Monday, January 30, 2017

A Post on Science Camps

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, indoorTo this day, most of Amy and Meaghan's longest term friends (including each other), come from outdoor science camps. Science camps, if you've never had the pleasure of attending one, are where fledgling nerds develop their inquisitive wings, and also finally find a group of friends that appreciate their "um actually" sense of humor. But in Oregon and a handful of other states, that science camp experience isn't limited to the nerds, but is given to almost all 6th grade students. In fact, Oregon just passed a measure supporting outdoor school funding for students because the experience is so important and formative for both young scientists AND students who've never looked at science as an interest before. Good job Oregon!

Trees, children, SCIENCE! This one's for Ty, since he never did make it in the OMSI catalog
Photo by David Levering

What is outdoor school, asks the unlucky reader who did not grow up in Oregon? It's essentially a science and nature immersion program. You, and your whole sixth grade class pack up and head out to the wilderness for up to a week of hiking, experimenting, bug-catching, and star-gazing. For urban kids, it may be their first chance to experience and study the wilderness that's outside their city limits. Outdoor school and nature-based school programs improve student motivation, participation, and collaboration, regardless of student career goals. The sudden transportation into a different learning environment is good for student social development, too. Their work in biology and mathematics improves when those subjects are taught outside. It increases a student's empathy for nature, making them more likely to work to preserve it in the future. Students thought to be "underachieving" in the classroom are completely different in the outdoor environment, and this change can stick with them once they go back to school. And it's not just good for students: teachers who take their classes to outdoor school work on ways to pull nature into their classrooms and feel more confident about their teaching skills.

Photo by David Levering

Oregon isn't the only place that has outdoor schools. But if you look at lists of service areas for outdoor education for K-12, you'll notice there's a pretty big gap in the middle of the country. Our friend and outdoor school colleague David Levering is working to change that. He's started an entirely new outdoor school program at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas, and is trying to expand the program by getting new students and building up scholarships. Things in Kansas are starting to change - three years ago they implemented new standards that emphasize Evolution and Climate Change, very different from their policies before.

We couldn't find a study on how many students who go to outdoor school pursue STEM careers. Judging by our friend group, it seems to be a lot. Instead, here's some anecdotal evidence: stories from a few of our friends on how outdoor school influenced their lives.

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Fossil Leaf Segway

"I always knew that I loved learning, but it wasn't until I started attending outdoor science camp as a pre-teen that I discovered my love for science. Learning about astronomy, paleontology, and ecology in real life instead of out of textbooks pushed me to pursue advanced science and math classes in high school, a science degree in college, and eventually a career as a physician." - Morgan Schiller, Student at Saint Louis University School of Medicine
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Morgan, Meaghan, and Ceri as young'uns at HFS

"Being a camper emphasized my love of science, but also made me realize how important the people who worked there were. I tried academic science and now am an instructor for the Oregon of Museum and Science and Industry because I realized that one of the most important things I can do in this world is to help people learn how to approach their world through inquiry and make well informed decisions. It helps that they get to do cool things in awesome places. Also, being a counselor and then an instructor has made me a better person because I get to interact with people of so many different world views and learning styles." - Alison Einolf, Outdoor Educator at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Allison showing how cool Mollusks are

"I went to field paleo camps in Montana and Alberta, where I got a ton of field experience that helped me later as an employee. Those experiences helped me build a resume going in to college. I kept building up more field work experience, which helped me land a position at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument for three summers during grad school. Working as an instructor for outdoor science camp is also where I started thinking that running outdoor youth education programs would be a career path I should pursue. Which I did!"  - David Levering, Education Director at Sternberg Museum of Natural History

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David's in the middle, not contributing.

"I was an inquisitive, independent 7 year old and my parents wanted to send to me to a summer camp that would encourage my interest in science. The local science museum offered week-long residential camps on Paleontology, Field Ecology, Wilderness Survival, or Archaeology and my parents were like cool great let's sign her up and off I went. And I. Loved. It. I *insisted* upon returning every single summer. I fell in love with field science and the outdoors. I remember opening a rock and observing the outlines of a leaf that hadn't been seen in millions of year and learned that every person can make discoveries. I learned about evolution and the origins of species as I held those real fossils in my hands. I learned to be an independent person and learner, engaging with my instructors and friends on the bus, in our cabins and tents, or while on hikes. I made lifelong friends and mentors (shout out to Amy, David, Meaghan, Ellen, Phoebe, Brian, Mo, Erin, Anne, this list will go on for another 20 people). It's no surprise that at the first opportunity to work for those science camps, I took that on as well and I can thank science camp for also inspiring my interest to teach and pursue a graduate degree in the science that I loved." - Ceri Weber, Ph.D. Candidate in Developmental Biology, Duke University
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Ceri, age 8, ready for camp round 2.

"When I was in 4th grade I took a job placement test that told me I should be a shoe maker (no joke). The fact that I immediately retook it twice in order to manipulate the answers so I would get told to be the job I wanted at that time (Flight Attendant) was pretty good evidence that maybe my inquisitiveness and stubbornness would best serve me elsewhere. When I went to outdoor school in 6th grade, my life totally changed. I got to hold fossils, play with lizards, watch the sun set and wonder about the stars, and nobody's been able to kick me out of science since.  I left outdoor school wanting to be a paleontologist/geologist/herpetologist... and I have successfully been all three of those things and more." - Meaghan Wetherell, Associate Director of Research, Central Washington University
Meaghan adding caboose services on a survival camp backpacking camp

"I always loved animals. As a kid, I wanted to go into a field with LOTS left to discover, so I decided I was going to be a marine biologist. That is, until I went to science camp and had the chance to go snorkeling in Monterey Bay, CA. I discovered, very quickly, that I am deathly afraid of kelp. So, on I went to join the Paleontology Research Team, where all the slimy creatures are turned to rock, and you get to hike around outside all the time. I was sold. Still studying & researching paleontology to this day. Science camps (and my very generous parents to whom I am forever grateful) provided the space, resources, and time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and allowed me to do so in a very creative manner. My oldest and closest friends to this day are from my time attending science camp. I had no idea how amazingly supportive and long-lasting the affects of science camp are. Science camps were fun at the time, and I am still benefiting from them to this day." - Amy Atwater, NSF Graduate Research Fellow at University of Texas at Austin 
David (red) & Amy (holding a chunk of petrified wood named Walter) and the Paleo Research Team!

Enough with the testimonies, let's get get to the nitty-gritty:

The current administration has already proven itself not science friendly, and it's only the first month. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in our students science education so the next generation is better informed than the current one. Help David bring Kansas students into the outdoors and the outdoors into Kansas classrooms - share his crowdfunding project and information about his program, or consider donating a couple of bucks his way. We donated 40, and have a bunch of cool stickers coming our way. Do you like stickers? Like science? Then help fund David's project, and make sure that midwest nerds get the same opportunities and experiences that pacific northwest nerd children do.

And if you know a nerd kid, tell them about David's camp. We've known David since we were teenagers, and we promise that other than ourselves, he's the coolest nerd we know.

- Meaghan & Amy

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