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A Ready STEM Lab: Your Local, State, and National Parks

For over a year now it has been undoubtedly challenging to deliver the hands-on learning experiences that are so important to helping students make meaningful scientific connections. Even as next school year will likely begin under more normal circumstances, new challenges will need to be addressed.

How do you help students reengage with science and get back to hands-on learning? One way is to localize science by having students understand and address relevant issues within their own communities.

Beyond the Lab

In-the-field teaching helps students make real-world connections and solve complex problems, which are critical 21st century skills. By combining in-the-field teaching with the three pillars of three-dimensional learning—practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas—educators can increase students’ scientific proficiency in new and engaging ways.

Students use the wireless Go Direct® Weather System and LabQuest® 3.

Transitioning from the lab into the community doesn’t have to be difficult. Parks can offer countless teaching and learning opportunities. Whether visiting a local park or taking a field trip to state or national parks, students can explore plants, weather conditions, and native species, as they learn important concepts related to Earth science, biology, chemistry, and more.

Whether it be a simple data-collection activity involving soil samples or an extended project analyzing oxygen levels at parks, students can collaborate and apply what they are learning in class to the real world in a safe, distanced way.

Resources to Get Started

The National Park Service (NPS) is a great place to start looking for park-themed, NGSS-aligned teaching resources. The organization offers a vast collection of lessons, which can be sorted in part by subject matter and grade level, to use during excursions to national parks. Many of these lessons can be adapted to add data-collection technology to further engage students in the three-dimensional learning approach, as well as for use during local excursions.

Lesson examples include

Go Direct® Optical Dissolved Oxygen Probe simplifies measuring dissolved oxygen.

Looking for more inspiration? In 2018, students from 35 countries used Go Direct® sensors to test the water in Ireland’s Killarney National Park as part of the GLOBE® Learning Expedition. The data-collection technologies used in this exploration could easily be implemented for investigations at local parks or streams.  

Edutopia also offers helpful instructional strategies to prompt students during outdoor STEM walks, as well as tips for exploring environmental science concepts through project-based learning. And, National Geographic has a collection of cross-curricular resources for elementary through college that can be integrated into STEM lessons at national parks.

While important learning and exploration certainly happens in the lab, venturing out reinforces to students that science truly is happening all around them. Taking the learning outdoors—whether at a park or other locale—will be a welcomed surprise to students after being cooped up this past school year and will help them get back to hands-on exploration that is critical to science success.

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