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Rob Greene came to Westridge in the fall of 2015 with an interesting background combining science, education, and environmental studies. After earning a B.A. in Environmental Science from Miami University, he worked for the National Park Services, Audubon Society, and Los Angeles County with their outdoor science programs located in Malibu and Big Bear. Next, Greene moved with his wife to Australia, teaching in both the private and public sectors, most notably at the Victorian Space Science Education Centre focusing on astronomy and other STEM-related programs. Back in the states, he taught at Rolling Hills Prep and Renaissance School designing programs for students with learning disabilities, before finding his home at Westridge.
Read on to see what Rob has brought to his classes at Westridge!
What stood out to you about Westridge when you were considering teaching here?
There is an eagerness amongst the school to innovate and the students are well receptive to new ideas. I saw lots of possibility in the curriculum and ways I could tie in my own passion for science. And, having taught at several schools in the past, the community oriented staff, faculty, and students of Westridge stood out immediately.
How have you made your experience at Westridge your own?
For quite some time prior to coming here, I’d been thinking about a storytelling approach to teaching and we did that this year in my classes. I wanted to approach learning in a holistic, connected way, focusing on how all the subjects related to each other – instead of one chapter ending and another, totally new one beginning, I weave in previous lessons and show how they relate to current subject matter. The students retain the information better because they are reminded of it throughout the year and how it relates to a bigger picture. The idea came from my own personal interests and I saw an opportunity at Westridge to use my passion for science to develop a framework for the Physical and Earth Science course. There was definitely potential for disaster in designing a new curriculum, but I was able to successfully teach the course in a way the girls responded to.
Tell us about some of the courses you've created at Westridge.
I created an 8th grade elective course called STEAM Projects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Math). It's project-based with a more real-life approach. For example, we study “light” – how it works, the chemistry and scientific processes behind it – and then talk about how it translates to something the girls can relate to, such as photography and telescopes.
Another project I’m excited about is the Outdoor Education Program. We get students outdoors and most importantly, disconnecting from technology. I’ve led outdoor trips in my past experiences, and this type of study allows participants to interact with each other (instead of their devices) and notice different things with a greater appreciation. It really is a transformative way of learning that develops more confidence in perceiving the physical world.
And through a Westridge Research Initiative fellowship, I've been expanding our outdoor education programming even more; I've been researching more ways to integrate experiential learning into the curriculum at Westridge, while expanding existing programs like the Olympic National Park Backpacking Interim trip and the Outdoor Club. I've also introduced a Field Studies in Geology course in the Upper School, and last year we went on some fascinating field study trips to Carrizo Plain, Eaton Canyon, and Mount Wilson Observatory.
Tell us more about outdoor education and the trips you have organized recently.
Over the summer of 2019, I took a group of students on an 11-day backpacking trip through the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska. We partnered with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), a program that helps young people develop outdoor and leadership skills through these incredible wilderness expeditions. I'm a former NOLS alumnus myself, and what I love about their curriculum is that NOLS doesn't provide a manufactured experience; they're not saying, "Here's the trail, here's the schedule for the day, etc.," because it's up to the students to take the lead, go through their own decision-making processes, and overcome challenges (from the environmental challenges of the terrain, to interpersonal ones like learning how to fix a fractured group dynamic) by depending on one another. That trip was such an authentic learning experience, and the girls came back talking about how much physical and emotional difficulty they had overcome during those 11 days. We're planning to go back with another group of students this summer.
When I run other trips, like some of the Interim backpacking trips I mentioned, I keep them as student-led as possible. Before we leave, I'm meeting with the students and they are designing the entire route, making a list of resources needed, and planning our itinerary. It's an incredible learning opportunity for them, partly because there are real stakes at play - they learn that if they don't follow through on their responsibilities then other people, their classmates and fellow backpackers, will be affected. It's what makes these trips so important to me.
What do you want the Westridge community to know about you?
I like spiders and tarantulas. I cringe each time I see some one step on one.
Who is your favorite scientist?
Brian Greene (String Theorist out of Columbia University).