Mind the Gap: How Environmental Education Can Step Forward to Address the STEM Achievement Gap

Mind the Gap: How Environmental Education Can Step Forward to Address the STEM Achievement Gap

Environmental Education is a broad field encompassing nature centers, school forests, outdoor education facilities, state and national parks among others. This diversity of organization type allows for wide engagement by the public and holds great potential for addressing achievement gaps in the formal education system.

by Robert Justin Hougham, Ph.D,
Isabelle Herde,
Tempestt Morgan,
Joey Zocher, Ph.D.,
and Sarah Olsen, Ph.D

Environmental Education organizations have more power than they realize to affect change. For example, in Wisconsin, Environmental Education organizations employ over 3,100 educators, serve 1.1 million user days of education in the field, and represent over $40 million in direct economic activity. The collective impact of this industry is significant. We advocate for other states and regions to take a similar approach to quantifying the field in order to leverage support and ultimately, affect change. Part of addressing the STEM achievement gap will lay in making the environment an integral part of the approach, while yet another part of addressing this gap will be advanced by focusing the collective impact organizations to build capacity. The work we will go on to describe here has proven valuable and eye opening- we also will lay out some of the steps to replicate this in other states. Doing so is a matter of environmental justice, a call to which many environmental organizations are responding.

Environmental Education to address STEM achievement gaps
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education does not have equal outcomes among different demographic groups. Racial disparity in science education is an issue nationwide. The 2015 NAEP science assessment noted statistically significant gaps in achievement for U.S. students that identified as black and Hispanic compared to those who identified as white (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015). As an example, Milwaukee, Wisconsin has the greatest STEM achievement gap in the country (Richards, 2016). Nationwide, schools that serve predominantly black and Hispanic students are less likely to offer higher-level science courses (U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 2016). All of these facts demonstrate an educational system that fails students of color in STEM.

The pedagogical practices of environmental education have proven to be an accessible approach to science learning for youth of different backgrounds and is thus uniquely poised to address the STEM achievement gap. The field of environmental education encourages students to observe and connect with a place in order to learn. Dominant strategies for teaching include place-based education and an inquiry approach. Place-based education allows students to forge meaningful connections between STEM content, students’ daily experiences and to observe the environment around them (Land & Zimmerman, 2015; Greenwood & Hougham, 2015). These field and inquiry-based approaches in STEM have better educational outcomes for low achieving youth (Blythe et al., 2015). Field experiences have also shown to increase confidence for underserved student populations (Hougham et al., 2018).

However, the field faces its own gaps of knowledge and historical bias. For the environmental education industry to effectively address the nation’s STEM achievement gap, environmental education organizations must understand their position and progress in addressing issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). This includes, but is not limited to, the increase of positive representation of minorities and other underrepresented groups, as well as teaching in a more culturally conscious and responsive manner. This paper will focus on Wisconsin, which faces some of the largest STEM education gaps, and how the lessons learned from a status and needs assessment and the work currently underway to address those findings could be applied to the nation.

In the winter of 2015-16, a digital survey was distributed to environmental education organization leaders around the state of Wisconsin. Our goal was to investigate the statewide status surrounding relevant topics within environmental education such as land management, professional development, visitation trends, budgets, diversity, equity and inclusion and identify organizational needs in these focus areas. In 2019, we updated and re-ran the survey, intending to update and improve our understanding of the status and needs of environmental education in Wisconsin. This article is focused on the enhanced component of the survey questions about diversity, equity and inclusion. Here, we present the set of questions from our 2019 DEI section of the survey to lay out our approach, and also to encourage the use of similar question sets in other states and regions.

The following questions were developed to address diversity, equity and inclusion in our field, defined in consultation with August Ball, Founder/CEO of Cream City Conservation & Consulting LLC. We understand the definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion and its meaning can take different forms. For the purpose of this survey we asked that respondents consider the following definition in their answers:

Diversity: Differences that make a difference.
Equity: A process of ensuring everyone has access to what they need to thrive.
Inclusion: Celebrating, welcoming and valuing differences.

  1. Please estimate the percentage of groups that visit your site or programs that include at least one person with a known disability.
  2. Please check all areas of training provided to your environmental education instructional/ program staff on working with persons with disabilities. How to adapt activities for participants with:
  3. Do you consider your facility to be accessible to visitors with disabilities?
  4. Do you consider your programs to be accessible to visitors with disabilities?
  5. Have you conducted a physical accessibility survey of your site?
  6. Does your curriculum or lesson plans include activity ideas for learners of varying abilities?
  7. Do your curriculum or lesson plans include activity ideas for learners from different cultures or backgrounds?
  8. What level of priority does your organization place on increasing program and facility accessibility at your site?
  9. What level of priority does your organization place on increasing diversity, equity and inclusion at your site?
  10. What is the estimated demographic distribution of your staff?
  11. Select the answer that best fits your organization.
    11a. This organization is committed to diversity.
  12. Please read the sentences and select the answer that best fits your organization. These questions were taken from the Diversity Survey (2014) by the Society for Human Resource Management.
    12a. There is cultural and racial diversity among the people a job candidate will meet/see on their first visit to the organization.
    12b. There is cultural and racial diversity among the people represented in our organization’s marketing materials
    12c. Employees from different backgrounds are encouraged to apply for higher positions.
  13. Do you have resources and content available in other languages?
  14. Does your organization provide trainings on diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Past iterations of this survey have had positive impacts for Wisconsin environmental education organizations. Solid data is needed to inform decision – making and programming. The closer the data reflect the local context of the industry, the more effectively educators, administrators and our supporters can respond to current trends. However, collecting this data is only one step towards changing the status of the work on the ground.



193 EE leaders representing 173 EE organizations completed the survey. We asked these leaders to describe their organization in a number of ways. For example, whether the organization correlates school program to academic standards (75.3% – Yes), if they considered their location an outdoor tourist destination (44.0% – Yes) and if they regularly partner with other regional or statewide EE organizations (59.5% – Yes).
Of the 93.1% of respondents who considered their organization’s facilities to be accessible or somewhat accessible to visitors with disabilities, half (50.5%) have never conducted an accessibility survey of their site. The most common accessibility-related training that staff receive focus on physical disabilities (65.1%) and ways to encourage communication and interaction among all participants (50%).


Survey participants were asked which subject areas and organizational skills their staff would most benefit from additional training. Shown below are the most common responses:
Top EE Subjects Areas staff need
1. Using STEM as a context for EE (E-STEM)
2. Technology use in outdoor education
3. Understanding school initiatives, speaking school language
4. Community action/service learning
5. ‘Sustainable design/green technologies or buildings’ and ‘Community-based learning’

Top Organizational Skills staff need
1. Diversity, equity and inclusion
2. Grant writing
3. Fundraising
4. Digital presence/website/Facebook/etc.
5. Volunteer management
Analysis: Perception vs Reality: the bubble around inclusion and environmental education

The reported commitment by environmental organizations to DEI does not match the reported actions or steps they have taken towards DEI. For example, respondents from 56% of environmental organizations in the United States reported that trainings focused on diversity should be done (Taylor, 2014). In the Wisconsin status and needs assessment, only 50% of respondents reported actually conducting trainings related to diversity, equity and inclusion (Hougham et al., 2019). Even then, “The small body of empirical research that does exist about diversity trainings suggests that current practices are largely ineffective over the long-term. Therefore, it is imperative to conduct needs assessments to determine what content should be done” (Beasley, 2017, p. 5). Spending time planning, executing and evaluating DEI trainings will be essential in moving this body of research forward and improving the professional development opportunities available to educators in the field.

At Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center in Wisconsin, seasonal staff training includes a session on DEI. The session lasts approximately 5 hours and is spread out over 2 days. All levels of leadership were present – from the executive director to seasonal teaching naturalists – for a total of thirteen participants. Different levels of participation were encouraged; staff were given the opportunity to reflect individually and to participate in both small and large group discussions. The training used multiple forms of media including pictures, text, and videos in order to cite experts and incite discussion. Environmental justice framed the training so that our team could understand the larger picture and the role that environmental education could have on its participants. Environmental educators should empower learners to exercise their agency in creating better communities, which includes the environment in which those communities exist. More environmental organizations are embracing the focus on environmental justice in efforts to engage more diverse communities. For example, Camp ELSO (Experience Life Science Outdoors) in Portland, Oregon focuses programs on “grounding the youth experience in environmental justice while elevating the visibility and leadership opportunities for folks of color. ” (Brown, 2019, p. 8). We looked at case studies that explore how environmental justice and environmental education intersect.

The training covered multiple topics such as the elements that make a space diverse, equity versus equality and how to respond to microaggressions as a bystander and as someone who experiences them directly. We talked about agency and how promoting others to exercise their agency creates more inclusive spaces. The training went beyond providing definitions and introductions to vocabulary words. Our staff discussed privilege and the role it has in addressing equity. We spent time talking about how access only approaches to broadening participation fails to hold dominant cultures accountable for the culturally exclusionary language that may exist within the programs they are providing access to (Bevan et ak., 2018). Participants then went through Upham’s lesson plans and identified areas for improvement including how the lesson was framed and a critique of the content. This information was collected and will be used to improve our lessons.

We asked for feedback at the end of the training to help us develop additional modules and activities for staff related to DEI during their contract. While staff training is an integral step towards inclusion, it cannot be the only time an organization supports discussions and activities focused on DEI. The goal of inclusivity needs to be reflected in an organization’s policies, processes, paperwork and infrastructure. Continuous and intentional reflection of staff practices needs to become part of office culture. To create sustainable change we must confront a system that supports the oppression of certain communities and discontinue privileging privilege and focus on supporting those communities that have been historically neglected or oppressed.

For environmental educators, from a pedagogical standpoint, we must not only change what we teach, but be willing to change the ontological underpinnings in the transmission of knowledge. We must shift our role from experts sharing wisdom to members of a learning community with the Earth. This is particularly true for white educators working with marginalized populations, as the dominant culture needs to listen and empower rather than tell and control. Without doing this groundwork in DEI training, we fall into the trap of treating empowerment as giving a voice to the voiceless, rather than listening to those who haven’t been heard. We must shift the notion of DEI as a need to that of an asset, and be willing to use this knowledge to help others create the change we cannot imagine.

Freire (1970) supported the notion that we are moving regardless, and we are either moving to keep the dominant paradigm or to transform it. What better catalyst for change than our urban youth, who are already fueled by being marginalized? Emdin’s (2009) research found, “These students eagerly await opportunities to exercise this power in the creation of a foreseeable new future that is different from an oppressive present” (p. 242). The first question we must ask ourselves is whether our organizations simply want to share what we are doing with diverse audiences or are we eager to embrace this new future as well?

Beyond Diversity: A Roadmap to Building an Inclusive Organization. Green 2.0.
Bevan, B., Calabrese Barton A., & Garibay, C.. (2018). Broadening Perspectives on Broadening Participation in STEM. Washington, DC: Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education.
Blythe, J. M., Dibenedetto, C. A., & Meyers, B. E. (2015). Inquiry-based instruction: Perceptions of national agriscience teacher ambassadors. Journal of Agricultural Education, 56(2), 110-121. doi:10.5032/jae.2015.02110
Brown. S. (2019). Reclaiming Spaces. Clearing: Resources for community-based environmental literacy education, pp 8-10
Emdin, C. (2010). Affiliation and alienation: hip-hop, rap, and urban science education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 42(1), 1-25.
Freire, P. (1970/2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum
Greenwood, D. A., & Hougham, R. J. (2015). Mitigation and adaptation: Critical perspectives toward digital technologies in place-conscious environmental education. Policy Futures in Education 13(1), 1-20.
Hougham, J., Morgan, T., Olsen, S., & Herde, I. (2019). 2019 Status and Need report of Wisconsin Environmental Education related Organizations. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Madison Extension
Hougham, R. J., Nutter, M., & Graham, C. (2018b). Bridging natural and digital domains: Attitudes, confidence, and interest in using technology to learn outdoors. Journal of Experiential Education, 41(2), 154-169. doi:10.1177/1053825917751203
Land, S.M. & Zimmerman, H.T. (2015). Socio-technical Dimensions of an Outdoor Mobile Learning Environment: A three-phase design-based research investigation. Education Technology Research Development, 63(2), 229-255. Doi:10.1007/s11423-015-9369-6.
Richards, E. (2016). Wisconsin No. 1 for black-white science achievement gap. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved from: http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/education/2016/10/27/wisconsin-no-1-black-white- science-achievement-gap/92722730/
Taylor, D. (2014). The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations. Green 2.o. Retrieved from: https://www.diversegreen.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/FullReport_Green2.0_FINAL.pdf
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). National Assessment of Educational Progress: Results of the 2015 science assessment. Retrieved from: https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/science_2015
U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. (2016). 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection: A First Look. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/listocr/docs/2013-14-first-look.pdf

Project funding was supported by the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education.

About the Authors
Dr. R. Justin Hougham is faculty at the University of Wisconsin- Madison where he supports the delivery of a wide range of science education topics to K-12 students, volunteers, youth development professionals, graduate students, and in-service teachers. Justin’s scholarship is in the areas of youth development, place-based pedagogies, STEM education, AL, and education or sustainability.

Isabelle Herde is the Program Director at Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center

Tempestt Morgan is the Expanding Access Program Coordinator at Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center.

Dr. Joey Zochar is an Advisor at Escuela Verde in Milwaukee, WI.

Dr. Sarah Olsen is a curriculum and evaluation specialist for Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center (no photo)

Learning in an authentic, meaningful, interdisciplinary environment

Learning in an authentic, meaningful, interdisciplinary environment

A Year in the Watershed

There is no doubt that if you want to get students truly excited about what they are learning, ask them to tackle a real-world question or problem — ask them to solve something that is relevant to their lives.

by Jean M. Wallace

It is no surprise that children learn best by doing. And, when they seamlessly integrate across subjects and spend ample time working to find solutions to real problems that will improve lives, fulfill needs, and make our world a better place, their learning reaches a much deeper level. During my 20 years in a leadership role in experiential education, establishing partnerships and supporting hundreds of teachers and thousands of students in authentic learning, I witnessed this success first hand. There is also no doubt that if you want to get students truly excited about what they are learning, ask them to tackle a real-world question or problem — ask them to solve something that is relevant to their lives. In using this approach, students come to realize that what they are doing in school really does have meaning.

Whether describing this learning process with terminology such as STEM, STEAM, Project-Based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, or EIC (Environment as an Integrating Context — the process used by my former team as outlined below), it is the alignment of the content (the “what”) and the process (the “how”) that drives these successful learning models. Integration is critical, as it is the bonding of content and process that strengthens the structure of learning for students. Rather than teach in isolation, teachers and schools should model the 21st century skills we want our students to acquire by collaborating, cooperating, and communicating across disciplines to make learning more meaningful in all subjects. The effectiveness of using the environment as the foundation for interdisciplinary learning is not new to education and is supported by research.

Founded in 1995, the State Environment and Education Roundtable (SEER) worked with 16 state departments of education to develop Environment-Based Education (EBE) as a standards-based instructional strategy to engage students in “real-world” learning experiences. Over 40 schools took part in this national study, which resulted in the 1998 publication of Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning (Lieberman & Hoody, 1998). As was the case with the national EIC research study, our own EIC program was extremely successful and proven to close the achievement gap.

Environment = Authentic Learning

Moving from teaching in isolation to teaching across disciplines can be challenging, but my firm belief was (and still is) that a powerful and deep understanding of content coupled with a meaningful and authentic process of student engagement results in deeper learning for children.

Therefore, when building an curriculum focused on authentic learning, it made perfect sense to use Pennsylvania Environment & Ecology (E&E) Standards as a foundation on which to build an integrated and student-centered curriculum: one that would shape the framework for active, authentic, community-based science teaching and learning. Along with cross-curricular, real-world, rigorous content, an E&E-based program offers students the opportunity to engage in service learning and civic action, creating responsible and caring global citizens. This is evidenced in the introduction to the E&E standards, which reads as follows:

“Environment and Ecology is grounded in the complexity of the world we live in and our impact on its sustainability. The human interactions with the ecosystem and the results of human decisions are the main components of this academic area. Environment and Ecology examines the world with respect to the economic, cultural, political, and social structure as well as natural processes and systems. This integration across systems is what sets this academic area apart from all others.” (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2001)

Starting in Kindergarten, content outlined in the E&E standards also became the foundation for literacy acquisition and was used to generate enthusiasm in our youngest readers. As they were learning how to read, they were connecting what they were reading to the real world around them. The content outlined in these standards formulated a rich vocabulary upon which students could build as they progressed through the curriculum. One example that comes to mind is the topic of Agriculture, which was introduced in Kindergarten and then reinforced in 3rd grade in a multi-disciplinary, multi-week unit of study. Classroom libraries were stocked with vocabulary-rich books, and learning was enriched by field studies to area farms, nature centers, streams, rivers, and museums.

The June 2014 Progress of Education Reform Report issued by the Education Commission of the States, reaffirms the success of applying this early science literacy approach in an authentic learning environment: “Science interactions support vocabulary development by exposing children to new words in meaningful context. Exposure to rich vocabulary words predicts vocabulary development, which predicts reading achievement.” The importance of early science literacy acquisition is summed up nicely in this same publication: “Education leaders should turn a critical eye on the science teaching and learning expected for early education in their school, district or state, then determine whether there is any evidence that children and their teachers are receiving the instructional opportunities they need and deserve.”

Creating the EIC Curriculum

But how and where do you begin when creating an integrated curriculum? For our team, utilizing the E&E standards for content; the interdisciplinary, student-centered process of the EIC Model; a strong emphasis on 21st century skills; and backwards mapping became the perfect collective starting point. Our guide was Dr. Patricia Vathis of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, who is an expert in standards, interdisciplinary learning, and Understanding by Design. As a K–8 team, we began the curriculum-building process by going through each E&E standard statement and unpacking and understanding its content. After completing this, we moved on to Science and Technology, and then to Social Studies, which included History, Geography, and Civics and Government. We identified the content that “anchored” each standard statement and how each grade would be responsible for either introducing that content (I), reinforcing it (R), or bringing the content to proficiency (P).

As we were completing each matrix and assigning a color code to each grade, we were also looking for opportunities to connect content across disciplines to create big ideas for comprehensive, interdisciplinary units of study. Once our team completed a matrix for each of the content area standards, time was allocated for teachers to meet and plan with their grade level partners and teachers from different grade levels and disciplines. Everyone worked from the matrices they, themselves, created. Schedules were designed so that team-teaching could occur several times each week, allowing teachers to see and hear how each overarching topic was being presented through the lens of another discipline.


EIC in Middle School

In some ways, the 5–8 team had a more difficult challenge than the K–4 team, since our middle school students in 5–8 rotated through different teachers and subjects. The teachers effectively met this challenge by working together to design units of study that spanned several months, with each content area well represented. For example, one unit was titled “Disease and its Impact on Philadelphia,” and was taught over a three-month period. In Science class, students investigated how vector species transmit diseases, while in Language Arts the students were reading the book Fever by Laurie Halse Anderson (2000), a historical fiction novel documenting the 1793 yellow fever epidemic that plagued Philadelphia. In Social Studies, the students were mapping out historic Philadelphia and reading and writing about a time in local history when this epidemic took many lives. In Technology, students created their own newspaper and documented the impact of the disease outbreak by writing obituaries and providing information to their imaginary community. Finally, in Art, students designed a 2-D protist from which they created a 3-D model. As students were learning across disciplines, teachers were actively teaching across disciplines. Amazing!

EIC in Elementary School

Just one example of authentic, interdisciplinary learning that was so successful during my years in school leadership was “A Watershed Year,” when each year our 4th grade students were immersed in a year-long, interdisciplinary study of the Delaware River Watershed. Students were challenged to answer the overarching question: Where does your drinking water come from and where does your wastewater go? They began by investigating the history, geography, geology, science, chemistry, and ecology of our local freshwater streams and the surrounding watershed. During their downstream journey, students interacted with experts in local history, drafted a “Water Bill of Rights,” debated ecology versus economy, conducted field studies with the Philadelphia Water Department, mapped out their local watershed, and learned from the Army Corp of Engineers how to effectively engineer a dam.

Students also documented their journey and presented their findings to various audiences. Utilizing digital technology, they even created an interactive, informational walking tour for visitors along the trails at the local historical society. The students’ Watershed Year ended with an exploration of the Delaware Estuary and Atlantic Ocean ecosystems where they discovered the ecological diversity of aquatic life in these brackish and saltwater environments. Their final real-life adventure in learning was a three-hour voyage aboard a trawling vessel out of Cape May, New Jersey where they cast nets into the ocean and hauled in their catch, while working side-by-side with a team of marine ecologists.

Ongoing Improvements and Growth

Professional development for teachers was meaningful, focused, and ongoing. In-service days during the school year were dedicated to curriculum development, and each summer our teachers would attend the Pennsylvania Governor’s Institute for Environment and Ecology. This Institute offered a week-long, residential learning experience that took place both indoors and outdoors. Enhancing the knowledge and skills of teachers through deep-rooted learning experiences inspired our teachers to become even better at creating and implementing authentic learning experiences for their students.

While standards dictated “what” would be taught, the process of learning was designed and reinforced by our teachers. They used content — E&E standards-based content — and the EIC practices to drive instruction. These experiences not only resulted in strong academic achievement, but they ensured outcomes of global citizenship through student empowerment and environmental civic action. Our K–8 EIC framework became the solid academic foundation on which we grew our program from 150 students to over 700 allowing us the financial and community support to build a 20 million dollar school and campus designed for outdoor learning. An amazing accomplishment that many said could never be done!

Positive Impacts

In the end, our state standardized test scores reflected the success of our EIC Model and its interdisciplinary framework. More importantly, these scores represented how immersing students in deep-dive, long-term, interdisciplinary research projects can be a successful approach for all students. As just one example, 90%–96% of our 4th Grade students achieved, on average, the highest level in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) Science test. Our special education students and historically underperforming students thrived in this atmosphere of real-world, interdisciplinary learning. Our school was rated as a top performing school locally and state-wide, and ranked internationally with schools in Finland.

Throughout my years working with an incredible team, our EIC curriculum continued to evolve and was revised by our teachers. Success was contagious! Teachers were motivated and students were energized as we immersed ourselves in the study of the environment. We came to realize that doing meaningful work in an authentic environment to conserve our basic needs — the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat — was a bond that we shared and something that is relevant to us all.


Jean Wallace was the CEO of the award-winning Green Woods Charter School, a K–8 public charter school in Philadelphia, PA. During her tenure as CEO, Green Woods was recognized locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally for its innovative approach to learning as well as its academic achievement. She is now consulting for schools and organizations who want to take learning outside.

Prior to her work at Green Woods, Jean served as the regional Director of Education for Earth Force, Inc. (www.earthforce.org). As the Director of Education for Earth Force, Jean supported hundreds of teachers and thousands of students in service learning and civic action projects focusing on local and regional environmental issues. 

Education is a second career for Jean. As a parent, Jean was an active volunteer in her daughter’s private school setting and came to recognize the vast differences between some public and private school learning environments. She sought out a second career in education to offer public school students authentic, real-world learning opportunities similar to those her own daughter experienced.

This article is dedicated with gratitude to Dr. Patricia Vathis, retired Environment and Ecology Coordinator for the PA Department of Education, and the incredible teachers and staff who made the impossible, possible.


 Anderson, Laurie Halse. (2000). Fever, 1793. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Education Commission of the States (June, 2014). Progress Report for Education 18 (2). Denver, CO: ECS.

Lieberman, G., & Hoody, L. (1998). Closing the achievement gap. State Education and Environment Roundtable Report. Poway, CA: Science Wizards.

Pennsylvania Department of Education (2001). Introduction to the Pennsylvania academic Standards for environment and ecology. Retrieval from URL www.education.pa.gov

Poetry and Science

Poetry and Science

Utilizing the Tools of Poetry for Science Inquiry

by Jim Martin
CLEARING consultant

pril is National Poetry Month. Can we celebrate it by using poetry to facilitate teaching science as inquiry? What does the flow of thoughts, images of relationships, grammar and syntax, in poetry have that would make it an effective element to use while engaging in the process of science inquiry? Is it possible? Let’s see.

So, what would it look like, engaging a science inquiry in a natural place with the tools of poetry? Might be interesting; might be a flop, depending on my own interest, familiarity, and confidence in science and in poetry. A natural concern, yes, but I do know that my students would become invested in their work when I decided to spring something unexpected on them. How would I go about this now?

One thing I’ve learned from looking for curricula outside my classroom, even in school parking lots, is that curricula of all kinds are actually there, embedded in the world. If you think about it, school is learning about the world outside the classroom. We just insulate our classrooms from the world, then teach about the world from within them. It takes dedicated work to make our curricula connect with the world it teaches about. The arts and humanities do open the mind to clear thinking and good work. We might consider using them more often to make those connections.

Which gets us back to poetry. We are human, all of us; we use the arts and humanities to communicate. Not just writers, artists, musicians, and actors, but suits running a powerpoint for other suits at a table, or a man with a cardboard sign saying, “stranded, anything helps.” Without that grounding, we might stumble through life; and, on a larger scale, lose sight of our on-going move toward a global civilization. We need the arts and humanities as much as we need science and technology.


Does poetry really relate to scientific inquiry in riparian areas?

How do I tell this need for the arts and humanities to a streambank? We can combine the streambank and the arts and humanities as we teach; the place and the tools. My own experience tells me that doing science with the assistance of the arts and humanities does work, does engage students in their studies, and does empower them as persons. When students draw what they observe on-site or at a lab bench, and condense each drawing to a word or phrase, use these to build an illustrated poem, write a story, or draw an accurate “photo” point then return in another season to re-draw and analyze it, they easily attain new concepts, and develop conceptual memories that remain with them. These memories tie the work to a personalized picture in their mind; the laying down of a conceptual memory. It is those kinetic, verbal, and visual records of what they experience which help build the strong conceptual memories that they will carry into their lives as something understood; just ‘common sense’.

Poetry, coupled with a drawing, can do this. Here’s a simple example of using the arts and humanities to help clarify conceptions in a stream study. Students are studying a section of a side-channel of the stream, comparing it with the main channel. You have them start the project by observing a reach they choose along the stream. As they decide on their particular reach, they get to know it by observing things there that they think might play a role in maintaining the main and side channels as habitat. This helps them begin to develop an incipient concept of a riparian area as an integrated organization of collaborating entities.

As they work, you ask them to express what they have observed with an incipient poem about the things, themselves, and their place in the stream; how they think that these things help maintain the work of the stream, and the life it supports. This poem is a work in progress, so they’ll add elements to it as they encounter them; updating it as they discover and understand more. Once they are engaged, you ask them to draw a birds-eye-view map of their reach, from stream bank to stream bank. When this is done, you ask them to use their observations, work, and poem to date, to build a section at the end of their poem that ties the parts of the map together within a conceptual framework to express the life of this stream.


They, not you, pull the work they’ve done on-site, and express it as a conceptual schematum

When their work is done, you bundle up and return to the classroom to begin to pull meaning from the evidence and thoughts they have engaged. And, to present each group’s findings and products to the class. The final presentation begins with a seminar report from each group on their work, results, interpretations, and recommendations. This presentation will utilize students’ data, insights, map, and poem, in a way that works best for them. They may wish to keep the map projected on a screen for their entire presentation, with verses of their poem interspersed to the place where they will fit best, or make the most sense. Some groups may wish to include an artful representation of their map. Others may wish to complete their presentation with a performance of their poem. Others may do the same, but with their map, data, etc., included in the performance in spots where they work well. Your job will be to comment on what each presentation brings to the goals and outcomes you had planned to achieve. The first time through, this is an interesting experience, sometimes with a challenge or two. A perfect learning experience for any teacher! Take notes, and incipient preparations for the next time you do this.

By this time, your students should have reached a place where they own their work, and know it intimately enough to begin to intuitively make decisions about it on their own. After the presentations are completed, each group hangs or posts their map and poem in the classroom. The class can then discuss the information in their posted maps and poems, and in their data and analysis sheets, to come to some consensus about connections among the elements of the stream, its environment, and its channels.

Then, they discuss and comment upon a question posed at the beginning of this article: “Can we celebrate our work in the field and lab by using poetry to facilitate teaching science as inquiry? What does the flow of thoughts, images of relationships, grammar and syntax, in poetry have that would make it an effective element to use while engaging in the process of science inquiry?” They’ll be ready to provide specific examples to support their thinking about this. As they share their thoughts, observe carefully for evidence that they have assumed ownership of the work, involvement and investment in their shared learnings, and personal empowerment. When you see evidence of this, ask some questions about it. How did they feel? When did they know they were on a profitable trail? What most helped them get to where they are? And, what part did the poem play in their inquiry? Was it effective in helping you think about the work, relationships around the components of the system?


Something for you to do:

If you did try this in some form or another, and it worked somewhat, but needed tweaking or major surgery, write a blog about your experience and post it to clearingmagazine.org. Or, post it as a comment here, just below the end of this blog, and I’ll get back to you.



jimphoto3This is a regular feature by CLEARING “master teacher” Jim Martin that explores how environmental educators can help classroom teachers get away from the pressure to teach to the standardized tests, and how teachers can gain the confidence to go into the world outside of their classrooms for a substantial piece of their curricula. See the other installments here, or search Categories for “Jim Martin.”

Connecting Art and Science

Connecting Art and Science

Making Science Engaging at Camp

Connecting art and science helps students find STEM classes more engaging and enjoyable

By Elli Korthuis


is a youth development organization that focuses on helping members, ages 5-19 years, grow as individuals through their mastery of their passions, referred to as their spark. The more traditional 4-H program offers clubs in projects such as sewing, presentations, and livestock. However, 4-H reaches a broader audience through its non-traditional programs including camp and in-school instruction.

We attempt to offer a broad range of classes at our 4-H camps including those in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). One of the reoccurring themes we see in 4-H camp evaluations is that the science classes are “boring” while the craft classes have remained highly popular. With the growing need for STEM education, we needed to find a way to make these classes more engaging and enjoyable for the youth.

Over 2017, my colleague, Robin Galloway, and I developed a camp class to teach aquatic science, microscope skills, and basic nature terminology. To engage the youth in the STEM themed class, we incorporated art lessons since this was where their interest resided according to past evaluations. It was initially to be taught at the Oregon 4-H Center in Salem for campers in grades 4 – 8 along with their camp counselors. The facility is in a forested region with camp cabins, several buildings for lessons, and a pond.

Drinking the Water

During the class, we started indoors with a discussion of what organisms and materials could be found in the pond. I opened by asking which youth would want to drink the water from the pond. To my surprise, nearly half the class agreed that it would be safe to drink the unfiltered pond water. Several more said they wouldn’t because it was “gross” but didn’t have an explanation for their answer. We talked about the flora and fauna that may leave their traces in the water all the way down to potential microscopic organisms. Terms were explained along the way but there was nearly always at least one youth that could define a scientific term for the class. It was also an opportunity to gauge how in depth their knowledge was of water particles from different sources.

After our discussion, we went as a group to the pond and they could compare their discussion to what they were seeing. We got a bucket of pond water for a water sample and the youth had the chance to identify some of the particulates. Clipboards with water color paper and a pencil were given to each youth and they were asked to draw the macroscopic world they were seeing on the top half of their paper. The drawing time gave us the opportunity to delve into how some of the organisms present could affect us if we drank the water and what other organisms and materials may be present at different sources such as the ocean, a river, or a swimming pool.

The class finished their drawings and we took our supplies and the water sample inside. I put a drop of the water sample on a microscope slide, making sure to include the particulates that had filtered to the bottom of the bucket. We had brought a digital microscope that included a small LCD screen to view the slide. In a larger group setting, this microscope could have been attached to a projector to show a greater audience. With our water sample under the microscope lens, we identified the materials and organisms. One of the highlights was when we found a mosquito larva and were able to use the highest magnification to view the blood platelets flowing through its open circulatory system. It wasn’t an original part of the lesson but an added bonus. Although some youth were disgusted by what they saw, the majority were fascinated and wanted to continue in the discoveries. The class was then asked to draw the microscopic organisms and particulates they had seen on the bottom half of their paper. We wanted to encourage the scientific fascination so after a quick explanation of how to use a microscope, the youth were free to continue searching for other organisms if they wished to during the allotted drawing time. We also discussed how some of the organisms they had seen impact our health and environment.

Although many of the youth were comfortable drawing what they saw, there were a few in each class that didn’t feel confident in their drawing skills. We encouraged them in different ways including saying perfection was not the goal and joking that it could be called abstract instead. The time constraint also helped encourage the youth that weren’t as confident drawing because they understood high quality drawings could not be expected in the given time.

Water color pencils were distributed after the initial drawings were done so the campers could fill in the color. While they were coloring, I poured our water sample into several cups and passed them around with paint brushes. The youth then created the water color painting by brushing the water sample over the water color pencil areas. While painting, they remarked on how the particulates from the pond water changed both the texture and color of their painting. We talked about how the results would be different if they had used another water source and they were overflowing with ideas.

Their views on whether they were willing to drink the pond water were drastically different from when we started the class. Not one camper wanted to drink the water and many were quick to offer their explanations why.


We ended with a quick evaluation to gauge how their opinions about both art and science had changed after taking the class. Some of the highlights from the evaluation include:

  • 71.11% agreed or strongly agreed science is not boring after taking this class.
  • 76.09% agreed or strongly agreed they want to learn more about science as a result of this class.
  • 63.64% agreed or strongly agreed they would do more art in their free time because of this class.

The evaluation method was also an experiment for our program. We were trying to encourage higher levels of participation since regular paper survey evaluations are turned down by a large percentage of attendees normally. Instead, we had larger flip chart papers with each evaluation question stuck to the wall with columns for strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree. Each youth was given a set of numbered stickers to share their opinion. This made the evaluation more engaging while remaining anonymous and encouraged more honest opinions. It was an extremely successful evaluation method that I will continue to use in the future.

After successfully conducting the class with 4th to 8th grade youth, we decided to offer it at a day camp for youth ages 5-8. The concepts were simplified but the class was still a high level science lesson for youth in this age group. They still discussed what the water sample contained, defined terms such as microscopic and macroscopic, learned how to use a microscope, and exceeded our expectations for their ages. These youth were not formally evaluated but from my individual conversations and the group discussions, I observed that the youth were engaged and excited about the entire class.

Since conducting the classes, this concept has been taught at the American Camp Association (ACA) 2017 Oregon Trail Fall Education Event where camp staff and directors from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho all enthusiastically agreed that they would like to incorporate it in their own classes. It will also be taught at the Western Regional Leaders Forum held in San Diego, CA in March 2018.

I am excited to expand this lesson into several 4-H camp STEM classes in the future. I believe that bridging the gap between art and STEM has proven itself to be a sound method for teaching “boring” science concepts to campers

Outdoor, Hands-on STEM Learning

Outdoor, Hands-on STEM Learning

Mary Birchem, Restoration Coordinator with Capitol Land Trust, guides students through a discussion of streamflow next to Johns Creek on the Bayshore Preserve. Photo by Bruce Livingston.

Outdoor Learning in Shelton: A Surge of Hope

by Eleanor Steinhagen


Bayshore Preserve – Shelton, WA

wo 7th graders have just tossed their pears into Johns Creek and are jogging downstream to see which one will cross the finish line first. Maneuvering around a large maple tree and jagged rocks on the stream’s bank, a handful of their classmates jog with them, including two “timers” who hold stopwatches in front of their chests, ready to hit the stop button when their designated pear reaches the finish line. The pears bob up and down for a moment, then drift into the creek’s swiftly flowing current and float eastward toward Oakland Bay.

The rest of the students are already standing at the finish line, peering upstream and cheering on their desired winner as they hunch forward and hide their hands in their sleeves to protect them from the frigid October morning air. It’s a sunny morning, but the temperature hovers in the high 30s and is slow to rise in the shade by the creek. As the winning pear crosses the finish line 25 seconds after the start of the race, several kids break into a loud cheer, while others throw their hands in the air, or turn away and yell, “Aw, man!” in disappointment.

The race was one of three that this group of 13 students conducted as a means of collecting the data they needed to measure streamflow in the creek at Bayshore Preserve, a 74-acre former golf course three miles northwest of Shelton, Washington, conserved by Capitol Land Trust in 2014. Before the race, the students learned about side channels and discussed how they impact flow; measured the distance from the race’s starting line to the finish line, or the “reach”; discussed key concepts they are learning in class, such as “ecosystem” and “biodiversity”; and, standing mere feet from the creek’s sand, cobble and stoneflies, they learned about the variety of sediments and creatures in northwest streams and where each can be found according to streamflow. Throughout the lesson, they used field journals to take notes and record data, including the depth and width of the section of the creek they were studying—information they would use to perform calculations in math class later that week.

The students’ work at Johns Creek is the culmination of three years of effort made by several groups to design and implement high impact field experiences for every student in the Shelton School District. The program started with a conversation at a community stakeholder meeting in 2014 between Margaret Tudor, then-Executive Director of Pacific Education Institute (PEI), Wendy Boles, Shelton School District Science Curriculum Leader and Science Teacher at Olympic Middle School, and Amanda Reed, Executive Director of Capitol Land Trust. Since the fall of 2015, Capitol Land Trust has been facilitating these field investigations for every 7th grader in the Shelton School District—serving around 300 students per year—using PEI’s trademark FieldSTEM model as a foundation for the work. In addition to Capitol Land Trust, Shelton School District and PEI, a handful of dedicated volunteers and other community stakeholders, such as the Squaxin Island Tribe, Mason County Conservation District, Green Diamond Resources and Taylor Shellfish, have stepped forward to support the program.

A student draws an example of a freshwater macroinvertebrate for his classmates to add to their field journals. Opportunities for students to share their work and learn from one another are built into the field investigation curriculum. Photo by Bruce Livingston.

This type of outdoor hands-on STEM learning appeals to many learner types and helps students overcome barriers to learning often found inside the classroom. During this first field investigation day, a group of students was asked why they liked learning science outside. Rian, a student at Olympic Middle School who used to go clamming near Bayshore with his mom and grandparents, said, ”I know some kids, they’re better with a complete visual. Not like a visual coming from a book, or written on a whiteboard.” Another student, Madison, said, “It’s good to be outside because you get physical education and you get to look at a lot of stuff,” she said. “I like coming out here to do hands-on learning and have fun with my friends.”

Capitol Land Trust in particular has done a lot of work to realize the initial vision of using Bayshore as a place to provide Shelton School District students with these learning opportunities. Daron Williams, Community Conservation Manager, and Mary Birchem, AmeriCorps Restoration Coordinator, are the land trust’s “boots on the ground,” making the improvements needed each year to transform the program from an average field trip to a PEI-style high impact field experience. Of his drive to help make these experiences happen for students, Daron said:

Doing FieldSTEM—where [students] can get the knowledge they need in a way that actually works for them—can help connect them with the land they live on. Shelton is an economically impoverished area. And a lot of families are struggling… As a small organization, we bring a capacity that the schools don’t have on their own. And that can make a difference in the students’ lives. Doing these project-based lessons, we could actually be helping students get through school that maybe wouldn’t have, and get them excited about science. This is a way to show them how science is connected to the real world.

To this end, Daron and Mary have worked tirelessly to increase student engagement and develop the program curriculum. When the program started in 2015, Daron collaborated with teachers to correlate what Bayshore offers and what is taught in the field to what students are learning in the classroom, ensuring that the lessons are aligned with state and national learning standards. In the summer of 2017, a year into her AmeriCorps service with Capitol Land Trust, Mary began recruiting additional volunteer teachers, and then designed and implemented a program to train them. Together, they have worked to adjust the schedule and coordinate the logistics of the field experience with district teachers. And on field experience days, both Mary and Daron work alongside the volunteer teachers to help them guide students through the FieldSTEM tasks.

This year especially, their effort shows. Viola Moran, student teacher at Olympic Middle School, shared her observation of Fiona (her name has been changed to protect her privacy) during the field investigation at Bayshore. A high-needs student in one of the district middle schools, Fiona doesn’t like to be the center of attention. As a rule, she doesn’t participate in activities or raise her hand in class. The commotion that comes with being in large groups of people makes her feel so uncomfortable that she waits in the bathroom until the hallways clear out during breaks before going to class. And when she gets there, she doesn’t want to sit with the other students.

When the Bayshore field investigation day was announced, Fiona said, “I’m not going. I’ll be sick that day.” But in spite of her reluctance, she got her permission slip in and ended up attending. And in the course of the afternoon, she became so engaged in the fieldwork that she and her classmates were doing that she volunteered to throw one of the pears during the fruit race. She also offered to draw an example of a macroinvertebrate on the board for the class—a profound shift from what Viola had observed in the classroom.

Throughout the first field investigation day, as well as the week following, Wendy, Viola, Mary, Daron and several of the volunteer teachers remarked that student engagement is at an all-time high this year. With the inevitable exceptions of “kids being kids,” the students listened attentively, asked questions, volunteered for a variety of tasks and diligently took notes and recorded their data. Viola and Wendy also observed that the students handled the creatures more gently this year than in the past. At the “Tidal Life” station, for example, on the first day of the field investigation, a group of students were so concerned about a hermit crab that had shed its shell in the molting process that they spent 10 minutes trying to persuade the crab to crawl into a shell they had found on the shore while offering various words of encouragement: “You want your shell!” and “Come on, man, you need a home!”

Students examine macroinvertebrates at the saltwater station. For many of them, this is the first time they’ve come into contact with the creatures that live in their surrounding area. Photo by Bruce Livingston.

Viola expounded on the above by adding:

Even though this is their community, there’s a good portion of [the students] that have never actually been around the creatures out there. And so, seeing the hermit crabs and the different specimens that they got to handle—they were just fascinated by that… And as they grow up, it’s right there. It’s a part of their environment.

What’s more, the impact of the field experience was evident in the classroom after the students went to Bayshore. “When we are going over ‘producer, consumer and decomposer,’” Viola said, “they are relating back to the information they got at Bayshore.”

Susie Vanderburg, retired elementary school teacher, former Thurston County Stream Team Coordinator and former Education Director for Olympia’s LOTT WET Science Center, agrees with Viola. “A lot of kids today are not getting exposed to the outdoors, not having experiences outside. They’re not given opportunities to love the land and be fascinated.” While her work as a volunteer is a big commitment, Susie does it because she believes that giving kids the opportunity to learn science outside, in the field, simultaneously gives them the opportunity to become stewards of the land they live on. “In environmental education we always say, once you get to know something, like a wetland or a prairie, then you begin to care about it. It’s personal. And if you care about it, then you’re willing to do something to protect it. If you never get outside and get to know the outdoors, you’re never going to care about it, you’re not going to protect it.”

While young people’s lack of exposure to the natural world poses a challenge, Wendy Boles, who is in her 15th year as a science teacher and is another major force behind implementing these powerful experiences for students, has begun to feel a surge of hope with a discovery she’s made in her classroom in recent years. It used to be that students entered her 7th grade class without any knowledge about (and very little interest in) the problems caused by issues such as overpopulation, resource depletion and pollution. In the past few years, however, Wendy has noticed in her students an increased awareness of and concern about climate change and environmental issues. She sees field investigations as an opportunity to help kids make the connection between these issues and how they impact their community. She hopes that by having real-world science learning experiences, her students will discover what they love to do, learn about science-related careers in their communities and be empowered to pursue them if that’s their dream.

Along with the work she does to help integrate the field investigation tasks with the district’s science curriculum, Wendy helps train volunteers and coordinate schedules with Capitol Land Trust, district teachers and the English language support staff that the district provides. “It is a lot of work. I mean a lot of work,” she said of the field investigation days. But all of that becomes worth it when she witnesses the new awareness among her students and their desire to safeguard the environment. “The kids are starting to go, Wow, we have to start caring about the environment. That to me is the biggest thing because if we aren’t taking measures to be good stewards, we are going to be in trouble. That’s my concern. Making sure that our planet can continue to support us in a way that we’re used to.”

At Bayshore, several individuals and community partners have come together to seize this opportunity by providing Wendy’s students, and every 6th and 7th grade student in the Shelton School District, with real-world, project-based, career-connected science education. The hope is that this education will enable them to lead richer and more meaningful lives, and that they, in turn, will draw from their time exploring and learning science out in their community to generate change where they can. Yes, it is a lot of work. Everyone involved agrees with Wendy on that. But they do it because they believe that the return will be well worth the effort.

Eleanor Steinhagen is the Communications Coordinator for Pacific Education Institute in Olympia, Washington.

STEM Learning: Quatama School/Oregon Zoo

STEM Learning: Quatama School/Oregon Zoo


by Alison Heimowitz

Every fall students in Sharon Angal’s third-grade classroom at Quatama Elementary, a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) school in the Hillsboro School District, wait patiently for the arrival of the “salmon lady.” “She’s here, she’s here!” is heard echoing down the hallway. Older students who have already experienced raising salmon in the classroom stop to say “hi.” Entering the classroom, sixty sparkling eyes are eager to meet the salmon eggs that will be reared in an aquarium. The students will care for the eggs until they grow into fry and are released. Water temperature will be monitored and recorded and any dead fish removed by a different student every day for approximately five weeks. As the fish grow, students actively engage in a series of classroom and field-based experiences including the creation of a large mural that celebrates the salmon’s life cycle and a field trip to Tillamook State Forest Center to observe wild spawning salmon. Release of the salmon fry into the Tualatin River, an event celebrated by students and their families at Tualatin Community Park, is a unit highlight. During the winter and spring, students put on their gloves, rain jackets and waterproof boots to restore salmon habitat in a section of Rock Creek at Orchard Park.

Quatama teachers learning how to incorporate NGSS standards into the curriculum.

A unique partnership makes this project possible. Three years ago staff from Quatama, the Oregon Zoo and the Portland Metro STEM Partnership (PMSP) teamed up to bring science to life and foster environmental literacy through relevant STEAM-related educational opportunities for Quatama students. Each partner plays an important role in project success. Quatama teachers develop/co-develop and implement activities and project units articulated from grades kindergarten through sixth that are aligned to science content standards. Zoo staff provides “salmon care” technical support to teachers, assists with curriculum development, and connects teachers to other community resources. PMSP staff provides professional development to support alignment to science content standards and use of STEM education best practices as well as utilization of student STEM identity measures. Other community partners also play a critical role. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife supplies the tanks, pumps, coolers and salmon eggs; Clean Water Services and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute provides bus transportation to field trip destinations.

The partnership launched two and a half years ago and targeted third grade students and teachers with support from a Metro “Nature in Neighborhoods” grant; it now reaches every Quatama student. Two years ago, in anticipation of Oregon’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Quatama, Zoo, and PMSP staff created a two-day professional development workshop designed to weave the salmon story through eac

A Quatama student learns about salmon fry in a classroom aquarium.

h grade while addressing relevant standards in the life science strand of NGSS. This workshop, funded by a Gray Family Foundation grant, gave teachers a better understanding of how to incorporate the new NGSS standards into their classroom curriculum and helped them begin development of the articulated K-6 curriculum. The life science units created during the workshop have continued to evolve over time. Having designated people from the Zoo and PMSP to work with each year has kept the development of new and refinement of old classroom and field experiences fresh, relevant and exciting for both teachers and students. It also has given teachers a chance to truly integrate curricular units with all components of STEM and the arts. Has the partnership made a difference in student learning? A short video (Bringing Conservation Education into Schools) developed by the Oregon Zoo Foundation provides anecdotal evidence of this project’s influence on student learning. Measurement by PMSP shows a continued growth in Student Academic Identity and Motivational Resilience (STEM Identity) (Figure 1).

Success of this partnership is based on a number of factors. First, Quatama leadership had the foresight and resources to hire a half-time TOSA (teacher on special assignment) to provide support to teachers as they carry out the school’s vision of equity to all students. Second, the basis for collaboration is one of co-creating rather than coordinating. TOSA, Zoo and Quatama staff meet together to create NGSS-aligned lessons and field experiences that are cohesive, relative, and provide meaningful learnin

Quatama students study macroinvertebrates.

g opportunities for students. A partner representative does not come in, teach, and then leave. Instead, the teacher is in charge of lessons; the partners are a resource. Teacher commitment to the process also makes a difference. Changing teaching practice is difficult and the first year is definitely hard. However, each year gets easier.

This collaboration also has proven to be a trifecta win for each of the partners. Quatama teachers have been able to learn from STEM experts how to create real world learning opportunities that inspire and motivate students to be active learners. For the Zoo, training the next generation of scientists and responsible citizens is vital to the Oregon Zoo’s mission “

Macroinvertebrate study.

Quatama students engaged in tree-planting activity during an outdoor education session.

to inspire the community to respect animals and take action on behalf of the natural world.” By partnering with Quatama, the Zoo has the opportunity to leverage its staff proficiency and deep ties within the community to provide an intensive learning opportunity. PMSP benefits by working with a school and partners dedicated to the long-term process of professional development and curriculum development/implementation.

The key to a project like this is to identify school and community partners who are looking to make long-term coordinated change to benefit students. If you would like to learn more about this partnership, feel free to contact Kristen Harrison with the Portland Metro STEM Partnership at Kristen.harrison@pdxstem.org, Alison Heimowitz with the Oregon Zoo at Alison.Heimowitz@oregonzoo.org, or Sharon Angal with Quatama Elementary School at angals@hsd.k12.or.us.


All photos courtesy of Alison Heimowitz.