(Thanks to Amanda McCue for this exciting guest blog)
First day of school is Wednesday. Waking up early and preparing to head out to school Monday morning, I feel more invigorated than ever before for an academic year.
As I think about the moments in my life that I’ll keep with me, STEAM in the Park-Crater Lake stands amongst the top. Before it could start, we had to get up there. I had no expectations of what it would be like, nor what I thought it would look like. Nothing could prepare me for the sheer natural beauty of this place. Driving up the winding roads, you see the trees, the fields, the rock, and then you start the climb up gradually. We came from the north side of the park and as we were driving up, the rock disappeared on my left and all you could see was blue. I couldn’t suppress my reaction and, it may sound cliche, but my jaw actually dropped and I gasped in surprise. It was so beautiful. we made our way through the park and as we were driving up to the rim, I saw my first glimpse of the lake. My jaw literally dropped. Just the quick glance was enough for me to finally process that I was there and what was about to happen. It was absolutely beautiful.
Now, not but a few minutes after did my friend have to take over driving for me due to the height (a fear that I continuously faced), however, the excitement and anticipation did not wane.
As we checked in and slowly started to assemble the crew, it started happening. We started immediately diving into the conversations and connections. There is something about being immersed in nature and more so at Crater Lake I think where the internet and cell service was pretty lacking. It reinforces your authentic self and the relationships you build with others. I don’t know how many pictures we took that night during check-in but it didn’t seem like enough or that our cameras could properly capture it. Finally, we made it to our cabins and prepared ourselves for the next few days.
From learning how to orient myself with a compass, lectures from rangers, and the Watchmen Tower hike during our free time, I cannot say enough how much I learned and grew from positioning myself as a learner to facing my fear of heights with a friend and an initial group of strangers that I can now call my friends. Oh, and I can’t forget about the morning yoga and stretching with the Crater Lake sunrise as a view. And that was just day one.
We found ourselves in our learning house diving into our sustainable goal, learning about the Mazama newts, building a solar s’more ovens, engineering design challenges, art, literacy, and more. I cannot wait until we start the engineering challenge with my students. I cannot wait to connect my students with our national parks through ranger events and visits to our local state parks (maybe national parks eventually).
Those memories that we have of those learning experiences were also compounded with the challenges that we overcame together as a group. The day before we finished up, a large group of us took the hike down to the lake to get in the water. Everyone overcoming a challenge or obstacle, this seemed to be the pinnacle for all of us. The water was like ice but crystal clear and beckoning. There was a rocky beach that you could get into with your feet, up to your hips, and maybe if you were feeling it, dunk your head under the water. However, the dock was calling to us. Several groups took turns jumping from the dock hand in hand until we all had experienced jumping into a volcanic crater lake. Not many people can say that.
Unfortunately, the time came too soon to say goodbye. As we finished up the last night with song and companionship, we went into the next morning preparing for our journeys home but eager for the school year, and next summer.
We have ONE more STEAM in the PARK event this summer but we are already seeing the impact in the classrooms. Karisa Schwanekamp, a 4th grade teacher from Plainfield, Indiana, has been engaging her students with our National Park Challenges for 2 years. She has also been working closely with Keep IN (Indiana) Learning and they love her message. She has branded and created YaySTEM! with a few more teachers in her district to inspire and engage students. Her team includes, Dayna a first grade teacher in the district and Elaine, a BioMed PLTW teacher from the HS that she has partnered with in the classroom.
Before I set out for my adventures at Crater Lake National Park, I was able to take my students on a virtual field trip through Expeditions and Education so they could experience Crater Lake as well. While I was in Crater Lake, my students were working on a STEM challenge in the classroom. Their task was to design a humane trap to help protect the endemic Mazama newt from the invasive crayfish. While I was away, I was able to FaceTime the class and they were just in awe of the beauty that is Crater Lake. Now that I am back, I have been able to share so much more with them about this real problem Crater Lake National Park is facing. My students will continue their designs, create a piece of technical writing to explain their prototype, and then present to National Park Rangers to give them ideas on how to solve this problem. I am so thankful for Expeditions and Education and this chance to bring real-world problem solving into my classroom.
Karisa is graciously sharing her presentation on Expeditions in Education with all of us. Thank you!
Check out their prototypes and the smiles. All the smiles!
Engineers in the making...
(Shared by Amanda McCue who is heading to Crater Lake with us)
There has been a lot of strain on educators and students the past few years. Whether it be the pandemic, increase in assessments, or the strain on teacher’s time and resources.
In January 2022, I was searching through posts on one of the STEM Facebook groups and had seen a post for the STEAM in the Park applications. As I researched the group’s mission and what this professional learning would entail, not only was I getting excited, but I was feeling a little more hopeful about education. Let’s be honest teacher friends, the past few years have been HARD.
In college, I had the privilege to take a traveling history of the west travel course. I think this is where my passion and spirt for travel and wilderness became a part of me. To see new places and appreciate the natural world.
“We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope,” Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire. So much of myself has been put on hold for just surviving the past few years. I’m ready to escape and thrive again. I’m ready to get lost and learn.
We all need that. I’m ready to connect and grow friendships based on what we grow through and learn together. This is what I’m looking forward to most as I countdown to STEAM in the Park Crater Lake. Through this experience, I want to be able to translate the same excitement and opportunity that the outdoors provides us to my students.