FOR HER 30th birthday, Natalie Harr had happy birthday sung to her in three different languages by students more than 8,000 miles away.
Tucked inside the research facility at Palmer Station in Antarctica, Harr was assisting Miami University professor Dr. Richard E. Lee and his team's study of Belgica Atlantica, an insect that is Antarctica's largest terrestrial animal.
It was a six-week opportunity at the bottom of the world that Harr, a 2000 graduate of Buckeye Local now teaching science to elementary students in Mantua, couldn't pass up.
Buckeye Local graduate Natalie Harr had the opportunity of a lifetime when she spent six weeks in Antarctica as a part of a team researching the insect Belgica Atlantica, Antarctica’s largest terrestrial animal.
Members of the Palmer Station, Antarctica research team, whom Harr refers to as “The Buggers,” are, from left, Dr. Shin Goto, Osaka City University, Japan; Harr; Dr. Richard Lee, Miami University, Ohio; and Dr. Dave Denlinger, The Ohio State University.
Anvers Island is the largest and the southernmost island of the Palmer Archipelago. With its biologically rich environment, abundant fresh water supply, and easy ship access, it is the perfect location for Palmer Station.
This is Harr’s favorite Antarctic landscape photo. She took it from Old Palmer Island near Palmer Station.
Natalie Harr, a first grade teacher at Crestwood Primary School in northeastern Ohio and a 2000 Buckeye Local graduate, talked about her adventures in Antarctica on her blog, saying her journey “seemed dreamlike and nostalgic. Antarctica’s unparalleled beauty, wildlife, and environment just tugs at your heart. One must experience it to know its profound effects on your mind and soul. If heaven on earth existed, it would be here.” Harr’s blog can be found at www.crestwoodexplorestheworld.org/miss-harrs-blog.html
Previously, Harr had taken a class on environmental science for elementary-level teachers at Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks, and it opened her eyes to environmental science and how to go about teaching it to her class.
After obtaining a master's degree in biological sciences, somewhat of a rarity for elementary teachers, she began putting her plans and knowledge to action at Crestwood.
She utilized adjacent wetlands to the school in effort to get her students to learn and explore the world around them. They study plants and animals, the seasons, the ecosystem and how it all ties together. Harr created a field guide for her students.
Harr and Lee then co-authored an article about her "nature detectives" and the program itself that was published. She has spoken about this program across the country. This is what led Lee to selecting Harr for his research team in Antarctica.
And that trip, while memorable and informative on its own, has led to an even greater opportunity for Harr, both personally and professionally.
In March, the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education announced 27 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educators that were selected for the 2013-14 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program.
Fellowship honorees will spend 11 months, beginning Sept. 1, at a sponsoring federal agency, providing classroom insight in guiding educational programs and policies, especially in areas related to STEM education.
This program began in 1990 as a pain fellowship for K-12 educators to increase understanding, communication and cooperation between the legislative and executive branches of government and the STEM community.
Einstein Fellows were selected following a rigorous application and interview process.
Harr will be working with the National Science Foundation, serving at the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate (CISE), Information and Intelligent Systems Division (IIS), under the guidance of Janet Kolodner.
"I am delighted that Natalie will be joining us in the endeavors of the National Science Foundation's Cyberlearning: Transforming Education program," Kolodner said. "The program's mission is to help us envision, design and learn how to effectively use the next generation of learning technologies, those informed by both what is known about how people learn and the opportunities technology offers. I look forward to Natalie providing a teacher's perspective to our program and helping our funded investigators make what they are learning available to teachers and others who might put those technologies to good use."
While at Palmer Station, Harr spearheaded the largest educational outreach initiative in the research team's history.
She presented coordinated talks and Skype sessions that reached more than 6,000 children, teachers and community members. More than 30 districts and educational organizations nationally were able to witness and learn about current polar research using the outreach website www.crestwoodexplorestheworld.org.
"The Crestwood-Antarctica Connection gave me the opportunity to create large-scale outreach and real world learning opportunities for students using current educational technologies. This experience provided the perfect springboard for the Einstein Fellowship," Harr explained.
The Crestwood Board of Education gave Harr a one-year professional leave of absence. She plans to return to her classroom duties upon completion of the fellowship.
"This is an amazing opportunity for Miss Harr," said Crestwood Local Schools board member Debra Soltisz. "I'm excited to see what opportunities she will bring back to her students and the community when she returns."
On top of that, Harr will be attending an awards ceremony on June 11 as a finalist for the Ohio Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Harr, along with finalists from all 50 states, was received by a national selection committee. Two finalists will receive the national award. The Presidents Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are the nation's highest honors for teachers in those subject areas.
Harr's experiences allow her to constantly evolve her teaching model and incorporate new ideas to help students get excited about science.
As an elementary teacher, Harr is charged with the monumental task of not only introducing students to science but also providing an environment for a love of science to grow.
"I know as a result of our outreach, a lot of girls in science classes are really starting to take a look and talk about wanting to be a scientist," Harr said. "We've tried to inspire the kids to look at sciences, get hands, get more involved and have a more positive attitude about science."
Now, on a national scale, Harr will again get the opportunity to do just that.