(Thanks to Kristen Albright (Acadia STEAM in the PARK) for these heartfelt words.)
The briny smell of the ocean, the sound of waves crashing against the rocks, a night of a million stars in the Milky Way, laughter and song around the campfire with my firefly friends, and miles of hikes through the spruce-scented forest—these are the moments that I treasure from my time in STEAM in the Park. This was the most unconventional professional development I have ever attended in my 26+ years of teaching, and it truly changed my life for the better.
When I heard from a dear friend and colleague about the first STEAM in the Park that took place last year in Acadia, I knew that I had to apply this year. I was thrilled to learn that I had been accepted after waiting to hear for weeks. The Zoom calls with fellow attendees in the months leading up to STEAM in the Park Acadia allowed me to have a glimpse of what was to come, making friendships and connections with teachers across the country. I was so impressed with Dacia’s organization and communication leading up to the event.
In Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, we had several days packed with learning and networking. The park rangers provided sessions on mapping, dichotomous keys to identify species, water quality and pH, and the methods biologists use to monitor the invasive green crab. Our STEAM in the Park ambassadors presented on literacy connections, poetry, and even a fun yoga session! Each of us had an opportunity to hone our artistic skills by painting a picture of monarch butterflies or scenery around Acadia. Our final night was a ranger-led session on constellations under the most beautiful, star-filled sky. In between sessions, we dined together, went to town for ice cream, hiked the beautiful vistas, and took time to enjoy beautiful Acadia National Park.
After taking a few days to reflect on my time in Acadia with STEAM in the Park, I have two main takeaways that I will always cherish. First, I know now that I can do things outside of my comfort zone. Walking over rocks and digging through seaweed to find the elusive yet invasive green crab is not something I have ever done before, but accomplishing this feat in a completely supportive environment allowed me to try something new! Secondly, I have been reminded that teachers do make a difference. Following a few difficult years of the pandemic and beyond, my zest for teaching was somewhat diminished. STEAM in the Park rejuvenated me by showing me how teachers can use UN Global goals to do real, important work with our students that can change the world. We did research that scientists in the field will use and wrote lesson plans that will be used by teachers worldwide.
The “firefly” friendships and connections that I made with fellow campers will give me the energy and support I need to make this school year a success! I feel truly lucky to have had this opportunity and I can’t wait to apply to another park next year!
We cannot believe that this is Day 59 of #STEAMinthePARK. Our bodies are weary but our hearts are full. We had an amazing experience at Acadia National Park and Schoodic Institute. Check out our video!
Guest Blog by Megan Rodriguez
This past week I had the opportunity to attend #STEAMinthePark with Expeditions in Education. It is unique combination of professional learning and adult summer camp. This summer the camp will take place at eight different National Parks across the country. I participated at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. This series of posts explores my reflections on the week.
As educators we can hopefully agree that when students are engaged in hands-on experiences they are able to build their own learning and make connections to previous content. Countless philosophers, psychologists, and educators (formal and informal) agree with this.
John Dewey says, "Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand
thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results."
Confucius is quoted with "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."'
If these hold true for students, then why not for adults and teachers as well?!? During #STEAMinthePark we were pushed into carefully planned and organized learning experiences. On the first full day we were told to gear up with water shoes and life vests. We split into groups with other educators who we had just met the previous evening to collect water samples and search for benthic macroorganisms. We used electronic and manual methods for determining water clarity, pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, nitrates, and phosphates. We then compared data with each other and in multiple locations at the site. All going back to answer a guiding question for the work: "What makes a healthy ecosystem?"
We continued working from this guiding question as we began our quest for benthic macroorganisms. If you're like me you have NO CLUE what those are...enter Merriam-Webster.
Benthic = of, relating to, or occurring at the bottom of a body of water
Macroorganisms = organisms large enough to be seen by the normal unaided human eye
This is a moment I will NEVER forget. The previous night we found dobsonflies (male and female) on the outside of the main cabin. I thought those looked creepy as it was but enter the larvae of said dobsonflies - hellgrammites. Check out THIS dobsonfly lifecycle graphic. As a kid I learned the lifecycle of a frog and butterfly but there are so many other insects which go through similar life cycles that we can use to expand our teaching and learning.
If you thought the learning experiences would end here, you're wrong! The following day we jumped back into the New River to participate in the Dragonfly Mercury Project. Similar to the dobsonfly, the larvae of dragonflies also lives in the water. The dragonfly larvae is collected by students and teachers at National Parks around the country for mercury analysis to provide insight into the health of the rivers and ecosystems (still going back to the guiding question from the previous day - see what they did there 🤯).
Even though I'm currently teaching engineering and robotics - these experiences energized me. They reminded me the benefits of hands-on learning. Had I not searched for benthic macroorganisms could I tell you the name for a hellgrammite or that it's the larval stage of the dobsonfly? Probably not. Had I not dug for and helped identify the species of dragonfly larvae could I talk to you about the different mouth parts or hooks on the back of their abdomen? Definitely not.
How will you bring purposeful, active, hands-on experiences to your students? I know that my brain is already spinning with ideas!