Outdoor living laboratory
Programs including students, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and stewardship improve education outcomes and build leadership skills for youth. Inside the Outdoors is in its third year of partnering with the Orange County Department of Education’s alternative education students at Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy (SYCA), and multiple community partners to inspire youth people to discover, engage in and advocate for the environment. Traveling Scientist classroom visits, Field Trips, Service-Leaning community projects, and advocacy connect classroom learning through STEM-focused environmental education.
Alternative education teacher Mike Gill described that the Inside the Outdoors STEM-learning interactive field trips connected his students to learning in a powerful way. “It was like a light bulb going off. My students realized that they could learn and it changed them,” Michael shared. During the three year partnership, over 1,000 at-risk youth from SYCA have benefited through a 20% increase in assessment scores in science, technology, engineering and math. Overall, academic knowledge in STEM disciplines increased 53% in male students and 100% in female students documented by pre- and –post assessment data.
These students are documented as “at-risk” and have little success learning in a traditional educational environment, the learning environment being provided with the assistance of a grant by the TK Foundation chances their previous learning failures into successes. Having a visual tactile interface (iPads) and using them in the field engages these students in a deeper way than traditional classroom activities. In addition to field study, iPads were used with a downloaded educational app to dissect frogs virtually, allowing students the experience where a live animal lab was not possible. As a result, students began to make connections to the usage of technology in real life practical ways as well as considering possible careers in Science and Engineering fields.
Students visited various field sites throughout Orange County. Popular among students was the Live Animal station where participants saw and touched a live mammal and reptile representative of animals in this ecosystem and learn how their adaptations enable them to survive. Continuing their learning, students explored local ecology in the pristine environment of Rancho Sonado represented by a pond, a riparian area, oak woodland, and chaparral making discoveries through hands-on activities.
Students explored various STEM topics through hands-on labs. These programs provided hands-on opportunities for students to develop an awareness and appreciation of the sciences through the exploration of the animal kingdom and physical science concepts while fostering a commitment to the protection and understanding of the environment and community. One of the favorite lessons expressed by students was the Traveling Scientist live animal study. A Hawk, an owl and other raptors were brought into the classroom to teach students about the roles these predators play in nature. Students visited lab stations to experience hawk vision and discovered the diet of an owl through an owl pellet dissection. A student was noted as saying “When I see the Traveling Scientist from Inside the Outdoors I know it is going to be a good day.”
A minimum of 40 hours of community service was required of each student attending Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy. Many students volunteered their time to install and nurture a demonstration garden at the SYCA location. In addition, SYCA students worked alongside community members and mentors from Disney, Boeing and Simple Green restoring habitat at the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge for a National Public Lands Day event.
A male student from Sunburst Youth ChalleNGe Academy shared that the Field Trips, Traveling Scientist sessions and Service-Learning projects made such an impact on his life that he wants to get his younger brother involved with Inside the Outdoors programs to ensure that he has opportunities to keep out of trouble by making a difference in his community and seeing the possibilities of a future in the field of science. His goal is to save enough money to send his younger brother to ITO’s week-long Summer Day Camp in 2015.
Water testing at Caspers Wilderness Park
Learning about native wildlife - Acorn the Opossum
Ball Python - Pickles