Educating as if Survival Matters
Nancy M Trautmann Michael P Gilmore
BioScience, Volume 68, Issue 5, 1 May 2018, Pages 324–326, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biy026
22 March 2018
ver the past 40 years, environmental educators throughout the world have been aiming to motivate and empower students to work toward a sustainable future, but we are far from having achieved this goal. Urgency is evident in the warning issued by more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries: “to prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual… Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home” (Ripple et al. 2017).
In this tumultuous era of ecocatastrophes, we need every child to grow up caring deeply about how to live sustainably on our planet. We need some to become leaders and all to become environmentally minded citizens and informed voters. Going beyond buying greener products and aiming for energy efficiency, we must find ways to balance human well-being, economic prosperity, and environmental quality. These three overlapping goals form the “triple bottom line,” aiming to protect the natural environment while ensuring economic vitality and the health of human communities. This is the basis for sustainable development, defined by the United Nations as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987). Strong economies of course are vital, but they cannot endure at the expense of vibrant human societies and a healthy environment.
Within the formal K–12 setting, a primary hurdle in teaching for sustainability is the need to meaningfully address environmental issues within the constraints of established courses and curricular mandates. In the United States, for example, the Next Generation Science Standards designate science learning outcomes for grades K–12 (NGSS 2013). These standards misrepresent sustainability challenges by portraying them as affecting all humans equally, overlooking the substantial environmental justice issues evident within the United States and throughout the world. Another oversight is that these standards portray environmental issues as solvable through the application of science and technology, neglecting the potential roles of other sources of knowledge (Feinstein and Kirchgasler 2015).
One might argue that K–12 students are too young to tackle looming environmental issues. However, they are proving up to the challenge, such as through project-based learning in which they explore issues and pose potential solutions. This may involve designing and conducting scientific investigations, with the possibility of participating in citizen science. Case-study research into teen involvement in community-based citizen science both in and out of school settings revealed that the participants developed various degrees of environmental science agency. Reaching beyond understanding of environmental science and inquiry practices, this term’s definition also includes confidence in one’s ability to take positive stewardship actions (Ballard et al. 2017). The study concluded that the development of environmental science agency depended on involving teens in projects that included these three factors: investigating complex social–ecological systems with human dimensions, ensuring rigorous data collection, and disseminating scientific findings to authentic external audiences. Educators interested in undertaking such endeavors can make use of free resources, including an ever-growing compendium of lesson plans for use with citizen-science projects (SciStarter 2018) and a downloadable curriculum that leads students through the processes of designing and conducting their own investigations, especially those inspired by outdoor observations and participation in citizen science (Fee 2015).
We need to provide opportunities for students to investigate environmental issues, collect and analyze data, and understand the role of science in making informed decisions. But sustainability challenges will not be resolved through scientific approaches alone. Students also need opportunities to connect deeply with people from drastically different cultures and think deeply about their own lifestyles, goals, and assumptions. As faculty members of the Educator Academy in the Amazon Rainforest, we have had the privilege of accompanying groups of US teachers through 10-day expeditions in the Peruvian Amazon. Last summer, we asked Sebastián Ríos Ochoa, leader of a small indigenous group living deep in the rainforest, for his view of sustainability. Sebastián responded that he and his community are one with the forest—it is their mother, providing life and wholeness. Reflecting on the changes occurring at an accelerating rate even in remote rainforest communities, Sebastián went on to state that his greatest wish is for his descendants to forever have the opportunity to continue living at one with their natural surroundings (Sebastián Ríos Ochoa, Maijuna Community Leader, Sucusari, Peru, personal communication, 18 July 2017). After decades of struggle during which their rainforest resources were devastated by outside loggers and hunters (Gilmore 2010), this indigenous group has regained control over their ancestral lands and the power to enact community-based conservation practices. Their efforts provide compelling examples of how people (no matter how few in number and how marginalized) can effect positive change.
In collaboration with leaders of Sebastián’s remote Peruvian community and a nongovernmental organization with a long history of working in the area, US educators are creating educational resources designed to instill this same sense of responsibility in children growing up without such direct connections to nature. Rather than developing a sense of entitlement to ecologically unsustainable ways of life, we need children to build close relationships with the natural world, empathy for people with different ways of life, and a sense of responsibility to build a better tomorrow. Although the Amazon rainforest is a common topic in K–12 and undergraduate curricula, typically it is addressed through textbook readings. Instead, we are working to engage students in grappling with complex real-world issues related to resource use, human rights, and conservation needs. This is accomplished through exploration of questions such as the following: (a) How do indigenous cultures view, interact with, and perceive their role in the natural world, and what can we learn from them? (b) How do our lives influence the sustainability of the rainforest and the livelihoods of the people who live there? (c) Why is the Amazon important to us, no matter where we live? (d) How does this relate to the triple-bottom-line goal of balancing social well-being, economic prosperity, and environmental protection?
Investigating the Amazon’s impacts on global weather patterns, water cycling, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity leads students to see that the triple bottom line transcends cultures and speaks to our global need for a sustainable future for humans and the environment throughout the world. Tracing the origin of popular products such as cocoa and palm oil, they investigate ways to participate in conservation initiatives aiming for ecological sustainability both at home and in the Amazon.
Another way to address global issues is to have students calculate the ecological footprint attributable to their lifestyles, leading into consideration of humankind vastly overshooting Earth’s ability to regenerate the resources and services on which our lives depend. In 2017, August 2 was determined to be the date on which humanity had overshot Earth’s regenerative capacity for the year because of unsustainable levels of fishing, deforestation, and carbon dioxide emissions (Earth Overshoot Day 2017). The fact that this occurs earlier each year is a stark reminder of our ever-diminishing ability to sustain current lifestyles. And as is continually illustrated in news of climate disasters, human societies with small ecological footprints can be tragically vulnerable to such calamities (e.g., Kristof 2018).
Engaged in such activities, students in affluent settings may end up deriving solutions that shake the very tenet of the neoliberal capitalistic societies in which they live. To what extent should students be encouraged to challenge the injustices and entitlements on which world economies currently are based, such as by seeking ways to transform the incentive structures under which business and government decisions currently are made? Should they be asked to envision ways of overturning the unsustainable ways in which modern societies deplete resources, emit carbon dioxide, and destroy the habitats needed to support diverse forms of life on Earth?
Anyone who gives serious consideration to the environmental degradation and social-injustice issues in today’s world faces the risk of sinking into depression at the thought of a hopeless future. What can we possibly accomplish that will not simply be too little, too late? Reflecting on this inherent tension, Jon Foley (2016) stated, “If you’re awake and alive in the twenty-first century, with even an ounce of empathy, your heart and mind are going to be torn asunder. I’m sorry about that, but it’s unavoidable — unless you simply shut down and turn your back on the world. For me, the only solution is found in the space between awe and anguish, and between joy and despair. There, in the tension between two worlds, lies the place we just might find ourselves and our life’s work.”
Education for sustainability must build on this creative tension, capturing students’ attention while inspiring them to become forces for positive change.
Collaboration with the Maijuna is made possible through work of the OnePlanet nonprofit organization (https://www.oneplanet-ngo.org) and Amazon Rainforest Workshops (http://amazonworkshops.com).
Nancy Trautmann was supported through a fellowship with the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany, to develop curricular resources that highlight the Maijuna to inspire U.S. youth to care about conservation issues at home and abroad.
Ballard HL, Dixon CGH, Harris EM. 2017.
Youth-focused citizen science: Examining the role of environmental science learning and agency for conservation. Biological Conservation 208: 65–75.
Earth Overshoot Day. 2017. Earth Overshoot Day 2017 fell on August 2. Earth Overshoot Day. (1 December 2017; www.overshootday.org)
FeeJM. 2015. BirdSleuth: Investigating Evidence. Cornell Lab of Ornithology . (15 January 2018; http://www.birdsleuth.org/investigation/)
FeinsteinNW, KirchgaslerKL. 2015.
Sustainability in science education? How the Next Generation Science Standards approach sustainability, and why it matters. Science Education 99: 121–144.
Foley J.2016. The space between two worlds. Macroscope . (28 October 2016; https://themacroscope.org/the-space-between-two-worlds-bc75ecc8af57)
Gilmore MP. 2010. The Maijuna: Past, present, and future . 226–233 in Gilmore MP, Vriesendorp C,Alverson WS, del CampoÁ, von MayR, WongCL, OchoaSR, eds. Perú: Maijuna. The Field Museum.
KristofN.2018. Swallowed by the sea. New York Times. (23 January 2018 ; www.nytimes.com/2018/01/19/opinion/sunday/climate-change-bangladesh.html)
[NGSS] Next Generation Science Standards. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. NGSS. (10 October 2017; www.nextgenscience.org)
Ripple WJ et al. 2017. World scientists’ warning to humanity: A second notice. BioScience
SciStarter. 2018. SciStarter for Educators. SciStarter . (12 February 2018; https://scistarter.com/educators)
[WCED] World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future . Oxford University Press.
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact email@example.com
How do we train educators to successfully interface technologies with the outdoor experiences that they provide their students?
by R. Justin Hougham,
University of Wisconsin – Extension
Technology in education (ed tech) is constantly changing and growing in impact in classrooms across the globe. While ed tech holds great promise for closing achievement gaps in sectors of the education community, it remains yet to be seen how this will truly live up to its potential (“Brain Gains”, 2017, July 22). Ed tech is anticipated to grow to a $120 billion market by 2019, which will largely be spent in software and web services. How might we hope to see this show up in out-of-classroom field experiences?
Unaddressed in these articles and what we explore here are the specific impacts that the conversation of technology in environmental education brings as well as a case study that shares strategies we have found to be effective when an education considers the merging of hardware (inquiry tools), technology application in professional development, and web-based collaboration tools. Important questions for environmental education ask include How does this scale for education for the environment? What considerations need to be taken to ensure that investment works? How would we know if it does? How do we train educators to successfully interface technologies with the outdoor experiences that they provide their students? In an article published here in Clearing in 2012, we explored the instructional framework for merging field based science education with mobile pedagogies in the framework entitled Adventure Learning @ (Hougham, Eitel, and Miller, 2012). In the years since, this model has informed a collection of hardware kits that supports the concepts in AL@ as well as an examination of the questions outline above, these hardware kits are called Digital Observation Technology Skills (DOTS) kits.
In the middle fork of the Salmon River in Idaho you’ll see Steelhead, rushing rapids and hot springs that all tell the story of the landscape. Similarly, along the Wisconsin River, you will see towns, forests and fields that have a link to the industries that have shaped the state over the last 150 years. If you’re in the right spot at the right time, you can find inquisitive young people and bright yellow cases filled with gadgets taking data points and crafting Scientific Stories about the watersheds in their state. Regardless of whether it is a wild river or a small tributary outside a schoolyard- scientific stories wait to be told in these places and technology that is appropriately considered helps unlock and share these experiences.
A naturalist assists youth with a water quality test while on a canoe trip. Photo credit: DOTS participant.
In a world where technology is almighty, wielding digital literacy is practically a requirement in our understanding of just about everything. The students of today are able to navigate through web pages and apps with ease, information at their fingertips like never before. Here, we can find ourselves removed from that information, disconnected from those data sources and collections, stifling our desire to wonder and inquire more. By investing in digital tools that can enhance inquiry of the natural world, educators can bridge this divide of both information and the ability to be a primary data collector. In equipping students with touchscreens and interfaces familiar to youth of today, they are able to partake in not only real world application of scientific observation, but also experimental design and efforts moving toward the future.
Young people in Wisconsin have been contributing to the development of this idea of digital data collection and inquiry, through DOTS. The DOTS program has been developing in Wisconsin since 2014, engaging both youth and adult demographics in digital literacies, and connecting the dots from data collection to inquiry and analysis. By involving youth in the visualization and comparison of their data collections, they are able to begin to accomplish higher order learning such as developing their own hypotheses and synthesize the meaning of their findings. DOTS has been developed for students in 4th through 8th grades but has been modified for audiences in 2nd through high school, including adult learners, continuing education, and professional development.
Case studies of this application vary widely in scale, location and content. Currently DOTS kits are used in Idaho and in Wisconsin by youth to examine water quality. A full-scale implementation is underway currently in Wisconsin to connect youth from many different watersheds. Held this past August, the Wisconsin Water Youth Stories Summit brought together students from across the state of Wisconsin who are interested in not only environment and ecosystems, but also water quality and sharing their “water stories”. Supported by an EPA grant, this Summit was a culminating experience for many of the youth, getting to collect and share their findings over their 3 day period at Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center (Grant Number: EPA-00E02045). This two year grant has trained and equipped educators with DOTS tool with an emphasis on water quality monitoring. Throughout the year, youth from around Wisconsin collect data and share their findings with others in real time on the web. At the Water Stories Summit, each group brought their DOTS kit to explore the environment and compare collected data sets. This experience not only brought together young scientists with a vested interest in the future of water, but also allowed students to share stories of local water quality that affects their own communities around the state.
A student uses a water quality test to find the amount of phosphorus at a Wisconsin River location. Photo credit: DOTS participant.
Many shared stories about urban run-off pollution, such as lawn fertilizers and road salt, E. coli contamination, and they discussed the ways in which humans alter natural waterways. At the end of their experience one student said they learned that, “science is being precise and unbiased about nature and numbers.” Another student said of a different Upham experience, “We went to Blackhawk Island for our project. The tools helped us take photos of what was under the rock. The tools help to see what animals were living there. We came up with a lot of new questions after we did our research and we can’t wait to find out things like, if the temperature affects what animals we will find living under a rock, and what animals live at different depths.” Through these collaborations of student generated data, participants were able to make connections between each other and drive further inquiry questions such as how to improve water use and consumption, and how the water affects all other life.
While the kits themselves are certainly an enhancement to a variety of curriculum, the training that accompanies the deployment is just as important as the tools themselves. Educators that partner on DOTS projects are supported with (1) Equipment, (2) Training and (3) a Web platform for collaboration. It is the interrelationship between the inquiry tools, inquiry methods and inquiry artifacts that provide the support for transformative outdoor science experiences.
A DOTS kit consists of a select set of digital tools to equip youth and educators with everything they need to take a basic data set of an ecosystem and microclimate. Contained in a water-proof, heavy-duty case, the tools selected are chosen for their utility, cost effectiveness, and ease of use. Any suite of tools can be selected for an individual’s classroom purposes, this is first and foremost, a framework to scaffold inquiry and observational skills. DOTS users gain field experience with hand held weather stations, thermal imagers, digital field microscopes, GPS units, and cameras to contribute to local citizen science monitoring (Hougham and Kerlin, 2016). A DOTS program training is facilitated by program staff and has evolved over time to include these six goals. While these are used in DOTS, nearly any technology implementation would benefit from these goals being outlined.
- Establish functional and technical familiarity with DOTS Kit hardware
- Orientation to DOTS Kit web interface, data uploading, and site visualizations
- Examination of mobile, digital pedagogies in historical as well as applied contexts
- Advance instructional capacities in application of observation and inquiry facilitation applicable to experiences outside the classroom
- Production of digital artifacts that contribute to Scientific Storytelling
- Facilitation of initial curricular design considerations for integrating kits into existing programs
After the training, educators have access to a suite of tools that can be lent out for deeper science connections in outdoor spaces. Further, trained educators can use grab-and-go lessons from the project website to launch the concepts with their students and watch videos produced and hosted on the site that provide further instruction on applications of the tools.
Lastly, a web-based collaboration platform is hosted to support the development of additional inquiry. To continue this mission of enhancing student inquiry and promoting collaboration, data sets can be uploaded to an online public access platform. As users enter their data online, the map displays in real time the coordinates and information of each data point. Viewers can easily navigate a Google map with their and other’s data points for comparison and post-experience observation. This immediate viewership not only falls in line with today’s student’s understanding of a fast-paced, immediately available world, but also allows no stagnation in the learning process as inquiry can continue instantaneously. Through engagement by use of digital tools collecting data in the field, reflection on process and methods through data entry into the web-based model, and through analysis and refinement of hypothesis for further inquiry, students take ownership of their data and have a voice in sharing their discoveries with others. These inquiries have been qualified in the DOTS programming through use of a “scientific story”.
The scientific story helps to build connection between qualitative and quantitative data and their respective ways of understanding. As humans we have told stories for millennia to entertain, educate, and remember. Combining these elements of storytelling with the scientific method of developing hypotheses and data collection, a story is created to share. These stories are generally 3-5 sentences and include photos taken by camera and tools such as the handheld microscope and thermal imager. In taking a closer look with digital tools, a deeper appreciation is gained and honed in on through these scientific stories and it is through these words that we can harness stories in what they do best: share. They can be digitized and easily shared across social media platforms, creating interest in the environment and science in family and community members.
This story written while at Upham woods during the aforementioned Water Stories Summit, and describes the location and inquires the youth had.
We investigated two different locations as a part of the water study blitz at Upham Woods. The first location was the Fishing shore on the Wisconsin River, and the second location was a stagnant inlet only 100 feet away. We noticed several differences between the two locations. We wanted to know more about the animal life in both locations. What kind of animals live in these habitats that we couldn’t see during the blitz? What would we find if we studied the location where the Fishing Shore and Inlet connect?
This story highlights the questions students wanted to investigate further and spurred their desire to continue comparing locations in the context of animal life. Another story from the Water Stories Summit illustrates a group of high school students making connections between ideas and places.
When doing the data blitz at camp, we tested water for all kinds of factors (pH, Conductivity, Salinity and others). The cool thing we noticed was the differences in PH levels of the water that equaled a 9.49 level that makes water a base. This reminded us of what would happen if water had a unbalanced and non neutral PH level, that was out of control… One example of this is a sulphur pit, like in Yellowstone national park. The pH of this water is as low as 1.2, which is almost equivalent to battery acid.
By encouraging students to develop their own scientific story, they create a deeper connection with that place and nature in general. This connection evolves to a jumping off point for further inquiry and hypothesis development which can be fleshed out into full empirical science studies or harnessed into environmental service projects. Additionally, as data sets can be shared, these students in Wisconsin can use the data collected in Idaho to further their hypotheses and promote scientific collaboration.
A naturalist teaches an Escuela Verde student how to take a water quality reading. Photo credit: DOTS participant.
Throughout the use of this approach research suggests that digital tools should be adopted in environmental education whenever possible (Hougham et al., 2016). To assess participant perspectives, DOTS uses a modified Common Measures instrument (National 4-H Council, 2017) to examine student attitudes towards technology and towards nature. In a 2015 study conducted by the DOTS project research team (Hougham et al., 2016), students where engaged in two iterations of an environmental studies curriculum- one was with traditional analogue toolsets and one was with digital toolsets. In an analysis of pre/post-test evaluation responses (n= 135), students showed statistically significant and positive shifts in attitudes towards technology, the use of technology outdoors, and towards investigating nature. In a review of the data from DOTS users for both profession development and youth workshops (n=71), it was found that 97% of participants of all ages agreed or strongly agreed that they “better understand how science, technology, or engineering can solve problems after using the DOTS tools”, and 89% said they agreed or strongly agreed that they “liked learning about this subject”.
This survey data provides insight on scaffolding and curiosity building techniques. In this way, it was found that lessons on observation were most useful when they began with broad scale observations and students were invited to make more focused observations. This system allows for students to explore a part of the world that they find interesting, making them more invested in a narrative authentic to them. The practice of up close observation is nothing new in environmental education, notably Adventures with a Hand Lens was published in 1962, advancing outdoor science instruction to engage the learner in their own investigations of the world up close. Today, this observation scaffolds easily onto data collection, with students studying parts of the ecosystem that they find interesting with encouragement to find how these seemingly individual pieces coalesce into a larger system.
In moving environmental education into the digital age, educators should look to empower youth with the tools and responsibility to examine their surroundings, and in encouraging youth to take and use technology outside, educators can capitalize on students collecting their own data sets to develop deeper, more meaningful inquiry questions. And when they can begin developing their own questions that they want to answer rather than following a worksheet or handout, the exploration becomes that much more desirable and satiating. Those young people wielding handheld weather stations and thermal imagers on the Salmon River or on the Wisconsin may appear to be kids collecting some information for science project, but don’t be fooled, the next generation of scientists and scientific thinkers is out there, already developing their inquiries into the natural world.
- Brain Gains. (2017, July 22). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21725313-how-science-learning-can-get-best-out-edtech-together-technology-and-teachers-can
- Headstrom, R.. (1962). Adventures with a Hand Lens.
- Hougham, R. J., Eitel, K. B., & Miller, B. G. (2013). AL@: Combining the strengths of adventure learning and place based education. 2012 CLEARING Compendium (pp 38-41).
- Hougham, J. and Kerlin, S. (2017). To Unplug or Plug In. Green Teacher. Available at: https://greenteacher.com/to-unplug-or-plug-in/.
- Hougham, R., Nutter, M., Nussbaum, A., Riedl, T. and Burgess, S. (2016). Engaging at-risk populations outdoors, digitally: researching youth attitudes, confidence, and interest in technology and the outdoors. Presented at the 44th Annual International Symposium on Experiential Education Research, Minneapolis, MN.
- National 4-H Council. (2017). Common Measures 2.0.
- Technology is transforming what happens when a child goes to school. (2017, July 22). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21725285-reformers-are-using-new-software-personalise-learning-technology-transforming-what-happens
Dr. R. Justin Hougham is faculty at the University of Wisconsin- Extension 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 for sustainability.
Marc Nutter manages the facility of Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center located in Wisconsin Dells, WI which serves over 11,000 youth and adults annually. With the research naturalist team at Upham Woods, Marc implements local, state, and federal grants around Wisconsin aimed to get youth connected to their local surroundings with the aid of technology that enhances observation.
Megan Gilbertson is currently a school psychology graduate student at Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. While working at Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center, she collaborated on grant funded projects to create and curate online data platforms for educational groups and facilitate programs for both youth and adults on the integration of technology with observation and inquiry in environmental education.
Quinn Bukouricz is a research naturalist involved with technology-integrated programming statewide, funded on grants and program revenues. He is also responsible the creation and care of programmatic equipment which includes the “Digital Observation Technology Skills” kits, and the implementation of grants.
On a sunny fall day in Oregon students are outdoors learning about the new citizen science observation site in their schoolyard. With a mix of 4th and 5th grade exuberance and the seriousness of adults they are taking on the mission of gathering basic data for a section of their school yard scientific study and research area. These students are part of the Oregon Season Tracker 4-H classroom program that is regularly getting them outdoors for real world science. As the teacher explains, this is the first of many data gathering sessions as part of their yearlong commitment to the program. This real world data will support researchers to gain a better understanding of climate change across Oregon.
regon Season Tracker (OST) 4-H classrooms are a companion to the Oregon State University Extension Oregon Season Tracker adult citizen science program http://oregonseasontracker.forestry.oregonstate.edu/ . In the adult program, volunteers are gathering and reporting their observations of precipitation and plant seasonal changes in a statewide effort. Started in 2013 and targeting adults, it quickly became evident to everyone involved that the program had clear applications to outdoor hands-on “experiential” science learning for students.
The foundation of the OST program is based on a partnership between OSU Extension and HJ Andrews Experimental Forest located in Blue River, near the midpoint of the Cascade Mountain range https://andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu/ . The Andrews is a leading center for long term research, and a member of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program. The 16,000 acre research forest in the McKenzie river watershed in the Cascade Mountains was established in 1948, with paired watershed studies and several long-term monitoring programs initiated soon after. Today, it is jointly managed by the US Forest Service and OSU for research into forest and stream ecosystems, and the interactions among ecological dynamics, physical processes, and forest governance.
Part of the success of the Oregon Season Tracker program is that we have also collaborated with national programs, Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) https://www.cocorahs.org/ and National Phenology Network (NPN) Nature’s Notebook https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook, as well as our local partner. A key role of our national partners is their ability to collect, manage and store the data, making it available both to professional and citizen scientists. This national connection makes sure the data is available long-term and easily accessible locally as well as nationally and beyond. Both of our national partners have easy to use web based visualization tools that allow volunteers and students to easily look at and interpret data. In the classroom this means not only are students helping ongoing professional research, they can also investigate or research their own science questions using the data of others. Partnering with these national database sites also allows OST to stretch our resources further, spending our time and energy supporting the volunteers and classrooms in our program.
Zero is important data when reading the rain gauge!
Back at the school, it is 8:30 am and a student team is checking and recording the level of precipitation for the last 24 hours. The rain gauge station is set up outside the school entrance and is clearly marked with a sign explaining what the students are doing. Parents and visitors can clearly see they are part of the Oregon Season Tracker 4-H program collecting precipitation and plant phenology data as citizen scientists. The sign calls attention to their efforts and gives the students a sense of pride in what they are doing.
Students use a program approved manual rain gauge that is standardized nationally. They become comfortable reading the gauge marked out in hundreds of an inch and how to conform to set data protocols. They learn not to round measurements for accuracy, to read using the bottom of the meniscus, and how to deal with an overflow event. All skills that have math applications for what they are doing. Depending on the grade of the students these skills are new or a refresher of what they already know, but important none the less.
Students learned the rain gauge skills at the beginning of the year in outdoor relay races using Super Soakers to simulate rainfall in their gauge. Teams vie to see who can get the most “rainfall” into their gauge. The casual observer might mistake this activity for recess, but they are having fun learning the needed math skills. By learning to read the manual gauge to .01 of an inch they are following the protocols set out by our national partner CoCoRaHS.
The daily precipitation observations are establishing a piece of the scientific process. As part of the team approach, the observations readings are verified before dumping out the day’s accumulation. Students begin to get a feel for what an inch of precipitation looks like, both as it falls from the sky and what it looks like in the gauge. The data collected is then passed on to another student team that hovers over the classroom computer, entering it in the national CoCoRaHS website. Data entered by 9:00 am is shared on an interactive map, for any visitor to the website to view.
The data submitted to the CoCoRaHS website is accessed and used by meteorologists, hydrologists, water managers, and researchers. It is also captured daily by the PRISM Climate Group, one of our local OSU partners. PRISM gathers climate observations from a wide range of monitoring networks (including CoCoRaHS), to develop short and long term weather models that are in turn used by still more groups and agencies reporting on and studying weather and climate. This is an important thing for all our adult and student observers to realize: their data is real, it is important, and it gets used.
So for those students that are worried that their data will just get lost in the mountains of reports submitted every day, I’d like to share this experience. This past year, I worked with a teacher that received an urgent email from the National Weather Service within a short time after the Monday morning rainfall report was entered in the database. The Weather Service continuously monitors for extreme weather, and were checking on the accuracy of the morning report of over 2 inches of rain. Quick sleuthing found the students had made an error in submitting their data. Instead of making a multiday report for the weekend they had made a single day report. This was an eye opening experience for the students, not only to realize their data is being used but also that scientists are depending on them to be accurate.
Monitoring a rain gauge is an easy lesson to expand or extend into other topics. Students can be challenged to look for weather patterns by comparing their own station with others across your county, state, and even the nation. Alternatively, by graphing daily data or comparing the rainfall data against topographic maps. These types of observations can challenge students to see patterns and make connections. This leads to investigating essential questions such as: how do these weather and climate patterns play out across the state and how does this effect what and who lives in these locations?
Observing fruiting on a common snowberry shrub.
OST students are also tracking plant phenology or growth phases over the year. They will be reporting on leaf out, flowering, fruiting, and leaf drop. By pairing these plant change observations with the precipitation readings, researchers have a powerful tool in the study of climate and the role it plays in plant responses. The OST program has identified eight priority native plant species that we encourage using if possible. These priority plants 1) mirror plants studied at the Andrews Forest, 2) have a large footprint across the state, and 3) are easy to identify. By targeting this small group of priority plants, we add density to the data collected making it more useful for our research partners. Our research partners at the Andrew’s Forest have many long-term studies looking at phenology and climate. They not only look at plant phenology but intensively study the ecosystem connections with watersheds, insects and birds. OST phenology data collected by students and volunteers allow the researchers to apply their findings and connections on a larger statewide scale.
Back at school, we now shadow a High School class. Students in an Urban Farm manage and work in a small farm on the school grounds, growing market vegetables and managing a small flock of egg laying hens. As part of their Urban Farm, they have planted a native pollinator buffer strip surrounding their large market garden. In this pollinator garden, they have planted vine maple, snowberry and Pacific ninebark, several of the OST priority plants, which they are observing weekly. They started their strip by studying the needs of the plants looking at soils, sunlight, and water needs. They then matched appropriate plants with their site, found a source and planted their buffer strip. Adding native plants to their buffer helps to attract and sustain the native pollinators in their garden. These students carry a field journal out to the garden and collect phenology data weekly as one of the garden jobs.
Just like precipitation data, observing and reporting on plant phenology has a set of protocols that need to be followed to standardize the data, and ensure accuracy. OST and Nature’s Notebook (our national partner with the National Phenology Network) are looking for the timing of some distinct phenophases or plant lifecycle stages. The students concentrate on looking for leaf bud break, emerging leaves, flowers and buds, fruiting or seeds, and leaf drop. Nature’s Notebook has defined criteria for reporting each one of these stages.
We have found students as young as 3rd graders can be accurate and serious phenology scientists with a progression of training and understanding. It all starts with being a good observer, one of those important science skills. We have found one of the best tools to teach observation is to consistently use a field journal (e.g., field notebook, science journal, nature journal) when working outdoors. A field journal is a tool that helps to focus students and keep them on track, and to differentiate their outdoor learning time from free time or recess. A simple composition book works well, is inexpensive, and is sturdy enough to last through the seasons.
Start with a consistent expectation of what a field journal entry will include and help students to set this up before they go out in the field. Page prompts will help younger students focus on the task. At a minimum, all field journal entries should include the date, time, weather, and location. Depending on the focus of the day, have students include sketches, labels, and notes on colors. Have students include at least one “I wonder” question they would like to investigate and learn more about. Use the field journals as a tool to help students focus in on the plant they are observing for OST, but also encourage them to observe everything around them. This broader look is what leads students to make those ecological connections that just may spark their interest in science and lead to a lifelong study.
Phenology photo cards help with recording data.
As students get comfortable using a field journal we introduce phenology. Phenology is the study of nature’s seasonal changes, and a scientist who studies phenology is looking at the timing of those seasonal changes and the relationship to climate. Although OST focuses on plant phenology, the observational skills can apply to wildlife and insects, for example reproduction and migration. Phenology is an easy observable phenomena that can lead your science study and help meet Next Generation Science Standards http://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/phenomena .
We use a fun activity to introduce phenology and help students focus on what is happening outdoors in the natural world. Start by having students brainstorm in their field journal a list of all the things they can remember occurring outside during their birthday month. They can use plant cues, animal migrations, weather and light. For example,, “the earliest bud break has already happened, daffodils are blooming, the daylight hours become equal to the night hours, and the early bird migrants have arrived” (March). Once they have their list, pair them up with someone who does not already know their birthday. Then have them trade clues to see if they can guess each other’s birthday month. For younger students you may decide to help them with a class brainstorm and write the different nature clues on the board under headings for each month.
Once the student have a good understanding of the concept of phenology we go outside to start observing. OST has developed some handy plant phase field cards that have pictures and definitions for students to refer to and compare as we learn the phenophases in the field. Nature’s Notebook has printable data sheets that students can take out in the field to record their data. We have found that by copying these data sheets at the reduced size of 87%, they fit into the composition book field journal and can be glued in to create a long term record of data at the site.
Using technology to create an informational video.
Technology also plays a key role when doing citizen science with your students. Both Nature’s Notebook and CoCoRaHS have developed easy to use free apps. The versions work with both Apple and Android devices, so you could use them on phones and tablets as well as entering data online with classroom computers. We take it one-step further and use the tablets to document the student learning. Each student team works on creating an informational video of the project over the school year. We give them the option of creating a video to train other students or make a video to communicate their work back to our partner researchers at the Andrews Forest. This video becomes an assessment tool for teachers and is something that the students enjoy. We limit the videos to no more than a three minutes, which means they need to plan it out well. They spend some of the slower winter months creating a storyboard, writing scripts, filming and editing. A 5th grade teacher at Muddy Creek School said, “The iPads engaged my most distractible students. Also, everyone was vested in this project because of the fun the iPads bring to the table. Basically, iPads were a great motivation to learn the science.” For Apple products, you can download a free version of iMovie for creating and editing your final product. There are also free editing apps that can be used on Android devices. Here is one of our early attempts using a movie trailer format https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KdNPZp-1Fs
In exchange, “Researcher Mark” (Schulze) from the Andrews Forest is in a video we created for the students. Walking through the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest we visit one of the many phenology plots at the forest. Mark explains how the phenology plots are scattered across a gradient of elevations at the Andrews. This allows them to look at plant responses to weather and climate as well as delving much deeper, making connections to insects, birds, soils, drought and much, much more. Mark explains that he is gathering data on some of the very same species as the students, and looking for the same phenophases. He takes them on tour of one of the many meteorological stations at the Andrews to see the many different climate instrumentation and variables that they are studying. In the end, Mark shares how valuable their citizen science data is to the future study of climate.
So, what does the Andrews research community hope to get out of collaborating with OST citizen scientists? With the wealth of information they are amassing, they are also interested in seeing if the trends and patterns they are documenting on the Andrews hold true across the varied landscape of Oregon. There is no stream of funding that could finance this kind of massive scientific study except through tapping into the interest and help of volunteer citizen scientist including teachers and classrooms across Oregon. In this circular process of interactions between researchers and volunteers we hope to extend the conversations about climate science, and document the landscape level changes for the future.
It is easy to see how the students benefit, both by applying “real science” outdoors on a regular basis, and their career exploration as scientists. Teacher’s surveys report taking their students outdoors to work on science an additional 8 – 12 times per year because of this program. One Middle School science teacher says, “A great opportunity to get students collecting ‘real’ or authentic data. Given that the work is from a national source it also helped students take ownership of their project and feel its importance.” Students also learn and practice many of the NGSS standards and science practices working on and experiencing real world problems, not just reading about it in a text book.
Climate change is a real and sometimes overwhelming problem for many students, leaving them with a sense of helplessness. What impresses me the most with the students in the program is that they come away with a mindset of how they can have a positive impact in the field of climate science. When asked what they liked best about this program student surveys stressed that positive connection, “Helping scientists felt good.” “That I can make a difference.” “By helping researcher Mark, it was not just for fun it was real.” A good step in building the ecological thinkers and problem solvers we need for our future.
Jody Einerson is the OSU Extension 4-H Benton County and Oregon Season Tracker statewide coordinator.
Four Lessons in Global Education from the Beatles
By Sean Gaillard, June 19, 2017
Editor’s note: Sean Gaillard, principal of Lexington Middle School in Lexington, North Carolina, is a huge proponent of international collaboration for students in his school. In this essay he shares lessons in global education connections from an unlikely source: The Beatles.
The Beatles as Global Education Pioneers
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band album by the Beatles. Over the last few months, the album has been the subject of many celebrations in the media. Special edition re-releases have reached the top of album charts. Retrospective commentaries on the innovative nature of this game-changing album by the most successful musical group in history abound. In the midst of this commemoration, another important footnote in Beatles history has been overlooked. This is also the upcoming 50th anniversary of “All You Need Is Love.”
This song is essentially an early example of a global Skype conversation. In 1967, the BBC produced a television special entitled “Our World,” which was the first live global satellite link-up. It aired in 25 countries simultaneously, and each participating country produced a representative segment—Great Britain was represented by the Beatles. The “Our World” audience watched the Beatles in the studio recording “All You Need Is Love.” John Lennon, the song’s primary lyricist, used it to capture a simple, universal message.
In late June 1967, the 400 million global citizens who tuned into the “Our World” broadcast saw the Beatles bedecked in flowers and beads with a group of friends, including Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Marianne Faithful singing to the infectious chorus. Signs of “All You Need Is Love” written in several different languages were carried and flashed at the camera by various audience members.
Using technology to reach a global audience with the mindset to intentionally build community, empathy, and connection is a good example of taking action, one of the pillars of global competence. Educators, thought leaders, and organizations use this template on many levels to help students build global competence. Whether intentional or not, the Beatles served as global education pioneers with the example they set in this 1967 broadcast. Educators can glean many lessons from the Beatles and adapt them to support the needs of all students.
Lessons in Global Education from The Beatles
- Demonstrate a Positive Mindset: The message in “All You Need Is Love” is an anthem for the growth mindset expressed in the simplest of terms. Connecting with organizations with similar mindsets, like Teach SDGs, a United Nations-affiliated project to empower educators to teach about the sustainable development goals, provide resources for promoting a positive mindset and developing creative solutions for global challenges.
- Leverage and Integrate Technology: The Beatles understood the magnitude of what was then a new and innovative communication platform. They made sure that their message was simple, clear, and identifiable. Likewise today, there are numerous technology resources that can be leveraged to promote global awareness. Tools like Skype, Google Hangout, and Flipgrid are just a few of the tools breaking new ground in global communication among classrooms all over the world.
- Connect and Collaborate: Collaboration is the unsung element in the success of the Beatles. Global collaboration is more than just a simple “one and done” Skype session with another classroom or a token world map tossed on a bulletin board. Global collaboration is a sustained movement of inspired dialogue, vision building, and strategic planning. Twitter is one avenue for educators to build a network of global collaboration. Following Twitter hashtags like #GlobalEd, #GlobalEdChat, or #TeachSDGs will lead to an endless array of like-minded, inspiring educators who are ready to connect, support, and collaborate on global action projects.
- Take Global Action: The Beatles could have simply recorded “All You Need Is Love” and released it in the traditional manner. By agreeing to participate in a live broadcast for a global audience, they took global action in a daring way. Consider that the band had retired from live performance by that time but chose the “Our World” broadcast as a platform to perform and share a global message for unity, peace, and understanding. Organizations like the Global Oneness Project, Calliope Global, and Asia Society provide resources for educators to assist students in taking on global action projects to solve problems and create empathy.
As a principal, it is important for me to model ways to connect our students to enacting the incredible potential they all possess. Participating in Skype sessions with new international friends is a way to build the vision of preparing our students to be positive, future-ready innovators. Supporting global education projects in the schoolhouse is one way to build and sustain a positive school culture. The inspiring lessons of the Beatles is one of many musical riffs out there for educators to mine for global action.
Combining the Strengths of Adventure Learning and Place-based Education
How re-conceptualizing the role of technology in place-based education enhances place responsive pedagogies through technology.
by R. Justin Hougham,
Karla C. Bradley Eitel and
Brant G. Miller
University of Idaho
Technology in Place-based Environmental Education
In the 21st century, students need to be able to communicate through a variety of mediums, be critical consumers of vast amounts of written and visual data, and possess skills and dispositions for addressing complex global issues with local implications, such as climate change. As practitioners of residential place-based environmental education that seeks to foster scientific literacy and connect students to place, we have traveled cautiously into the cyber-enabled landscape because of a deeply rooted feeling that technology can be a distraction to students’ deep observation in the field. That said, we are exploring the idea that technology may also provide tools that can transform our ability to connect students to place. Imagine this scenario: a field teacher uses a picture to show students a concept diagram of the water cycle; the students’ attention is on the image rather than on the place. Instead, what if cameras were used to observe water in the immediate environment, thus, cataloging water in as many phases as the students can find? Digital voice recorders could be employed to capture the haunting, ancient whale-like sounds of liquid water beneath the frozen lake; In addition, students collect and upload data about the quality or quantity of the water. This data could then be visualized within an observational database used by scientists to better understand water resources at a hyper-local scale, thereby contributing to better predictive models that inform watershed and fisheries management. In the first scenario, an age-old “technology” distracts from deep observation, but in the re-imagined scenario observation is enhanced and transformed.
It is our belief that, when used wisely, technology can enable a deeper connection to material through a multi-media approach to observing, describing places, and visualizing data collected on site. 21st century educators are increasingly being asked to integrate cyber-based tools into programs and we propose that they do so in a way that increases students’ ability to explore the socio-ecological places where they live. One way of doing this is through the AL@ approach.
Merging Technology, Place and Change
AL@ is a re-conceptualization of the role of technology in place-based education that enhances place responsive pedagogies through technology. Adventure Learning (AL) is a hybrid online curricular approach we have explored within the context of a residential environmental education program at the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS). We are naming this combined theoretical frameworks of AL and PBE, Adventure Learning @ (AL@). The AL@ nomenclature is intended to express at once the online world (@) as well as the treatment offered here of AL that situates the framework in relation to the principles of PBE (as in Adventure Learning at…). Students and teachers become experts in their own experiences through studies of the places where they live, using freely available software and low cost technology. Further, we explore ways in which AL@ enhances our place-based programs by supporting connection and communication beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of student experience. Finally, by students authoring their experience, honoring multiple world views, the hybridized approach offered through AL@ equips students and teachers to engage in experiential education that is decolonizing STEM education as well as technology in education.
Place-based education (PBE) provides an important foundation for bringing place to the forefront of student inquiries. In the book Place-Based Education, Sobel (2004) states that place-based pedagogy:
helps students develop stronger ties to the community, enhances students’ appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens (p.7).
Sobel (2004) advocates developing curricula that are relevant, authentic and evolved from the particular context in which it is used. A central characteristic and distinguishing feature of place-based education is that it aims to break down artificial constructs and barriers like the distinction between school and community, and nature and humanity (Smith, 2002). While this pedagogy is being widely embraced, iterations of PBE lack effective strategies that connect the place experience to other venues or digitally. There is much room to explore how PBE can effectively leverage the power of experiences with the potential of technology and digital media. An enhanced AL model, found in AL@, can begin to fill this gap.
Adventure Learning @
AL is a hybrid distance education approach that provides students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic adventure-based learning experiences within both face-to-face and online collaborative learning environments (Doering, 2006, 2007; Doering & Veletsianos, 2008; Veletsianos & Kleanthous, 2009). As an approach to designing learning environments, AL has been found to motivate students (Moos & Honkomp, 2011) and inspire meaningful collaborations and inquiries for students and teachers (Doering & Veletsianos, 2008; Veletsianos & Doering, 2010).
AL@ presents a powerful new approach for teaching and learning that builds upon earlier adventure learning efforts. In this reimagined model bringing to bear the intersection of PBE and AL, we envision a novel context for teaching and learning about places through technology-rich curricula. AL@ enables students to explore local places through physical experiences as well as through digital media, geospatial technologies, and online collaboration. Through the intersection of PBE and AL in AL@ we believe that each can reciprocally enhance the other. Four key distinctions in the AL@ approach include student generated knowledge, focused on local observation, smaller scale, and interconnected expeditions.
1. Students are generators and not just consumers of knowledge
The archetype model of AL positioned distant adventurers as holders and creators of knowledge. We have wondered if highlighting the experience of distant adventurers and associated content experts has undermined students’ evaluation of their own ability to generate meaningful understanding about things that matter to them. The hidden curriculum can be that students’ own experience is not as important as the experiences of scientists and adventurers that they see represented in popular media and curricular enhancements that use this “scientist /adventurer as rock star” model.
By rethinking the AL approach to position students and teachers as “experts in their own experiences,” the AL@ approach has the potential to transform the way students and teachers think of themselves with respect to being scientists, problem solvers and contributors to knowledge about their communities. The coherent narratives created around local spaces are expected to transform students’ experience of “doing science” from an abstract exercise to one in which they understand the purpose of their scientific inquiry. Thus, student inquiries are driven by their own questions and relevant to local surroundings. By defining problems of local interest, and working with experts with local knowledge who have connections to the community, students and teachers come to think of themselves as experts, scientists, and problem solvers within their own places.
2. AL@ is focused on deep observation of local places
Building reflection skills is a core tenet of PBE, and an important step in the progression towards an engaged and active citizenry. Wattchow and Brown assert (2011) that place as a conceptual frame is an important pedagogy as it “provides rich potential for outdoor educators who are already well-versed in experiential methodologies. A participant learning about the significance of a place, and how their beliefs and actions impact upon it, will be well positioned to reflect on how their community may need to adapt to the challenges ahead (p. ix).”
The richness of a grounded experience and inquiry in place lays the foundation for meaningful reflection that takes place in the digital environment. The digitized reflection is then available to a network of students locally and globally. The AL@ approach turns the narrative into a conversation rather than a story being told by someone else. By doing so, students contribute valuable perspectives to conversations about natural resources, local observations, and the nature of science.
3. Expeditions for all
Early iterations of AL have sent a team of scientists and explorers to remote places with reports back to classrooms across the world. It is our estimation that this approach is limiting. The logistical complexity and high-end equipment required can make conducting an expedition unattainable for all but the most highly resourced schools. In promoting the use of relatively inexpensive and simple to use media collection devices (e.g. digital cameras), the barriers to participation in AL@ are negligible. Considering the audience, location, and the science along the way, media products are assembled to represent each component of the system. Guidelines for teachers and students for the practical enactment of the AL@ approach includes: collecting media that can be shared easily with limited editing via the online environment, and considerations for audience, place and science.
4. Multiple interconnected expeditions are focused on thematic questions
Through a digital learning website hub, students and teachers have the opportunity to be part of a larger AL@ community. One objective of this robust media environment is to cultivate a flourishing upload and download culture between stakeholders-students, teachers, parents-and across disciplines. Archival of media products and data generated is essential, representing exciting information that will be accessible to participants for future content inquiries. Members of the education community will drive the integration of this material into the curriculum as it serves them
The combined strengths of AL and PBE create new spaces for and means of connecting to place, generating knowledge and creatively solving problems. We believe that AL@ as a pedagogy offers an approach to virtual and physical environments that can enrich local and global connections to-and between-places. Where Smith (2002) points to PBE dissolving the artificial barriers between school and community, and nature and humanity; AL@ adds the capacity to transcend the false dichotomy of global and local.
Practical enactment of AL@MOSS
An example of applied AL@ principles is seen in the McCall Outdoor Science School (AL@MOSS). A program of the University of Idaho, the mission of the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) is to facilitate place-based, collaborative science inquiry within the context of Idaho’s land, water and communities-getting people outdoors to learn about science, place and community. Located in the Payette watershed on Payette Lake in McCall, ID, the school and its partners foster scientific literacy, sense of place, active lifestyles and community skills through graduate and professional education, youth science programs, seminars, conferences, and leadership development initiatives. MOSS provides experiential learning opportunities for and among students, educators, scientists and citizens with the goal of fostering the critical thinking skills and sense of ownership necessary to address complex problems.
Students and teachers come to MOSS from across the state of Idaho for three to ten day experiences to study the natural history of the local environment, build deeper connections with their peers through team building challenges, meet scientists, participate in local service projects and engage in developing and conducting their own field-based scientific inquiries. An on-site graduate residency program engages aspiring environmental educators in coursework related to understanding the local ecological and social environment, developing leadership skills and learning about place-based pedagogies while they are serving as field instructors in residential and school-based K-12 programs. It is in this environment that the AL@ model is being explored to transform student connectivity to place and each other, no matter where they are. Numerous similar institutions exist throughout the world; this model has the potential to inform their curricula and programs as well.
What does AL@MOSS look like? Imagine a group of middle school students studying water quality on a lake that they have known their whole lives. They start by talking about their memories of visiting this lake with their families, next they are guided to create a drawing that imagines the lake as it was 10,000 years ago, and as it will be 10,000 years in the future. They collect macro-invertebrates, measure the dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity and nitrates. They look up at the mountains that surround the lake and envision how the snowpack becomes a reservoir from November through April, before its water begins run-off in May or June. As students conduct this place-based investigation of the watershed, they take pictures as they complete their data collection and carefully enter their data into field journals and an online database, accessed using an iPad in the field. A digital video recording captures a student’s reflections and inferences on how predicted changes in precipitation might impact the quantity of water that is available for various water users. When they return to “base camp”, these written reflections, photographs and videos are uploaded to a site where students from other communities can read and respond to their observations online. Student and teachers interested in water as a place responsive topic then have a videoconference with a local scientist who is studying changes in precipitation patterns due to climate change, a farmer who might be impacted by a change in the timing of available water, and a fisheries biologist who talks about how fish might be impacted. They finish the day by going back outside to play a game that simulates the highlights of the interconnected nature of relationships within the Earth systems.
Where will you AL@?
The promise of what AL and PBE bring to each other through AL@ is found through a democratized learning environment which becomes a digital commons. Community members, parents, learners and educators are all engaged in essential 21st century skills. By communicating digitally, participants are able to see how information of near and distant spaces is interrelated. The AL@ approach supports multiple worldviews through the invitation to engage in a process that sharpens expertise in our own experience. Equipped with AL@, educators and learners can meaningfully explore what place means through sharing their experiences. Through observation, reflection, and artifact keeping the AL@ approach supports knowledge keepers across the past, present and future narratives of places that can be connected. Highlighting relationships and breaking down spatial boundaries can serve to strengthen our understanding of the ways in which we are all connected.
In the AL@MOSS approach, assessment is an important tool that we use to shape our curriculum and our delivery of programming. Content specific assessments of student learning are administered in each program session, with topics ranging from water resources and a changing climate to energy literacy and biofuels. Science identity is another research area explored in assessments in this program.
Additionally, artifacts are collected from the students experiences out in the forest, in the snow, out on the lake or on the mountain. These artifacts help us capture and communicate the success of our approach- and invite support from the network that students have in the community, including teachers, classmates, parents, and friends. These artifacts include video, pictures, and images of student work that are available in near real-time, but also archived for student portfolios that can demonstrate development in communication skills as well as progress in content areas.
R. Justin Hougham is a Post Doctoral Fellow at the University of Idaho, Department of Geography. Karla Eitel is the Director of Education at the University of Idaho McCall Outdoor Science School, College of Natural Resources. Brant G. Miller is an Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Education at the University of Idaho College of Education.
Doering, A. (2006). Adventure learning: Transformative hybrid online education. Distance Education, 27(2), 197-215.
Doering, A. (2007). Adventure learning: Situating learning in an authentic context. Innovate-Journal of Online Education, 3(6). Retrieved on August 30, 2008 from http://innovateonline.info/index/php?view=article&id=342.
Doering, A., & Veletsianos, G. (Fall 2008). Hybrid Online Education: Identifying Integration Models using Adventure Learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(1), 101-119.
Hutchison, D. (1998). Growing up green: Education for ecological renewal. New York: Teachers College Press.
Orr, D. W. (2004). Earth in mind: On education, environment, and the human prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Smith, G.A. (2002). Going local. Educational Leadership, 60(1), 30-33.
Smith, G. A. (2007). Place-based education: breaking through the constraining regularities of public school. Environmental Education Research, 13(2), 189-207. doi:10.1080/13504620701285180
Sobel, D. (2004). Place-based education: Connecting classrooms & communities. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society
The Learning Technologies Collaborative (2010). “Emerging”: A re-conceptualization of contemporary technology design and integration. In Veletsianos, G. (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 91-107). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.
Veetsianos, G., & Kleanthous, I. (2009). A review of adventure learning. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 10(6), 84-105.
Watchow and Brown (2011). A pedagogy of place: Outdoor education for a changing world (p. IX). Victoria, Australia: Monash University Publishing.
Woodhouse, J.L., and Knapp, C.E. (2000). Place-based curriculum and instruction: Outdoor and environmental education approaches. ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.
Brightwater: An Opportunity for Connection
The treatment facility employs state-of-the-art technology for a cleaner effluent and odorless operation.
by Cynthia Thomashow
he Metro bus opens its doors, releasing 40 fourth-graders who have ridden an hour from South Seattle to the Brightwater Water Treatment Center in Woodinville, Washington. “We’re in the wilderness!” squeals one of the young boys. To his credit, the landscape is very different from his urban schoolyard. But, just 20 years ago Brightwater was an industrial site, housing an old soup factory and a scrap-metal heap. Now it is home to a state-of- the-art water treatment center, flourishing wetlands, a LEED Platinum environmental education center, and 40+ acres of woods and fields crisscrossed by trails and abundant wildlife.
In 2011, IslandWood, an environmental education center on Bainbridge Island, Washington, won the contract to provide educational programming at Brightwater in partnership with Seattle Public Utilities to a mostly urban population. The Center is a laboratory and gathering place filled with interpretive displays that creatively connect water quality, engineered waste treatment processes, and the health of the Puget Sound to everyday life choices. IslandWood educators use this site to deliver field-study approaches that enhance science curriculum in the King County schools. Woven into every lesson is relevance of the field-based learning to the home environment of the urban students.
Over 4,000 students come through the doors of Brightwater each year to study Freshwater Ecosystems, Land Forms and Humans in the Water Cycle with IslandWood educators. Sparked by the question, “Which pond at Brightwater has more types of water bugs, Storm Pond (an untreated storm water runoff catchment) or Otter Pond (a pond fed by a stream originating in the watershed above the treatment plant)?” Students may spend half the day mucking through wetlands, climbing hilly fields, and dipping their nets into containment ponds to collect macro-invertebrates. Student make observations and predictions about freshwater ecosystems in the field, collect specimens, tabulate data using microscopes in the lab and discuss their results together.
Another key question, “What happens when we ‘borrow’ water from the water cycle in our homes, schools and businesses?” begins the study of how humans participate in the water cycle every time they turn on their tap, run the dishwasher or go to the bathroom. During the Humans and the Water Cycle program, students experience the treatment process first-hand, discuss water issues in an interactive exhibit hall, and participate in a hands-on lab focusing on three different water-related STEM careers.
An ongoing professional development challenge for staff is to connect the field experiences to the actual neighborhoods where students live. The goal of IslandWood’s Brightwater Team is to ‘urbanize’ their signature field-based approach of getting kids outdoors to the urban settings where students live. Once a month, staff delve into the assumptions that define our goals around environmental education, considering equity issues, environmental justice and cultural competency as it relates to educational approaches. Every time a new group of students arrives at Brightwater, a conceptual shift moves the educators closer to relevant and meaningful engagement with the young urban leaders of tomorrow’s world.
An installation by artist Jane Tsong illustrates the treatment process to visitors through poetry, and “blesses” the water before it is released.
(Photo credit: Juan Hernandez.)