Outstanding in the Field

Outstanding in the Field

Award-winning biology teacher Peter Auger brings his talents to BC's Environmental Studies

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Barnstable High School science teacher Peter Auger, who teaches biology at Boston College and co-directs a field station where BC and Barnstable schools partner in ecological research, was named Massachusetts Biology Teacher of the Year.

Part-time faculty member Peter Auger (Biology) leads a group of Massachusetts educators on a field trip to Chandler Pond in Brighton as part of a summer workshop on urban ecology sponsored by the Watershed Institute at Boston College. (Photo by Lee Pelligrini)

The award presented by the National Association of Biology Teachers recognized the veteran science educator, a lecturer in the BC Environmental Studies Program, for innovative teaching techniques, tireless commitment to his students, and service to the teaching community.

Auger will receive his award at a special faculty meeting at Barnstable High School this month and will be honored with winners from other states at the National Association of Biology Teachers' convention in Montreal in November.

At Barnstable High, Auger has developed a field-studies curriculum that lets students conduct valuable long-term research in animal behavioral ecology. Much of the work in Auger's popular courses is done outside of the classroom. Students gather information on bird behavior from feeders hanging outside the classroom window, and on bat behavior in their backyards at home. They study beach ecology and monitor the behavior of coyotes and turtles at the field station on Sandy Neck Beach.

"It becomes something that's hands-on," said Auger, who has seen many pupils become scientists, doctors, veterinarians, university professors and environmentalists. "Talk is cheap. When you do field work, you actually work with the students."

BC has provided a venue for collaboration between Auger and one of his former students, Research Assoc. Prof. Eric Strauss (Biology), director of the Environmental Studies Program in which Auger teaches. Strauss and his mentor head the Sandy Neck field station that serves the BC program as a central research facility.

Under the university program Strauss directs at Sandy Neck, the site has become an integral part of the curriculum for four undergraduate and two graduate biology courses at BC. More than 30 field trips are scheduled annually to the field station, which also serves as a year-round site for independent student research.

Meantime, Auger's field-study curriculum has served as a model for Boston College's Watershed Institute, which seeks to connect urban youngsters with city waterways, and counts Strauss and Max Kennedy, son of the late Robert Kennedy, among its founders.

"Pete is so energetic in the classroom and the field, his enthusiasm for science is infectious," said Strauss, a 1977 Barnstable High alumnus.

"In addition to his work at Barnstable High School, he mentors at least a dozen field students from Boston College each year in our long-term studies that range from coyote ecology using radio telemetry to bat-communication using infrared videography and high frequency microphones.

"The wonderful part of this program is that high school kids take part in all aspects of the work and often publish their results. The data become the curriculum in the classroom.

"The field program is open to all of the students, not just those labeled as talented and gifted," Strauss added. "Often, the most successful students in the field program are those that have been forgotten by the mainstream teachers and need the kind of personal attention and gentle prodding that is the hallmark of Pete's teaching style."

Auger said the "non-traditional hook" of the outdoor classroom lures many pupils. Some welcome the physical challenges encountered in the field, he said, while others are interested in nature photography and videography.

The greatest draw? "Mostly it's the animals," he said.


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