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Published on: Jul. 21, 2010

Excited Student Fishing

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Students at Hartell Lakes CA

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Students at Nature Unleashed

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Students at Cuivre River State Park

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ultimate goal of the program is to reach every student in every school. Imagine over one million kids in Missouri public and private schools taking advantage of fun, engaging conservation education. Imagine them able to experience hands-on learning in nature close to home throughout their entire school career.

State and National Importance

Large movements are afoot to reconnect children with nature and the outdoors. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama recently unveiled the “Let’s Move Outside” initiative. Even Governor Jay Nixon’s Children in Nature Proclamation recognizes the Discover Nature Schools program as a means not only to “strengthen children’s connection to nature and enhance their education about the environment” but also to satisfy part of the criteria for his and first lady Georganne Nixon’s Children in Nature Community Challenge.

Inside the Outside Program

Each Discover Nature Schools unit provides colorful and engaging books for students. Teachers use the lesson plans provided to guide their students through hands-on outdoor activities that bring the science concepts alive. Units encourage the use of science notebooks. Students measure and record specific details about the weather, but they also make sketches and describe personal observations and feelings. A Silex R-1 fourth-grader’s science notebook entry illustrates how such activities encourage the flow of literacy from science to language arts: “Moss on broken tree feels like velvet. …”

So far, two of the five units are available: the middle school aquatic unit, Conserving Missouri’s Aquatic Ecosystems, and the elementary school unit, Nature Unleashed—The Untamed World of Missouri Ponds, Forests and Prairies. Free student books and teacher guides are available for all Discover Nature Schools units. Nature Unleashed students also receive science notebooks.

This fall, Nature Unbound—The Impact of Ecology on Missouri and the World will be offered as a pilot program for use by high school biology, ecology and environmental science teachers. A kindergarten through second-grade unit is currently in production, and the pilot is scheduled for fall 2011. An early childhood unit will be piloted the following fall.

Real-World Science

Discover Nature Schools field experiences are field trips with a twist. They are designed to be perfect opportunities for kids to take what they learned while exploring their schoolyard “ecosystems” and apply it to new, unfamiliar natural areas. Once they have completed the Nature Unleashed unit, fourth-graders exit the school bus armed with science notebooks, thermometers, binoculars and magnifiers ready to enter a world of exploration, observation and notebooking. Students know that they will be responsible for organizing and reporting on the data gathered during their field experience.

Sixth-graders who have completed the aquatic unit, Conserving Missouri’s Aquatic Ecosystems, can grab their kick nets, magnifiers, ice cube trays and fishing poles and take turns testing the dissolved oxygen and nitrate levels of an area’s pond or stream, sampling the aquatic insect life in that body of water and fishing.

Students come away eager for learning, with an understanding of scientific concepts and an awakening lifelong love of angling.

Parents send their children off to school and hope they gain knowledge. When their children come home excited about what they learned and want to keep learning on their own, that’s a bonus. What better way to learn about the natural world than to be immersed within it? What more could we wish for our children than genuine, outdoor “aha!” moments? What could be better than written words in science books coming to life in their hands? The Discover Nature Schools program empowers students to make and carry those connections with them into adulthood.

Embrace The Elements

Safety and proper clothing are always of primary concern. However, our children need to spend time outside exploring and experiencing plants and wildlife in all kinds of weather. To take students outdoors during a soft, fine rain is to open their senses in new and unexpected ways. To take them outside after a snowstorm is to open their eyes to wildlife highways normally hidden in grass or on concrete. To take them into nature is to help them answer questions, offer theories and make deeper connections.

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