Science teacher brings passion for outdoors to class

By: Menka Belgal Telegraph Correspondent
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Stan Iverson grew up loving the outdoors and now he tries to bring that passion into the classroom. He said he was curious about plants and nature from a young age. His classroom at Oak Ridge High School where he teaches AP Environmental Science is filled with taxidermy mounts of ducks and pheasants, animal skulls and skeletons, shells and golf trophies and a wall covered with awards: Teacher of the Year in 2007 from California League of High Schools, CSUS Environmental Teacher of the year in 1994, Intel’s Innovations in Teaching Award in 1997 and American River Nature Conservancy Environmental Science Teacher of the Year in 2005. He’s snorkeled and scuba dived in the British Virgin Islands and studiedsea turtles in Cozumel, Mexico. What do you love most about your job? Teaching is a spectacular job. It is interesting, dynamic and ever changing. Each day is a challenge. You never know what will happen. You can plan a lesson and the discussion can take a turn based upon a student or group of students’questions and the lesson and twist and turn into something quite exceptional. For example, many topics in biology will allow students to grapple with their own knowledge and worldview of life. One of these topics is evolution. So, to start out my topic of evolution I will ask my students to draw a picture of what they think evolution is all about. What do kids draw? They draw the classic drawing seen in so many textbooks of a single cell, changing into a multiple celled organism, changing into a fish, then a reptile (sometimes), then a mammal, then a human. They completely leave out plants. Somehow the plants are just here on planet earth and the kids just don’t know enough to deal with plants. From this drawing we are able to investigate, discuss and explore the major tenants of evolution. What are some of the most interesting things that have happened to you? By far the most interesting things that have happened to me are traveling in the world. I’ve spent a month in China, sightseeing and participating in a World Watch Expedition to study the ecology of the northern pine spruce forests of northern China along the North Korean border and actually walked across the border into North Korea for let’s say, 3 to 5 minutes. I didn’t want to stay long. In China I found 40 different plant genera that are found in California. In other words the plant and animal life of northern China is almost the same as the northern Sierra in California. My second trip was to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands to retrace Charles Darwin’s journey. That was an experience of a lifetime. I’ve also traveled to lake Baikal in Siberia via Mongolia. The Mongolian Step is just spectacular; there are no fences, no property lines just wide open space that can be viewed for miles and miles. It reminded me of what the American plains must have looked like 100 — to 200 years ago. Lake Baikal is a 400 mile long by 90 mile wide lake that freezes over in winter in Siberia. This lake is one mile deep and contains 20-percent of the world’s fresh water supply. The Siberian people are very friendly and outgoing. They were well educated, and concerned about the health of Lake Baikal. They are experiencing similar pollution problems just like Lake Tahoe in California. The Baikal-Tahoe Institute is an organization that is building relationships with American and Russian scientists to study monitor and improve the health for all stakeholders living around these beautiful lakes. What music do you listen to? I guess I would be described as a rocker. Not a real fan of country, but I really like Johnny Cash. I enjoy classic and jazz as well. My favorite bands would be Boston, Eric Clapton, the Beatles, Rush, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, Steve Winwood, Crosby Stills, Nash and Young and of course Peter Frampton. What hobbies do you enjoy? Fishing. My wife is the real fisherman. She helps me out all the time. I’ve always said that if we were stranded somewhere and needed food, she would be the one to get dinner. What about your family? My wife of 35 years Louise is my best friend. She also is a teacher, an excellent teacher. She teaches math and science at Gold Trail School in Placerville. She was a finalist for the state Teacher of the Year award. We have three children. Heidi is at Boulder in Colorado finishing her PhD in Science Education. Her dissertation is about the best methods to use in teaching physics to college students and has involved a review of over 600 studies. A summary will be published this next month in Science magazine. My son Alex graduated from Central Washington with a degree in aviation and is now working for a company taking aerial photographs across the U.S. My youngest daughter, Kelsey, graduated from Sacramento State majoring in music. She is applying for graduate school and currently is spending three months in Prague. What causes are you passionate about? The environment. I learned a long time ago that if we do not take care of our environment then we will have nothing. All this talk about the economy and pitting public vs. private use of taxes, etc. is disgusting. The bottom line is how much does a person really need? WES, Watershed Education Summit, is a program that I started in 1998 with a grant from Intel to establish a relationship between education and watershed agencies in the state. Gordon Boswell, a Cherokee elder, has come up each year with drummers and dancers to tell stories around the campfire about the Indian approach to nature. Our students work with professional foresters, hydrologists, Department of Fish and Game representatives and others to monitor the health of three tributaries that have been impacted by dams, recreation and camping.