach children from birth to three years old, but the work would not provide enough money to support his wife, two sons, and baby daughter. However, in elementary school the students are still young enough that he can teach them how to learn. “I believe that you build a model correctly versus having to fix it later on.”

Freeman makes the effort to know his students so he will know how to help them learn. For one assignment he might have some students turn in writing, while some do drawings, and some present projects they built. He encourages them to use whatever method will actually help them to understand what he is teaching, and refuses to define his students by a grade, a percentage on a test. “Learning is messy,” says Freeman.

A Better Understanding

By Emily Carpenter

Northern Michigan is home to several peat lands, and Steve McAllister has brought pieces of them back to Oregon. Peat is dense organic soil which decomposes in wet, boggy areas. These peat lands produce methane, but what controls the methane production isn’t entirely known. This is what McAllister is trying to understand.

McAllister is a fifth year doctoral candidate in ecology studying bio-geochemistry at the University of Oregon. Specifically, he studies the role of microorganisms in the production of greenhouse gases in peat lands. The amount of methane varies greatly among the peat lands so he brought incubated samples back to the university to examine the differences in microbial community structure.

Steve McAllister, working in science lab
Steve McAllister, ecologist, photo copyright Emily Carpenter

“I am hypothesizing that the community structure, which is to say the actual identity of individual methanogenic species and their relative abundances within a peat land system, can have an effect on the reaction of that system to increased temperature, with regards to what happens with methane production,” says McAllister.

This is of particular interest with respect to global warming, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and increased methane levels can contribute to global warming (Wikipedia source).

After two summers in Michigan, taking samples of peat and quantifying methane flux in the systems, McAllister is now working in the lab to extract microbial DNA from the peat. He is looking specifically at community structure with a functional gene, a gene that is actually involved in methanogenisis, which also allows him to look at the RNA that is coding for proteins. This gives him two separate views of the community structure. “I can quantify both what organisms are present in the site—and what organisms are actively making the cellular machinery for methanogenisis, at a given time,” says McAllister.

Steve McAllister studying peat in Michigan
Steve McAllister studying peat in Michigan, photo courtesy Steve McAllister

When McAllister puts the microbial DNA and RNA data together with the records of methane flux in peat lands from which the microorganisms were extracted, he will be able to tell if there is a strong relationship between methane production and the number or type of microorganisms in a peat land. “This is important because it should increase the accuracy with which we can predict how large scale ecosystem processes react to climate change,” says McAllister. Ultimately this kind of information can help the government make choices about land and resource use. Understanding the processes in natural green-house gas production and how people affect these natural processes, can lead to a better understanding of climate change.

Though McAllister is now deeply involved in this work with microorganisms, he originally wanted to be a journalist. He was applying to journalism schools when his chemistry teacher nominated him for a two week research experience with a professor from the University of California. He was able to do field ecology work in the California high desert, studying the effects of climate change on plant communities. When he got home, he started applying to a different set of colleges, to study ecology.

Steve McAllister, working in science lab 2
Steve McAllister, working in science lab, photo copyright Emily Carpenter

McAllister dropped out of college in Colorado part way through his undergrad studies and moved to Oregon to join a polyamorous anarchist commune. “That sort of thing seems like a great idea when your 21,” says McAllister. McAllister fell in love with Oregon, and decided to stay even when the commune didn’t work out. He decided to finish his degree at the University of Oregon and eventually joined the graduate program.

Now it has become a mission for McAllister to help expand the available knowledge on factors that control life. He says that microorganisms mediate all the chemical cycles on earth. Knowing how these microorganisms work is key to understanding how the environment will react to change. McAllister and other scientists are providing this information, but everyone needs to become involved. Citizens need to make sure that people in office are making decisions about climate change. “Make it an election issue. Vote on it,” say McAllister. Understanding should inspire action.

Mission Driven

By Emily Carpenter

A few days after her birthday, Beverlee Hughes’ office is still full of happy face helium balloons her coworkers left for her. She intends to leave them there until they can’t float anymore. Through the window on her door, you can see the large storage room where boxes of food are kept. Someone is using a lifter to place boxes on high shelves.

Beverlee Hughes is the Executive Director of Food for Lane County. She is responsible for managing employees and creating a comfortable work environment, media, and other leadership tasks. She has been working at nonprofit organizations, including the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, for 20 years. Food for Lane County is her fifth nonprofit.

Beverlee Hughes, Food for Lane County
Beverlee Hughes, Food for Lane County – photo copyright Emily Carpenter

While working in Newport for the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, Hughes met “the man” from Eugene. After the whale was moved back to his home in Iceland, she moved to Eugene to be with the man she loved. The college environment was compatible with Hughes’ energetic nature. “I’ve always enjoyed being around that vitality in a community,” say Hughes, who likes to spend her free time running, walking long distances, and doing yoga.

The move also provided Hughes the opportunity to work at a nonprofit that matched perfectly with her values, a specific goal she believed in.  “It doesn’t pertain to politics, or religion or anything. It’s just mission driven: do you believe that people shouldn’t be hungry,” says Hughes. Luckily she gets to work with people who are just as passionate about the cause.

The Need for Food Has Increased…

Hughes has seen the Eugene community step up during the Great Recession, as the need for food has risen. She knows it is important to realize that many of the people who are hungry are hard workers who are unemployed or underemployed, and it is a temporary condition. A few years ago these were the people reaching out to their community and now it is their turn to benefit from the helping hand.  Nonprofits are generally understaffed and underfunded. Hughes says there is no way they could do the work on their own, which is why volunteer work is essential for success. At Food for Lane County volunteers can make donations of food or money, work a kitchen shift bagging bulk food, or come by in the evenings to help give out warm meals to 300 people.

For Hughes the under-staffing means that she gets to work in multiple capacities, which is more for fun her. Easily bored and perpetually active, Hughes is perfect for nonprofit work, though she never even thought about it until she was in her 20s. A friend who was the executive director of a nonprofit left her job and suggested that Hughes apply. Hughes got the job. She has continued in the field ever since so she could keep doing a little bit of everything. There is always more to do, and there is a mission. People are still hungry, and that is what motivates Beverlee Hughes.

Letter Carriers Food Drive, December 1 and 8, 2012
Letter Carriers Food Drive, December 1 and 8, 2012

How You Can Help

Food for Lane County welcomes volunteers and donations of food and money.
Food donated to the Letter Carriers Food Drive will go to your local area food banks.

Food for Lane County website, foodforlanecounty.org
Food for Lane County on Facebook
Phone: 541-343-2822
Hours: Monday – Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
770 Bailey Hill Road, Eugene, Oregon 97402

Art for Anybody

By Emily Carpenter

The walls here are lined with shelves. Most of the shelves are covered in plain white pieces of ceramic. Teapots, bowls, piggy banks, cat figurines, and little airplanes: each waits in its place for someone to come make it into a masterpiece. Some are painted brightly, proud center pieces for the tables scattered throughout the shop. Other completed works wait in the front windows for the artists to pick them up. This pottery shop is the creation of Eliza Master.

White ceramic pieces ready to be painted at Potter’s Quarter

Master opened the Potter’s Quarter in Eugene ten years ago. She had experience running small businesses, selling food, drinks and beads, but she was also a potter. With this shop, Master says she was “looking for a marriage of art and business.” Her love for making art began when she was just a child, starting with the coloring crayons her mother gave her and progressing to art classes as she grew older. Eventually she studied fine arts at the University of Oregon.

Hand-painted ceramic plate at Potter’s Quarter

Master says she loves being around art, and the Potter’s Quarter allows her to provide other people the opportunity to learn about and create their own art. The shop is generally frequented by families. Customers can choose an item and glaze it with whatever colors and patterns they choose. It’s a chance for kids to work with their hands and “a nice diversion for anybody,” says Master. Once a customer has glazed a piece of ceramic, an employee applies an over-glaze, dips it, and fires it to finish the process. “You can come with nothing, and leave with something,” says Master.

For more information:
541-434-9277
110 Oakway Center, Eugene, Oregon 97401
Potter’s Quarter website
Potter’s Quarter on Facebook