Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Connecting Students to Their Local Environments: Science Study

Our system is working to embrace the new standards, yet there seems to be some reluctance to connect this learning to the local environment and the many related community organizations that exist.

While I believe that we want to meet the standards to provide students with a strong foundation of science concept, skill, and knowledge, I also believe that embedding this work as much as possible in the environment around us and in connection with local organizations is the way to go.

I've heard that we will invest in kits. I've never been a fan of store-bought science kits, yet a colleague defended these kits with me recently and I could see their merit. Yet, I believe that if we purchase kits, those one-size-fits-all kits should be used in conjunction with local organizations and the local environment.

Why do I feel this way?

First, our environment depends on stewardship, and the best time to build that sense of environmental awareness and care is at the early ages. I believe it's our duty as educators to foster a love, care and knowledge in students of the world around them. Students will be the future caretakers of the Earth, and it's important that we begin that journey with them in schools when they are young.

Relevance and Real-World Learning
When students are learning in a way that impacts the world they live in, the learning is powerful. It's also a lot easier to share relevant, real world learning with family members, and it's likely that those family members will forward that learning as a result of a child's enthusiasm, interest, and knowledge.

Knowing and Contributing to the Local Community
Our school community happens to be filled with wonderful environmental/science sites and organizations with which to connect to as students learn. When children connect to these real world learning opportunities, they begin to belong to a group that might end up leading to summer camp opportunities, internships, jobs, and possibly their future professions. We need future scientists and environmentalists and by connecting students early in their lives with these organizations we boost students' love, interest, and interaction with the world around them in important ways.

Some local sites and organizations students could connect with include the list below. If every grade connected with a few of these organizations, what we could do for and with students would expand exponentially:

  • Wayland Green Team/Community Gardens/School Gardens Initiatives: Multiple educators and community members have devoted hours and hours of volunteer time to our school and community gardens. This provides students with a hands-on science lab right in our school community. If more science funding, learning and time were devoted to this in meaningful, supported ways, children will continue to learn on site in ways that they can replicate in their own lives at home now and in the future.
  • Transition Teams: Our local community has a transition team. Transition teams are committed to sustainable living and living systems. These teams are willing to support schools transition to more natural, environmentally sensitive ways to learn.
  • Massachusetts Audubon Society: This organization provides countless professional learning and student learning opportunities.
  • Acton Discovery Museum: This Museum offers hands-on science learning at the museum and via their visiting science program.
  • Boston Science Museum
  • MIT Museum
  • New England Aquarium
  • Southwick Zoo, Stoneham Zoo, Franklin Park Zoo
  • Ecotarium
  • The Food Project: Opportunity for students to participate in harvesting/growing food
  • Natick Farms
  • Concord Consortium
  • Grassroots Wildlife Conservation
  • Trustees of the Reservation
  • Sudbury Valley Trustees
  • Landsake Farm
  • Harvard Peabody Museum
  • Natick Labs
  • Fruitlands
  • Sudbury River
  • Great Meadows
Enthusiasm and Excitement for Learning
Connecting with real-world, meaningful learning in ways that positively impact the world around us truly inspires students to love and care for their world. It also inspires a sense of peace and greater academic learning too. This is critical for our students and our world. 

In what ways do you foster this kind of real-world science study and learning?