Author: Dacia Jones
Over the past two years, Crossing America has transported students nationwide on an extraordinary virtual journey to explore the dazzling diversity of National Parks across the United States! 🌳🏞️ We are filled with gratitude for the support from the National Park Foundation to make this unique project possible. 🤝
🌟 A Few Highlights of the Journey 🌟
🌟 Expanding Horizons 🌟 Over the past two years, ‘Crossing America' has reached nearly 500,000 students, educators, and family members, instilling knowledge and cultivating connections. We are tremendously thankful for the hands that have joined us in this journey. 🤲💕
Let’s continue to inspire EVERY student to connect with, learn more about the world around them, and become better humans! 🌿💡🌐 👩🏫 #Education #NationalParks #Innovation #Inspiration #FutureLeaders #Sustainability #Inclusivity #Humanity #Collaboration
Author: Dacia Jones
Nature, with its myriad landscapes and ecosystems, is a timeless and living classroom available to everyone, from curious kindergarteners to diligent high school seniors. The vast wealth of knowledge held within the bounds of national parks and local green spaces offers enriching and enlightening experiences, surpassing the confines of traditional classroom learning. William Wordsworth once said,: "Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher."
In kindergarten, the focus is on a world of discovery where children's developmental stage aligns with curiosity and the drive to explore. Visiting green spaces allows young learners to develop their sensory and observational skills, exploring a treasure trove of shapes, colors, textures, and sounds. They can observe plant and animal life cycles, count and sort natural objects, and draw and color elements found in nature, like those in the Everglades National Park or Great Smoky Mountains.
Elementary students delve deeper into understanding the world, with trips to national parks allowing them to observe ecological interactions and engage in environmental education programs, enhancing their knowledge in science, social studies, and language arts. For instance, learning about geothermal features at Yellowstone National Park or examining historical artifacts at Independence National Historical Park makes the learning process interactive and enjoyable.
As students navigate through middle school, trips to green spaces stimulate scientific inquiry and reasoning skills, enabling them to undertake projects involving data collection and analysis. It allows them to conduct experiments to learn about conservation and the environment, like investigating marine life at Channel Islands National Park or studying ancient civilizations at Mesa Verde National Park, applying concepts from science, mathematics, and history.
High school students, with advanced coursework and extracurricular activities in nature, refine their knowledge and skills. National parks serve as resources for learning adaptation and evolution in diverse ecosystems, researching sustainable practices and ecological balance, and drawing inspiration from nature for creative writing projects. For example, students can research endemic species at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park or analyze geological formations at Grand Canyon National Park.
Beyond textbooks and structured curriculum, exploring nature teaches holistic lessons, fostering love for learning, encouraging curiosity, and promoting respect for all living things. It makes students realize the importance of conservation, sustainability, and the delicate balance of ecosystems, aiding the integration of theoretical knowledge with practical applications, creating a wholesome learning experience.
In these living laboratories, students can directly observe the impacts of human actions on the environment, instilling in them the principles of biodiversity, conservation, and sustainable living. These experiences nurture environmentally responsible citizens who are mindful of their ecological footprint and the interconnectedness of life on our planet.
In conclusion, nature, from the spectacular realms of national parks to the tranquil corners of local green spaces, stands as a dynamic and diverse classroom. Integrating nature-based learning experiences across all grade levels can cultivate a generation of individuals who are curious, knowledgeable, and profoundly connected to the world around them. Whether it’s a kindergartner discovering the world through shapes and colors or a high school senior delving into ecological research, the lessons from nature are boundless, fostering a journey of lifelong learning and discovery.
In the wise words of Henry David Thoreau: "I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees."
The images below show educators from around the country taking part in STEAM in the PARK, a program that focuses on teaching through nature experiences to change the world.
In an age where the education space is rapidly evolving, Expeditions in Education is catalyzing a movement to bring nature journaling into classrooms worldwide. This initiative is inspiring students and educators from North Carolina to Florida to Tennessee to California, and beyond, to venture beyond the conventional classroom setup and embrace the boundless learning opportunities offered by nature. Nature journaling acts as a gateway to authentic learning, enabling students to engage with the environment and expand their horizons across a multitude of disciplines.
A Journey Across States
Students from various states are stepping out of their classrooms to explore and imbibe lessons from nature. Young minds are witnessing the wealth of knowledge that nature has to offer. This involves participating in activities like Solo Sits and utilizing the “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” approach to reflect upon and internalize their experiences.
Through these excursions, students are not merely observers; they interact, question, wonder, and relate to the natural world around them, offering a richer, more multifaceted learning experience. The unique textures of each state’s landscape provide a diverse palette of learning experiences, allowing students to appreciate and understand the variances and similarities within ecosystems.
The Power of Authentic Learning
Nature journaling is more than a reflective activity; it is a vessel for authentic learning. Authentic learning occurs when students engage in activities that require application of knowledge and skills, are relevant and meaningful, and integrate different domains of learning. Nature journaling encourages students to intertwine observation, emotion, reflection, and intellectual thought, enabling a holistic learning experience that resonates on a profound level.
One might recall Dash Goff, the writer character from a "Designing Women" episode, saying, “We don’t write good because we don’t talk good.” Although originating from a fictional source, the essence of this statement rings true. Expressive writing requires expressive conversation and expressive thinking. Providing students opportunities to write about their experiences, particularly those close to their hearts, is crucial for developing their expressive capacities.
Connecting Hearts and Minds
As the acclaimed naturalist and author John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Through nature journaling, students are able to connect deeply with their surroundings, find resonance and meaning, and translate these rich experiences into words. By absorbing the myriad lessons that nature imparts, students cultivate a refined sensibility and a heightened awareness of the interconnectedness of all living things.
When students pen down their observations, thoughts, and feelings, they are not merely documenting; they are conversing with nature, fostering a connection that is simultaneously intellectual and emotional. It is through such connections that learning transcends textbooks and classrooms, becoming a lifelong journey of curiosity and discovery.
Inspiration for Educators and Students Alike
The essence of Expeditions in Education is to inspire. It serves as a beacon, illuminating the path for educators worldwide to integrate nature journaling into their teaching methodologies. By doing so, it empowers them to offer their students a more enriching, expansive, and holistic learning experience. It is a testament to the infinite possibilities that arise when we step out, explore, and embrace the boundless classroom that is the natural world.
In conclusion, nature journaling is not merely an educational tool; it is a bridge to the infinite classroom that surrounds us, a portal through which students and educators can traverse to experience expansive, multifaceted learning. The initiatives by Expeditions in Education are exemplary models of how we can harmoniously integrate nature and education, allowing us to foster a generation of learners who are attuned to the rhythms of the natural world and are eager to explore its limitless treasures.
In the vast, boundless expanses of our national parks, there exist guardians and storytellers, the weavers of history, and the keepers of the natural world: the National Park Rangers. We have had the immense privilege and joy of working with them over the past few years, witnessing their unwavering dedication and infectious passion for the stories that the parks hold and for the myriad life forms they protect. We are writing this post to celebrate these wonderful individuals, who have welcomed us into their worlds and worked alongside us to create enriching opportunities for educators and students all around the country.
With over 140 park sites visited and filmed at, we have forged meaningful relationships with over 200 park rangers. They embody the spirit of service and are committed to interpreting the myriad stories that often go unheard. They not only share the tales of the landscapes they guard but are also champions of ecological preservation and environmental education. They represent the epitome of goodness and kindness in humanity, and their eagerness to engage and inspire has made a tremendous impact on students and educators alike.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” The Park Rangers we’ve had the pleasure to work with are living embodiments of this quote, showing how deep dedication to one’s work and land can ripple out to effect powerful, positive changes in the world.
Our connection with many of these rangers goes far beyond professional camaraderie. They have become our close friends, sharing with us their family trials and celebrations, brainstorming with us at midnight for new programs, and visiting with us outside the park confines. The relationships we've nurtured are ones of mutual respect, shared goals, and genuine affection.
Seeing these rangers in action, both in their parks and in classrooms around the country, is a sight to behold. Their knowledge is vast, their passion is infectious, and their stories are enlightening. They bring to life the histories, ecologies, and cultures of the parks they serve, sparking curiosity and wonder in the minds of those who are fortunate enough to hear them.
This post is a small tribute to elevate and celebrate the wonderful human beings who are helping us change the world one student, one educator, and one national park at a time. We feel blessed to be a part of this journey with them, working hand in hand to create a more knowledgeable, thoughtful, and compassionate world. We are grateful for their unwavering support and friendship, and we eagerly look forward to continuing our journey together, exploring more stories and uncovering the hidden gems of our beautiful lands.
In a world burgeoning with challenges and strife, the National Park Rangers stand as beacons of hope and knowledge, their stories echoing the whispers of the trees and the songs of the rivers. They show us the resilience of nature and the importance of preserving our shared heritage. We salute their commitment and thank them for being the wonderful, inspiring individuals they are.
Our journey with the National Park Rangers has been transformative, and we are immensely thankful for their dedication to sharing the untold stories of their parks. They are not just the guardians of our natural treasures, but also the architects of a future where every individual is imbued with a love and respect for our planet and its myriad stories. To all the National Park Rangers we have worked with, thank you for being the good in the world and for helping us change it, one story at a time. We can't wait to continue the adventure with you.
Ever felt the need for a vacation but found yourself tethered by responsibilities? Welcome to the life of a teacher. However, just because we can't always whisk our students away on exciting field trips doesn't mean we can't create the adventure of a lifetime right within our classroom walls.
Setting Off on the Classroom Express
When I taught first grade, every month was marked by an exotic trip to a different country. And no, we didn't teleport, nor did we have an ultra-speed jet hidden in the school's basement. Instead, we had our trusty school bus.
Each "journey" began with our students clutching their tiny suitcases or even black garbage bags, eagerly waiting to board our bus. My brilliant assistant, doubling as a bus driver for the day, would take them on a thrilling roundabout of the school parking lot, giving them the sensation of taking off to a distant land. If you've never seen a bunch of first graders truly believe they've traveled halfway across the world by circling a parking lot, you're missing out on some pure magic.
Airplane Mode Activated!
Upon returning, our classroom door acted as the gateway to our chosen country. After getting their passports stamped (because what's travel without bureaucracy), students entered our makeshift airplane, greeted by rows of chairs. Jump ropes served as our seatbelts – safety first, even in imagination land! While strapping them down might raise some eyebrows today, back then, it was all in good fun and added to the authenticity of our flight. Plus, who wouldn't love an in-flight snack?
And as the shower curtains were drawn, separating the plane from the classroom, we touched down in our new destination. This could be the bustling markets of China, the serene landscapes of New Zealand, the bustling streets of New York City, or my favorite national park.
So Where Do You Want to GO?
National parks are treasure troves of adventure and learning. Why not kick off your classroom journeys with these natural wonders? Delve deep into the Grand Canyon, encounter the wildlife of Grand Teton, or explore the mysterious caves of Carlsbad Caverns, all from the comfort of your classroom.
Making the Adventure Unforgettable
It's incredible how the power of imagination, when combined with a touch of humor and creativity, can transform a regular classroom into the world's most exciting destination. Your students will not only gain knowledge but also cherish these memories forever. So, teachers, strap in and take off on your next classroom journey. Remember, no turbulence expected, and every landing is a smooth one!
"The mountains are calling, and I must go," said John Muir, the great naturalist and advocate for the preservation of wilderness. This call isn't only for the seasoned adventurer or the outdoor enthusiast; it's an open invitation to students, young and old, who seek to learn beyond the four walls of a classroom. National parks are not just awe-inspiring landscapes; they are vibrant, multi-disciplinary learning environments that offer rich experiences in culture, science, history, and even potential career paths.
Immersion in Culture and Science
Walking in a national park is like walking through a living museum. Students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the indigenous cultures that have inhabited these lands for centuries. Whether it's understanding the Native American history in places like Mesa Verde National Park or learning about early American settlers in the Great Smoky Mountains, the parks provide an unfiltered, firsthand experience that no textbook can offer.
Furthermore, what better place to understand biology, ecology, or geology than in settings where you can touch, feel, and observe? The diverse ecosystems and geological formations found in parks serve as open-air laboratories for scientific inquiry and discovery.
Walking in Beauty
The concept of "walking in beauty" is more than an abstract idea; it’s a form of experiential learning. By being in these majestic settings, students can learn the importance of environmental stewardship and the integral relationship between humans and nature. This immersive experience is not only good for the mind but also for the soul, serving as a way to refresh, rejuvenate, and gain a new perspective on life.
A Journey Through History
National parks are time capsules. Whether it's retracing the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, standing where civil rights history was made, or understanding the military strategies of historic battles, these parks offer an interactive way to engage with our country's past. This is where history comes alive, where textbooks are transformed into tangible experiences, providing students with a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the events that shaped our nation.
Inspiration All Around
The breathtaking beauty of natural phenomena, like the geysers of Yellowstone or the towering sequoias of Yosemite, sparks the imagination. Students may find themselves inspired to write, to paint, or to capture the stunning landscapes through photography. This inspiration isn't limited to the arts; it can ignite a passion for conservation, for activism, or for further study in fields like biology, archaeology, or history.
A Gateway to a Career
For some, a visit to a national park is not just a trip; it's a vocational calling. Whether it's becoming a park ranger, a wildlife biologist, or an environmental policy advocate, the experience can provide a stepping stone toward a meaningful career. Programs like internships and volunteer opportunities available through the National Park Service can offer invaluable experience and networking opportunities.
So, why should national parks matter to students? Because they are not just parks; they are sprawling, interactive classrooms, enriching in both academic and life lessons. They remind us, as John Muir so eloquently put it, that when we answer the call of the mountains, the forests, and the rivers, we are embarking on a journey of not just exploration, but also education and self-discovery.
Ever noticed how nature subtly mirrors our actions? The firefly, with its brief yet enchanting glow, reminds us of the transformative power of educators. Like these magical creatures, teachers too possess the unique ability to light up the world, guiding young minds even in their darkest moments of doubt.
🔦 Just as fireflies aren’t always shining, the essence of our teachings may not be instantly grasped. But as they punctuate the night with brilliance, so do our lessons eventually guide students toward enlightenment.
🌟 In some regions, fireflies create a mesmerizing synchronized dance. Similarly, when educators unite in purpose, their collective light pushes away the shadows of ignorance, guiding the next generation.
💡 For a child, spotting their first firefly can be a magical moment of pure wonder. We, as educators, aim to be that catalyst of curiosity, igniting a passion for lifelong learning.
🕯️ And remember, while a firefly's glow might be momentary, the mark it leaves is everlasting. Just as the lessons and values we instill can shape lives forever.
So, to every educator out there, continue to shine, inspire, and light up the world, one student at a time. Every spark of understanding is a promise of a brighter future! ✨📚