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KEEN Connects: What do you want to know?

As an educator, I have learned over nearly 30 years working with students that the students must lead the class. I discovered this, too, as a parent. We learn because we want to know. My work as a teacher is to help students answer their questions and give them opportunities to ask more.

I remember first seeing kids watch salmon fry (baby salmon) in an aquarium at KEEN’s Winter Fair in 2008. After that, I noticed that some science classrooms in our elementary schools have them in aquariums. I didn’t give it careful thought, but remember having the impression that it seemed sort of trivial. Of what value was such a small glimpse into the life cycle of the salmon?

As teachers, sometimes we need to learn by being wrong. Just a few months after watching kids watching tiny fish at Winter Fair, I began to observe how significant that glimpse has been to young people. Many students in my environmental studies classes at CWU would identify their childhood experiences watching salmon fry in school aquariums as the beginning of an abiding interest in and love for nature. For many who’ve grown up with few opportunities to experience nature, it was a first-hand experience that made them want to learn about these creatures so central to the health of our ecosystems and the lives of the people of the Columbia Plateau since time immemorial. They wanted to know more.

One of the joys of teaching is learning from our students’ questions. We gain insight about what’s important to new generations when we listen to their questions. We learn when we help them find answers. We are privileged to see them interpret a changing world. Our children have experiences and face challenges we may not understand. We can trust them to ask essential questions. As teachers and parents helping them find answers, we gain valuable knowledge we all so desperately need.

KEEN offers opportunities for kids to learn by first-hand experiences with the shrub steppe, like our K-8 Pond to Pines summer day camps and preschool at Helen McCabe, the state park at the mouth of the Yakima River Canyon. We offer educational opportunities for grown-ups, too, from birdwatching with the kids, to bringing the family to help with restoration at Helen McCabe, to discovering urban streams in Ellensburg, to sampling grown-up ciders made with fruits from our region. We invite you to get involved with KEEN. Volunteer to help with programs, come to events, work with our committees, offer your knowledge, use your skills working with kids, join our board. For information about opportunities, visit our website –

As a member of KEEN’s board, I want to know how we can better help you learn. What do you want to know about the shrub steppe—its plant life, wildlife, landscapes, geology, natural history? What do you want to know about how people who’ve lived here over thousands of years have experienced and loved the place? What do we need to know about how our ecosystems are changing as the economy and the climate do? What do we need to know about environmental challenges we face living here so we can choose how we and our children can live best?

The next KEEN event is Winter Fair this Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Hal Holmes. Green businesses, organizations, and agencies will offer information about what they do. Join us and bring your questions! We’ll have a question box at KEEN’s table. Tell us what you want to know.

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