One image I hold from grade school was the magic of the milkweed plant. Our class was outside the building to see nature in action. Blowing the white puffs of seeds out of the pods and watching them drift across the field fed the sense of wonder infinitely more than a classroom discussion of seed dispersal ever could.
Harvard Biology Professr E.O. Wilson echoed that when he noted, "Wonder is an important motivator for lifelong learning." One study found that student experience in outdoor science improved their science testing scores by 27 percent.
For all these reasons and more, the Missouri Conservation Department has developed the Discover Nature Schools program. It has test-aligned instructional units (both teacher guides and student booklets) that bring Missouri students outdoors to nature close-to-home with help from field trip and learning materials grants. The aquatic unit for middle schools has been available for a year now. Teacher training and grant application for the new unit for upper 3rd-5th grade, Nature Unleashed, is just beginning statewide. You can preview the student guide online. The printed copies and the teacher guide will be available in September.
There has been so much news lately about our children's disconnection from nature and what that means for their health and well-being. If we can help build those connections, support science-learning in a personal, hands-on way, and develop an appreciation for what it takes to conserve healthy nature and life outdoors...well, wouldn't we do it? The point is, here are some actions Missouri's parents and teachers can take that won't cost more (you're already paying the conservation sales tax) and won't add a burden to teaching (the units align with grade level expectations and should actually help students take standardized science tests) that can make a difference now.
We have a k-2 unit in the works, as well as a high school ecology unit. Those will be available in 2011 and 2012. But no need to wait! We can step in the right direction now. Please pass the word along to your local school boards, principals, teachers. Help Missouri students Discover Nature. They can start with Nature Unleashed! To learn more you can contact your local conservation education consultant. (If you're out-of-state you can use the pdf files of the teacher and student guides, but the printed materials and grants are available for Missouri schools only.)