Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Outdoors at Home and At Home Outdoors: Narragansett Bay Field Studies Program

If I had to pick a favorite model of teaching and learning that is part of my job as an education specialist, it would be Save the Bay’s field studies program.  Our education team runs four field studies programs: 
1.      Woonsocket High School, with a pond, marsh, stream and forest right on campus
2.      Rodgers High School, with one of Save the Bays salt marsh restoration sites just down the street from campus at Gooseneck Cove
3.      Mt. Hope High School in Bristol which has a pond and marsh on campus that flow to their study site at Silver Creek Salt marsh (another STB restored marsh!)
4.     Central Falls High School, which is within a short distance of the Lonsdale Marsh freshwater restoration site
Field studies students meet Save the Bay’s educators in the field weekly or bi-weekly for the
entire school year. The program is designed to get kids right outdoors and into an urban, accessible, often overlooked neighborhood ecosystem located close to their school.  Consecutive lessons throughout the year allow students to build a deep connection to their natural surroundings, develop a comprehensive understanding of the ecosystem, and ultimately consider themselves to be a steward of their study site and neighborhood.
The programs are a perfect format for the Next Generation Science Standards---they introduce practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.  Field practices include monitoring nitrates, ph, dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature changes in the water.  Students collect data, log it, and analyze changes that they see over time each semester.  Core ideas in curriculum are reinforced through mini-lessons that help students connect what they see in the field back to what they read and hear about in the classroom.  Save the Bay promotes active, experiential learning, for example: students play a running game that allows them to understand population carrying capacity and competition of resources, they cover ocean acidification and change the ph of sea water by blowing CO2 into an indicator solution, they build a riparian corridor and simulate rain occurrence to witness how vegetation protects waterways, etc….it is this type of hands-on learning that engages their enthusiasm.  As informal educators, we work closely with classroom teachers to link our curriculum and help bring to life the learning experience of the student.
At Central Falls Field Studies, students spend the spring semester designing and implementing an independent project that engages the community and requires careful observance of their natural surroundings. One of the groups of girls I worked with last year monitored sound and litter to gauge the level of human impacts along the bike trail.  They collected an average of 20 lbs of litter throughout the fall.  In the winter they installed educational signs along the trail and by spring their weekly trash average was 6 lbs.  This is a cross-cutting concept:  how can I improve the ecosystem I study, engage my community with that ecosystem, and demonstrate leadership in caring and stewardship of this ecosystem?   
My experience has been that all of the students I work with care, they’re all very interested in learning as much as they can through field studies.  In many cases, they’re top notch academics but are deeply lacking experiences in nature----some of the most meaningful learning moments come
from the most basic observations:  What is that bird doing with those seeds?  How does a seed disperse and repopulate an area?   What animal left this scat?  How is deer poop part of a nutrient cycle you’ve learned about? 

To me, answering these questions together is part of experiencing wonderment in our natural world that makes me feel at home in nature.  Field studies programs help students to become at home outdoors; their increased comfort with the natural world allows them to develop the same curiosity that drives life-long learning.  This developed sense of stewardship leads to healthy families and communities that live in a healthy and rich environment.  What more could we ask for?

No comments:

Post a Comment