News and Notes

Sandra Fary – Educator Ambassador

Sandra Fary, Middle School Science Teacher, Team Sequoia, Camel’s Hump Middle School, Richmond, Vermont.

My inspiration: My grandmother. My summers were spent camping and exploring the hiking trails of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California. My grandfather, a wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, included my brother and me in his research on the black bear and white-tailed deer. When not assisting my grandfather in his work, it was my grandmother’s mission to teach us every rock type, wildflower, insect, fungi, tree species, cloud formation, and animal track that we encountered on our daily explorations. My investigation of the natural world with my grandmother inspired me to pursue a career in science education.  Similarly, I want my students to investigate their backyards–from valley bogs to the rugged, alpine peaks of the Green Mountains and everything in between–through a hands-on, field-rich approach about their local place.

My education philosophy: Students learn best when challenged with real-world questions and problems. Through multiple field excursions and content-rich curriculum, middle school students develop an appreciation of the dynamics of the natural world.  Students’ understanding of the interdependence in their backyards enable them to be skilled in being future decision makers and stewards of the environment in their local communities of Vermont and beyond.

“Several 8th graders have made it their mission to conserve half of their family’s property, whether it be less than an acre or for ‘the back forty.’  Their awareness about conservation and preservation of biodiversity has been greatly heightened due to the Half-Earth mission.”

How I use the Half-Earth map: Students utilized the map during our Global Climate Change and Human Impact Unit.  One option for a project was to create a Half-New England map, Half-Vermont map, Half Chittenden County Map, or Half-Earth of their town. Depending on the scope of their project, a few students utilized the map, whereas others used the Vermont GIS tool BioFinder to determine areas of greatest biodiversity and currently protected/conserved lands.

Students also engaged in the U.S. mapping activity provided by the Half-Earth Project Educator Ambassadors program. They determined the current percentage of protected land, and then, using layers of agriculture, population density, and forest cover, selected areas that could be conserved to achieve the 50% conservation amount.

Student response to the Half-Earth Project: This activity raised the awareness in 7th and 8th grade students’ minds of how land is delegated, what is currently protected, and factors to consider when deciding where to seek conservation. It brought to light issues of economics, culture, hunting practices, and biodiversity. This was a natural segue into an assessment and recommendation regarding current land use in various towns throughout Vermont. Students explored their own backyards, areas they treasured, or lands great in biodiversity throughout the Green Mountain State. As a result, several 8th graders have made it their mission to conserve half of their family’s property, whether it be less than an acre or for “the back forty.”  Their awareness about conservation and preservation of biodiversity has been greatly heightened due to the Half-Earth mission.


Sandra Fary is a native of Northern California who has been teaching in Vermont for over 15 years, bringing her love of nature and science to elementary, middle, and high school students. As a Half-Earth Educator Ambassador Sandra is bringing the project’s mission and goals to her students and fellow teachers. Currently teaching 7th and 8th graders science, she has partnered with math and social studies teacher Rachel Shusterman, to use the Half-Earth Mapping Biodiversity Activity to foster teamwork and critical thinking about conserving biodiversity while developing mapping skills. Sandra attended Half-Earth Day at the American Museum of Natural History in 2018 and participated in the mapping workshop. She took inspiration and practical resources back to her classroom and is currently working with Dennis Liu to finalize a published version of the activity for middle schools nationally.

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