Sanders likes "hands-on" science
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 05/24/2012 2:54 PM
CLARION, Iowa —It was only natural that Tanja Sanders, Iowa's Conservation Teacher of the Year, would participate in Youth Environmental Agriculture Days.
After all, it was Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Week.
Sanders has taken her Clarion-Goldfield fifth-grade class every year since she started teaching in Clarion 15 years ago.
Sanders was first recognized by the Wright County Soil and Water Conservation District and received the state award at the Conservation Districts of Iowa convention last fall.
"The award was pretty neat," Sanders said. "When you do lots of small things, you don't realize how big it can become. I have very supportive students, parents and a great community."
Sanders' family farms near Clarion. Her interest in conservation grew out of her projects for both 4-H and FFA.
"Conservation has always been important to me," she said.
Sanders graduated from Buena Vista College at Storm Lake with a degree in elementary education. When she started teaching at Clarion she worked with Wright County Conservation to bring its resources into her classroom.
This week, Sanders and her students are participating in an outdoor classroom event at Lake Cornelia County Park. They will take part in archery, fishing, tree planting, a nature trail hike and a park clean-up effort. Sanders organizes the event with Wright County naturalist Charlie Bray.
Sanders and Clarion-Goldfield fifth-graders planted a butterfly garden three years ago.
"It's awesome now," Sanders said. "It's very rewarding for me and my students to see how the butterfly garden is doing throughout the season."
Several years ago, fifth graders raised money to plant trees in memory of Lindi Snyder, a teacher who died of cancer.
Sanders has attended conferences on energy conservation and renewable resources in Boston and Las Vegas through Iowa Energy and the NEED Program. She will take a course this summer at the University of Northern Iowa's Energy Efficiency Institute. She'll complete energy audits at her school and home and look at ways to use energy more efficiently.
For Earth Day, her students will pick up trash or plant trees and report back to the class. Four times a year, students present a hands-on science experiment.
"It develops their public speaking skills and gives them practice on presenting for a group," Sanders said.
Her students tour their high school's geothermal heating system, the wind farm at Blairsburg, and have tapped maple trees.
"My science is hands-on science," said Sanders. "Students like to be actively involved, and I think they learn more."
That is something student Lauren Odland likes about Sanders' class.
"We got to plant corn, beans, peas, radishes and clover and watch them grow," Odland said. "Some of the plants that got too much water died. We do lots of fun activities, and we learn a lot of different things."