CCA's Science Department Chair Brings Experiential Learning to Her Students

Larry Brown
You can tell by her smile that Abby has found her way to the right place. Abby Wood graduated from Roger Williams with a degree in marine biology and a minor in creative writing. You could have foretold right then that Abby was not just going to be able to understand science, she would have the language skills to explain it, too. She earned her Master’s degree at the University of Rhode Island’s School of Oceanography and began a career doing field and lab research in fisheries science, then joined Save the Bay as a scientific advocate for marine habitat restoration and field education.

The great teachers share at least two loves: a field of knowledge – and kids. As an advocate for Save the Bay, Abby began working with school children and that is where the second love kicked in. Problem was, the kids cycled in and out of her programs and by then, Abby knew she wanted more: More continuity, more relationship. Still a Rhode Island girl, the trail led her to Rocky Hill School to teach marine biology and environmental science. Now, it all had come together, the academic passion… and the kids.

But then a third great love intervened: Her own children arrived around the same time her husband started working for NOAA in Woods Hole. She spent two years staying home with kids of her own, and knew her next move would be to Cape Cod. That is where our own science teacher and middle school head, Ian Carr, threw out a line and got her here to take a look. CCA had a lower school – a good one – where her young children could eventually learn and grow while Abby taught here.  CCA has a lot of educational pieces that felt like the right fit at the right time, including ready access to beaches, bays, and estuaries. Armed with the understanding that kids learn more from experiences than from texts, Abby saw a chance to take her teaching outdoors where the science lives. This experiential learning is the cornerstone of her teaching.
 
Now in her fourth year with CCA, Abby is still impressed with her students’ motivation and investment in outside learning. Turns out, CCA kids are hungry for what she’s serving up as well: chances for hands-on learning. On a field trip, one of her former students so impressed the shipboard scientists they were working with that they offered the CCA student a summer job in marine science!

Ask her students, and they will be as enthusiastic about the same things she is. “She gets us out into the real world,” said one. “She’s been my advisor as well as my teacher,” added another. “Mrs. Wood has always been my go-to person. I know I can tell her anything and get good advice.” There’s that other half of good teaching again: A passion for a discipline… and a devotion to the kids in front of her. A special satisfaction? She loves finding ways to reach the kids most people – and often the kids themselves – have almost given up on.

Ask Abby what her secret is, and she gets modest. “I guess the ability to use everything as my classroom, inside and out,” she says. “And, as a science-minded person, I’m practical and organized.”

Ask her where she would like to see CCA grow in the future, and she will pause. “We’re so good at so many things already… maybe I’d like to see us make more connections to the Cape’s assets, the water, more outside internships for the kids, more mastery-learning projects undertaken. I’d like to develop more ecology-based field trips… bring the kids to try environmental projects abroad.”

Abby Wood believes her kids can hold their own on a much larger stage than can be contained on a classroom floor. When you believe in your kids, it creates a vast open space for them to expand into. That may be the secret of teaching – and Abby’s not-so-secret weapon.
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Cape Cod Academy is one of the only independent, co-educational, college preparatory schools serving students from kindergarten to grade 12 on Cape Cod.