Training ground: Students use railway to create lesson plans

train group

Northern Arizona University students traveled 65 miles and through a million years of history to provide thousands of Arizona’s schoolchildren with important lessons.

NAU’s College of Education and the Grand Canyon Railway have teamed up to allow NAU students to create lesson plans for elementary school teachers to use throughout Arizona.

“We’re hoping to give teachers ideas they would have never thought of before,” said Martha Brady, NAU associate professor of teaching and learning. “We want to create solid, meaningful lessons.”

Brady and 25 of her students used free tickets for a train trip from Williams to the Grand Canyon and back as a capstone to her Social Studies in Elementary School course.

The result is a two-inch-thick book filled with 75 lesson plans for teachers to use for kindergarten through high school. The lesson plans cover social studies, geology, mathematics, language arts, and safety and health.

The railway will use the book as part of its Conductor’s Club, an educational resource for teachers and a learning experience for students who take the train to the canyon as a class outing. The railway has said it will provide more than 1,000 Arizona schools with samples of the project and post lesson plans and resources on its web site.

The web site also will provide teachers with Grand Canyon and northern Arizona facts, a guest forum for feedback and a student page with interactive learning games.

“Our partnership with Northern Arizona University will not only provide today’s teachers with valuable educational resources but is also giving tomorrow’s teachers—NAU education students—an unforgettable real-world learning experience,” said W. David Chambers, president of the Grand Canyon Railway.

Brady explained that representatives from the railway approached the College of Education in August to update lesson plans that had become outdated. The lessons are used when teachers take their classes on trips to the canyon.

“A good teacher wants to create a purposeful lesson,” Brady said. “The (new) lesson plans are very interesting, and we will have a final product that the railway will be proud of and that will benefit teachers all over the area.”

Brady said most of the students were intrigued by the opportunity to create the lesson plans instead of taking a final exam. “That opened them up to do things they’d never thought of doing,” she said.

“They groaned and moaned at first,” Brady added. “They wondered what in the world they were trying to say, and I’m the first teacher to say it’s not perfect. But this is much more valuable than my giving them a test.”

She also reminded her students “that it takes just as much time to do a bad job as to do a good job.”

Finally, through research and perseverance the students came through. “They’re proud of their work,” she said.