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The Traveling Teacher

From the subtropics to the South Pole, Betty Trummel teaches science, technology and literacy worldwide.

Betty Trummel, 58, of Crystal Lake, is a science teacher with wanderlust. The fourth-grade teacher at Husmann Elementary School in Crystal Lake, whose been in the position for 26 years, continues to leave permanent marks on the hearts of her students and colleagues worldwide.

Summer in Zambia

On June 11, Trummel heads for a cinderblock school just outside of Lusaka, Zambia, Africa, where she will spend two weeks as a volunteer with the A to Z Literacy Movement. She does this work not only to share the ability to read and write with young Africans, but to bring back the experiences of this dramatically different culture to her Crystal Lake students. “I want to show the world to my students and develop an attitude [in them] of service and volunteerism,” Trummel said.

While in Zambia, Trummel will model lessons for teachers, help students grow a garden and read to children. “The children that we work with at Shine Zambia Reading Academy [as part of the program] are some of the most impoverished in the world,” Trummel explained. “But they love to learn and they appreciate whatever we bring – colored pencils and books, for example. In a land of overwhelming illiteracy, they are excited to learn about anything.”

In 2010, during her first two-week trip to Shine, Trummel accumulated words and drawings from students in order to publish an A-B-C book called “Let Us Shine.”  The following is an excerpt:

“A is for Africa: Our school is located on the continent of Africa. Africa is made up of 53 countries on one continent.

“B is for bricks: Shine Zambia Reading Academy was built with bricks. More bricks are being made to build another part of our school.

“Y is for young: We are proud that we are young but we know how to read.

“Z is for Zambia:  Zambia is a Christian nation. It is our home.”

The focus of the book is to remind the children that reading opens so many doors. Several months after returning to the United States, Trummel mailed nine copies of “Shine” to their classrooms and new library, and placed several copies in her own classroom at Husmann.

“I put myself out there and wonderful things happen for both the children and me.”

“I feel so lucky to work with A to Z Literacy,” Trummel said. “I put myself out there and wonderful things happen for both the children and me.”

A Chance Meeting

Trummel is also an internationally recognized science educator who has been stationed in Antarctica for three extended periods.

It all began in 1996, at a reception in Washington, D. C., where she was waiting to receive a Presidential Science Award.

She had been chosen as the Illinois Elementary Science winner that year after being named one of the top 10 science teachers in Illinois for six straight years (1991-1996). She struck up a conversation with a woman from National Science Foundation (NSF), who happened to be sitting next to her. Trummel told the woman that she and her husband were about to leave for a vacation in Alaska.

“Would you pick up some books for me on the Arctic while you’re there?” the woman asked. “I’m going to produce ‘Polar Connections – Exploring the World’s Natural Laboratories,’” an educational package focused on polar regions for Science and Technology Week.”

Trummel agreed, noting her desire to visit Antarctica someday.

The woman turned Trummel onto the NSF-funded Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic Program (TEA), which took teachers there.

Taking the Polar Plunge

After that serendipitous conversation with the NSF representative, Trummel was able to realize a dream. She submitted a proposal and was accepted into TEA.

She spent about two months on the ice at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, from October 17 through December 14, 1998, where she worked on the Cape Roberts geologic drilling project. A major focus of the TEA experience was continued outreach, so when she returned to the United States, she presented programs about her experiences to more than 20,000 students, teachers and other adults. She also developed Antarctica curriculum materials.

Trummel has returned for two additional stints at McMurdo Station since 1998. From October 19 through December 28, 2006, she was one of six educators selected as part of the education and outreach component of the Antarctic Geologic Drilling (ANDRILL) Program. She worked with scientists immersed in research related to sediment cores drilled from the Ross Sea floor. She wrote daily blogs and helped create video journals, took part in videoconferences with classrooms back in the scientists’ home countries, and shared the research experience with students and teachers as far away as Australia.

She spent her most recent stint in 2012-2013 drilling to a subglacial lake as part of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) Project. Check out her great stories, video clips, science projects and many photographs from this research endeavor at

Opening Eyes to Possibilities

Trummel applies her field experiences to her Crystal Lake classroom. “My aim is capture the curiosity of elementary school students when I return to the classroom or through Skyping and blogging while I am in the field,” she said.

She said she believes if a teacher can “impact students when they’re young, they will be more aware of possibilities and be more likely to pursue a career using science.”

The first activity Trummel requires of a new class – from her fourth-graders to college students when she was teaching at Northern Illinois University – is to draw a picture in their science journal of a scientist at work. “Nearly always,” she explained, “the students will draw a picture of an eccentric-looking man, wearing big glasses, working in a laboratory. Rarely do the students draw a picture of a woman – rarely is the scientist working outside.”

“A teacher can have a huge influence on children just by opening their eyes.”

At the end of the year or class, Trummel has the students repeat the drawing exercise. At that point, the students draw their pictures differently. Both sexes are represented as scientists, often outdoors as, perhaps, environmental scientists or wildlife biologists. “A teacher can have a huge influence on children just by opening their eyes,” she said.

Trummel uses technology in her classroom as an eye-opener whenever it is applicable. At the end of April 2014, her Husmann students were studying the U.S. national parks as part of their social studies curriculum. “Yellowstone is only a page in our social studies book,” Trummel said.

But, in her learning space, seated in front of a large tent, the class was Skyping with a Yellowstone ranger who was showing skulls of two Yellowstone animals, a grizzly bear and an elk. Students were able to compare the teeth of the animals and discuss with the ranger what each animal ate.

Sometimes, as a result of this in-depth national parks unit, Trummel’s students ask their parents to change their vacation plans. Some years ago, she remembers Andy Bernotas, who urged his parents to visit Mammoth Cave instead of their original destination. And, this year, a student requested that her family change their Disney plans and visit Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Next Adventure

“Teaching has been an extremely rewarding profession for me, and I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had along the way,” Trummel said. “I decided way back in third grade that I wanted to be a teacher. Now, I’m reflecting on a career filled with memories. I’d say I’m pretty lucky to have spent a good part of my life in work that I’ve enjoyed so much.”

When Trummel retires, she intends to continue using her teaching skills. She has started a small business called The Science Roadshow, which she hopes will bring fun and educational programs with a science focus to audiences worldwide.  “And, my husband, Chris, and I love to travel all over the world,” she said. “He and I know the impact we can make by continuing to be lifelong learners.”

Sharing a Passion for Hands-On Learning

As a child, Betty Trummel satisfied her curiosity outdoors on her family’s hobby farm in Chester, N.J. She calls herself a tomboy, and the 36 acres of forests and prairie provided a place for her to wander. Every season, she mucked around outside, building forts, watching tadpoles in the pond or playing in her amazing treehouse. With the realization that many children today do not have similar opportunities, she tries to stimulate their learning through field trips, Skyping and sharing cultural experiences, as in the example of her work with Shine Zambia Reading Academy.

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