Contributor: 
Katherine Anderson

How can you become an award-winning educator by incorporating online and blended learning into your curriculum? Ask Mona Cloys, an experienced alternative program coordinator, science teacher, and online instructor for the Lake County DOOR Program, and coordinator for the alternative high school diploma program offered at Lake County High School in Leadville, Colorado.

Cloys was one of 18 teachers recently honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) with the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). The prestigious PIAEE award was established to recognize innovative educators who integrate environmental learning into their classrooms using hands-on, experiential approaches. Up to two teachers from each of EPA's 10 regions are selected to receive this award each year. Cloys and the other 2015/2016 PIAEE winners were recognized at a ceremony at the White House on August 16, 2016.

Cloys truly embodies the definition of an innovative environmental educator. She combines cutting-edge pedagogical ideas gained from her graduate work, along with digital learning resources and service learning, to develop educational units focused on citizen science and key environmental issues. These units require students to investigate real data and, in-turn, build critical-thinking skills.

"Blended learning played a large role in my receiving the PIAEE," says Cloys. "Implementation of hands-on activities and service learning projects are the core of environmental education in our alternative program." For her award-winning version of blended learning, Cloys used a variety of local and online resources to supplement online curriculum provided by Fuel Education.

In her "Our Changing Climate" unit, students used current scientific statistics and data collected by indigenous people to study climate change in the Arctic. In her "Ocean Journeys" unit, students accessed the U.S. Satellite Laboratory’s Animals in Curriculum-based Ecosystem Studies (ACES) resources to learn about the role of oceans in human and animal journeys. For the community service portion of her curriculum, students conducted a waste audit for a recycling project and successfully petitioned multiple stakeholders locally to begin a composting initiative in order to reduce waste.

Outside the classroom, Cloys has been involved in a teacher workshop to create lesson plans revolving around the district’s composting initiative. She hopes that all school districts in the upper Arkansas River Valley will use her district’s environmental educational model for soil science and begin composting initiatives.

"Know your students and adjust to their educational needs accordingly," Cloys advises fellow blended learning educators. It is key to sparking success in the hearts and minds of students and fundamental in becoming an award-winning educator.