From Bryce Canyon to the Classroom
Guest Post by Colleen Rooney
Where do I even begin to explain my experience with STEAM in the Park? My journey to Bryce Canyon National Park this last June was by far the most impactful, hands-on professional development I’ve ever taken part in during my 27 years as an educator. Every step of the way we were immersed in experiences that allowed us to wonder and question, and then collaborate, create, and develop activities that we could bring back to our districts. We may have had a few things “in our pockets” (not literally) when we arrived, but we certainly had many, many more when we all left.
What’s in Your Pocket? by Heather Montgomery was just one of the absolutely amazing books I was exposed to over the course of the week. Heather’s book became the perfect segway for multiple activities I’ve used this year. It’s a wonderful book to not only introduce students to different scientists but also activate prior knowledge and think about what’s already in students’ pockets - figuratively speaking. Staff has reflected on what knowledge students are already bringing to this unit or topic and then add our questions and wonderings.
I have used this book to launch staff computer science professional development I’ve led as well as our first instructional coaches meeting of the school year. We’ve used it to reflect on what we bring to our profession, our classrooms, and our teaching. We wrote down what we are starting off with–goals, emotions, hopes, questions, knowledge, etc. Then, after learning and collaborating together, we reflect on what new things we are adding to our pockets.
Another great resource that came from our camp at Bryce has been How to Teach Nature Journaling by John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren. I’ve met with several teachers that have been interested in making more use of our amazing outdoor areas near both elementary buildings. We are fortunate to have woods and trails behind our buildings, a lake within walking distance, and a state park not far from us. Many teachers take advantage of our Outdoor Classroom spaces as well. This book has sparked ideas on how teachers can help students connect with the nature around them.
Just before leaving for Bryce Canyon, I had helped a group of 5th graders with a National Parks project. I knew that I had the unique opportunity to bring back specific images that could help to enhance their unit of learning for this coming school year. I was able to pair the 360 degree photos and panoramic photos I took while at Bryce Canyon with our Class VR headsets and give the students a special bird’s eye view of Bryce Canyon. I was also able to share knowledge that I acquired while learning from the fabulous park rangers at Bryce.
Most recently I was able to use images from Bryce Canyon to help several classes of fourth graders develop a deeper understanding of ice wedging and erosion. Using our Class VR headsets, students were able to get a glimpse of how rock transforms from walls to windows to hoodoos. Students are now transferring that understanding to see how the freeze/thaw cycle relates to our own location. Students are currently looking for answers to questions they have about possibly stopping the destruction of roads due to the freeze/thaw cycles here in winter.
There are so many other ideas that I’ve been able to incorporate from my STEAM in the Park experience – from ice breakers to literature to inquiry projects to STEAM challenges to collaborating and sharing with my new friends I made while at Bryce. Just the mention of STEAM in the Park continues to bring a huge smile to my face because I know I have so many things still in my “Bryce pocket” that I cannot wait to share. Thank you Dacia, Steve, Heather, and all my firefly friends for being such incredible, inspirational people!
STEAM in the Park–Acadia NP July 2022
Guest Post by Kirsten Schultz (Olinsky)
Being an educator is never easy…and these past few years have been an adverse experience for many of us…thanks, COVID.
This past July, I attended a fully immersive educator experience with Dacia and Steve Jones in Acadia National Park that was desperately needed. It was a gorgeous retreat for those of us rapidly burning out, and was the perfect mix between learning, getting motivated for another year, and relaxing. We had time to meet new educators (and future friends) from all over the
US. I saw educators from all over the country come together and share their experiences and support each other….not only making educational connections but personal ones, too. We hiked, explored, rested, and ate to our hearts’ content. We were challenged with poetry, outdoor, and STEAM lessons to use with our students. We learned quick games, songs, and outdoor activities to help our students find STEAM relevant and engaging.
Each day started with delicious, locally sourced meals before experiencing lessons knee-deep in the coastal waters of Maine tracking invasive species and focusing on UN Goal Number 14: Life Below Water. We learned why certain species have become invasive in the local waters and how it’s affecting local jobs and ecosystems. These experiences, coupled with our reinvigorated brains, boosted ideas of how to get our students out into the community and environment. The park rangers’ attitudes about education, skills, ideas, and activities were enlightening. Just off of one wonderfully detailed interactive map skill activity from Ranger Kate, there were dozens of ideas flying for the next few days from the educators of how it could be adapted to primary and secondary classrooms.
The entire experience was invigorating, encouraging, and enlightening. Want an experience to revive your love and reason for teaching AND to get refreshed? I would recommend STEAM in the Park to anyone working in the education field.
Why spend part of your summer and some of your money on teacher PD with Expeditions in Education’s STEAM in the Park? Because adult camp is just about the funnest thing around! Imagine outdoor ed camp and all the wonderful things about it…
I traveled to Crater Lake this summer. My favorite part was seeing the park and lake in so many different lights. Most visitors to this park spend a day driving the rim, they might hike down to the beautiful blue water for a swim, but then they are on their way. It is a very remote park, with limited accommodations onsite. So seeing that blue for four days in a row was truly something special.
The second best part was the people. Expeditions in Education gives you many ways to connect with your fellow campers before camp, which is especially helpful in coordinating travel plans. I ended up picking up Arielle and Lauri from a Best Western at the base of Mt. Hood never having seen them and only minimally texted one and traveled with them to and from Crater Lake. They are now two of my favorite humans. We laughed, told our life stories and learned together.
Lastly, I came back to my classroom with a heart full of joy and excitement, some wonderful lesson ideas and a renewed love of this career. What Expeditions in Education was able to achieve, with a small staff and budget was nothing short of extraordinary!
Erin Cosky, STEAM in the PARK Camper 2022
(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.
(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!
We are thrilled to host so many educators this summer. We are also thrilled to share their thoughts. Below you will find a FB post from Patricia Cleveland, an educator from South Carolina!
Home from hands down the best #professionallearning, in the most beautiful location I have ever attended (Maui, Germany and Naples are all still up there, but man #newrivergorgenationalpark blew it out of the water). #steaminthepark was 5 days of #learning, #exploring, #investigating, #challenges, #teamwork, #science, #engineering, #art, #campfires, #smores, #math #technology (teacher summer camp ). 5 days in the outdoors investigating how everything in our world is interconnected from #watersamples and #macroinvertebrates to helping collect samples for the #mercury #dragonflyproject and doing a #moth inventory. 5 days of trying new things, and being reminded that you need to be #brave and just go and do and learn. We learned from all of the #nationalparkrangers that dedicated their time and energy to teaching us about everything from #fishing, the history of the park and surrounding region (railroad and coal mine towns and how they interacted and depended on one another) to collecting samples of the #water in the #NewRiver, #macroinvertebrates, #moth #inventory (at least 4 new to NERI species were photographed) to the mercury #dragonfly project samples. Then there was really scary parts that reminded me that I have to step out of my comfort zone and be brave sometimes like going to a conference where I’ve only “met” two other participants through our teacher group and therefore didn’t know a soul, to doing the @bridgewalkwv at 851 feet above the river with a walk of over a half mile, (Paul was the best guide, he knew so much of the history and engineering of the bridge, a natural #teacher) to @aceadventureresort #whitewaterrafting (thanks Scottie O for the most exhilarating ride!and another natural born teacher, he can tell you all of the information about the formation of the rapids and history of the gorge *amazing jokes too ) I can’t thank @newrivernps @nationalparkservice and @expeditionsineducation enough for this opportunity to attend “teacher summer camp” and I am saving my pennies already so I can go to #steaminthepark again next summer. Teacher friends put the first week of January in your calendar now to sign up for one of these events! New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Expeditions In Education ACE Adventure Resort BridgeWalk National Park Service
Thanks Patti for sharing your experience!