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Community Education Partners, Citizen Science Projects...

Community Education Partners, Citizen Science Projects, and Place-Based Strategies for All Learners, in a Time of COVID, wherever They Find Themselves

By Robyn Stone and Kurt Holland, CASE Environmental Literacy Committee

Outdoor environmental literacy and distance learning on laptops seem diametrically opposed.  K-12 teachers throughout California have always relied on community education partners for getting students into nature and interacting with flora and fauna during field trips. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic’s restrictions on in-person activities have severely impacted programs from educational farms, marine centers, zoos, parks, and botanical gardens. How will outdoor environmental education happen in distance learning mode? 

Community Education Partners
Many community education partners pivoted to providing digital learning experiences for children and families on their websites. Some will provide digital field learning experiences for schools during the 2020-21 academic year. Please visit Association for Environmental & Outdoor Education to find a local provider or visit the websites of your school’s usual local outdoor and environmental education community partners to find out what resources they will offer to support distance learning. Here are a few examples:

  • Canopy, located in Northern California, has developed K-12 bilingual English/Spanish digital interactive lessons about trees that utilize students’ backyards and neighborhoods. 
  • Tree People, in Southern California, provides digital learning opportunities about trees as well as other environmental topics, such as water and soil. 
  • With an online video series, Hidden Villa invites students to take virtual tours of their Los Altos Hills farm and provides at-home activities. 
  • Students can virtually dive into the Pacific Ocean thanks to online mini-courses from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which are available in English or Spanish.

Community environmental education partners can help educators bring the outdoors online and inspire students to take their families outdoors during distance learning. 

Citizen Science Projects
Teachers may engage families in supporting their young scientists by encouraging participation in local citizen science projects identified through SciStarter. Free apps such as iNaturalist, eBird, and Nature’s Notebook empower students and their families to contribute to citizen science data pools. National Geographic’s BioBlitz Program guides educators in organizing family-school-community opportunities to use citizen science apps collaboratively to create a snapshot of an area’s biodiversity.

Time in nature will be a welcome break from screen time for students. Backpocket Learning offers offline, at-home outdoor and environmental education activities. Beetles Project offers educators an online toolkit to support teachers with student field journaling to improve observation skills. John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygen have made their complete book How to Teach Nature Journaling free to support teachers in integrating art, math, language arts and science. 

Place-based learning strategies work anywhere, whether a child is privileged enough to have a backyard or, like a group we worked with this past summer, are living on the streets of urban Los Angeles. Consider that learning outside is healthful, supports equitable access to phenomena, and is cost free when carefully organized. For an example, see the Beetles Project activity called “I Notice, I wonder, It Reminds me of.” This 3D gem is content agnostic, supports questioning, and spurs wonder even as it hones observation skills. Some of our parents used the activity in their kitchen to a lasting impact during the spring Covid shut-down

Educators must leverage students’ place, backyard or neighborhood for local phenomena for equitable learning, even during distance learning. Support from citizen science projects and community education partners will provide teachers and students with a way to conduct outdoor and environmental education remotely. 


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