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!