Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thoughts on the Leave No Child Inside Conference

[Update 6/17: the title of this post has been corrected]

Finally! Some time to write about the Chicago Wilderness Leave No Child Inside conference at Triton College a couple Saturdays ago (you can see my tweets from the sessions here). While its focus was more on the importance of getting kids outside as opposed to  full-on nature education, I learned abut a few interesting programs teachers can incorporate into their lessons, particularly their science lessons:

Budburst is a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation where anyone--children or adults, groups or individuals--can contribute to scientists' understanding of plant cycles and seasonal changes by observing trees or plants anywhere at all--in a forest preserve,  a city square, or back yard. These "citizen scientists" fill out a very simple form to collect data points. There's a website and a mobile app for ease of collection; folks can do it just once or regularly, for one plant or many. Data points submitted by people all over the country are freely available for anyone to see. There are plenty of resources for teachers on the site. The Chicago Botanic Garden, project Budburst's local partner, has additional resources.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes sponsors beach clean-ups, which not only remove garbage from shorelines and water, but--as important if not more so for the Alliance--provide an opportunity to gather data. Adopt-a-Beach volunteers are encouraged to log the garbage they pick up as well the wind, temperature, and other conditions. Scientists can use this data to understand better how conditions affect the spread of garbage and therefore how to target initiatives for healthier beaches and waters. As wth Budburst, anyone can go to the Alliance website and look at the results of thousands of people's observations.

The Forest Preserve District of Dupage County has an ambitious Citizen Science program in the works. Kids and adults can track animal and plant sitings in Dupage County and submit their reports to the Observe Your Preserve website. A searchable database will be created from these data points combined with basic information about the creatures and plants--it looks like a beta version, at least, is already up.

In all three cases a teacher could coordinate a many-faceted science lesson around observation, data collection, and data comparisons and analysis, as well as anatomy of flora or fauna or weather patterns. There are other resources for teachers on these sites, too, for things to do both inside and (especially) outside the classroom.

The other session that I'm still thinking about was on encouraging ethnic and cultural diversity in the get-kids-outdoors movement. The presentation, about a successful collaboration between the Field Museum and the Bronzeville Historical Society, was fine, but I found the discussion afterward pretty deflating. The presenters asked us what we've done or could do to bring greater diversity to the outdoorsy-kid projects we were engaged in. While, after some initial perplexed silence, participants talked about the importance of building relationships with leaders in the target communities and taking measures to ensure said leaders have a key role in the planning and outreach, few in the almost entirely white audience seemed to have implemented those ideas, at least with any sort of strength or confidence or consistency or success--though, granted, that would be why they were at the session--but nor did I get the feeling the session left anyone feeling more equipped to address the issue in their programs. The discussion just seemed sort of hollow to me. I can certainly sympathize--this sort of reaching out across cultural realms is difficult and fraught with potential gaffes, especially in an ethnic archipelago like Chicago, even more especially from the confines of a distressingly white milieu such as the environmental movement. How to authentically change the demographics of a movement or habit or behavior? It's an important question, and it's certainly not an easy one. Well, here's a pretty thoughtful article on the subject...but the trick is implementation, right?--consistent, authentic, knowledgable, and widespread implementation.

Next month I plan to visit a few nature schools and/ or experiential schools. I'm really interested in where they get their curriculum from, and in how they answer the diversity question.

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