By: Paula Intravaia, Design Engineer
School bus, sunscreen, smiles. Altogether, these things signal a day of anticipation and excitement. Leaving campus to take a field trip has been a timeless highlight for students, and my school district is working to develop expeditionary partnerships, mutually benefitting both learners and their mentor organizations. Beyond a one-time field trip tour, expeditionary partnerships provide an authentic purpose for learning and build bridges between schools and their communities.
The National Park Service Conservation Study Institute has identified four principles for civic engagement in special outdoor places:
-Build genuine relationships
-Create effective engagement processes
-Deliver relevant interpretive and educational programs and materials
-Sustain civic engagement over time
Making these genuine relationships happen requires vision and planning. Dinah Brown, our Curriculum & Instruction Coordinator first worked with the Education Director of a local lagoon conservancy to organize lagoon tours for all of the district’s 3rd Grade students. During the summer, a cohort of science specialists and teachers met to develop an optional interdisciplinary Design Thinking challenge to extend the place-based learning experience.
So far this year, two school sites took on the challenge in their own way, each with incredible results. Teachers not only expressed delight in the deeper understanding of scientific concepts demonstrated by their students, they also expressed delight in their own understanding of the value in trusting the process of a human-centered, collaborative approach to real world problem solving.
Before stepping onto to the bus, students are prepared to make scientific observations and formulate questions regarding the health of the lagoon based on related California Next Generation Science Standards and information provided by docents on site. Rather than simply soaking up the sights and sounds, learners begin an effective engagement process through the place-based experiences of noticing and hearing from experts about the issues the lagoon organisms are facing.
“Outside the classroom, children tend to observe things more keenly and ask more questions.” ~Deborah Meier, Central Park East Schools
Our students returned to the classroom filled with empathy and curiosity, ready to conduct further research to understand the specific needs of lagoon organisms, and were empowered to design solutions to maintain a healthy lagoon.
Individuals and small groups developed solution prototypes based on student strengths and interests, and entered a feedback and revision cycle involving grade-level and upper grade peers.
Exhibitions were held to showcase the learning and creative solutions. Attendees were dazzled by the presentations of skits, songs, works of art, digital media and physical models. Opportunities for feedback were integral, including input from lagoon directors and docents who frequently commented that the student solution proposals far exceeded their expectations.
For an authentic expeditionary partnership to occur, the mentor organization must also benefit. After receiving input from teachers on ways to improve lagoon visits, the lagoon’s School Program Coordinator developed a Design Thinking Project Toolkit filled with relevant interpretive and educational programs and materials, which is now available to help guide all teachers following a visit to the lagoon. In addition, student projects were highlighted in the lagoon’s e-newsletter with plans for others to be displayed in their nature center to stimulate science learning for the good of the lagoon, and for the good of the local school community.
Besides cultivating empathy and sharpening student scientific prowess, the ultimate measure of success will be sustaining civic engagement over time. Based on our groundwork in building expeditionary partnerships, I predict success.
This post was cross-posted on Paula's blog.
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