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The impact of taking kids outside with D2D


Scouts-2010 048gerri fitzloff (1).jpgI want to take the opportunity in this final D2D eZine to praise all of the hard work done by our adult leaders. It is hard work leading one of these groups - there is group dynamics to navigate, science to teach, and encounters with questions you may not know the answers to. It's a challenge you've all risen to! This program not only cultivates a love and aspiration for science, but it fosters a love and appreciation for nature as well. As adult leaders you are both the facilitators and front seat spectators to all of that.

There is a LOT of competition with nature these days: technology (computers, video games, TV); more buildings, cars and roads; fear of strangers; parental attitude; fear of pests. The list could go on forever. For kids, boundaries are smaller, and the freedom to roam is diminished.

People have always had a fear of the unknown, and throughout history nature has often been included in that. The difference now is that collectively as a society, we know more about what's out in nature, but when we get down to the individual level the understanding isn't always there.

During my time as a naturalist and informal educator I observed fear of pests (among other things) first hand. I will never forget the mother who asked me if her children "could catch ticks" from being in the long grass where we were building our fort (having fun!). When I told her it was possible, but not likely as ticks were long past their peak, she immediately wanted to take her kids home and away from the fun they were having. I did not mention to her that it was also possible to "catch ticks" in her backyard...

I do not discount the fears and worries of parents - our world is a dangerous place! Or, at least it can be. One of the great things about D2D is that it gives youth some knowledge and the tools they need to navigate through a number of those fears and dangers in a way that empowers them, instead of doing all the work for them. In my opinion, spending time in nature is a huge part of the way humans learn. It is a way for children to gain confidence, build coordination skills, test the physical capabilities of their own boundaries, and learn what is acceptable socially.

It has been so wonderful watching all of this happening through your stories with the youth from D2D. One of my greatest pleasures in working with this project is seeing the impact it has had on all of our youth participants. The investigations youth do may be directed by them (with guidance, of course), but their passion was sparked by all of our wonderful adult leaders. And I know that many of these youth will grow up with a much larger appreciation for more than just birds or monarchs.

All of their experiences are in no small way thanks to all of you. They will remember what they did with you, their leaders, for the rest of their lives. I have no doubt that when they are older if they are ever asked "How did you know you wanted to do ____?" the answer will lead back to the season(s) they spent with you learning to identify birds and caterpillar instars, the investigations they developed, and the connections they made with their fellow youth, to science, and to nature.

So I and the rest of the D2D team would like to say THANK YOU to all of the adult leaders, past and present, for helping to create these experiences for children.

Katie-Lyn Bunney

Monarchs in the Classroom coordinator


July's eZine included an article highlighting the importance of reflection to build the learning experience of young people in our research groups. This month we'll highlight additional tools to assist you in this vital task! Creating opportunities for young people to reflect on their experiences is a critical component to strengthening program quality, yet this is often the most challenging to implement.

So why is it so hard to do in our programs?

  • We fall into the trap of thinking of reflection as something that can only be done at the end of a program session, and we often run short of time to finish an activity, let alone reflection.
  • Most of us are not taught to be reflective learners nor are young people offered much opportunity to pause and reflect as part of their typical day or out-of-school program schedule.
Let's rethink reflection... see it not as that 'thing' that comes at the end of the activity, but the intentional 'thing' we can do throughout our program time which builds critical thinking skills and creates meaning, value, and wonder in learning. A great resource to help in facilitating this process is the field guide: Questions for guiding experiential learning.


Try a New Tool!

Use tools that reflect multiple intelligences and various learning styles. These resources offer a variety of short, easy-to-use reflection activities:

Four questions to ask yourself

Here are four indicators of youth having opportunity for reflection, based on youth program quality research (Smith, et al., 2013). How would you respond?

  1. Do I use two or more strategies to encourage youth to share what they have done and reflect on their experiences, challenges, accomplishments (e.g., drawing, debriefing activities, use of props or models, using technology)?
  2. Do I create strategies that have youth work together and talk in teams of two, small groups, and large group settings?
  3. Do I circulate and ask youth to talk about their activity or progress as they are working on a project? Do I encourage youth to explain their thinking? Do I ask mostly open-ended questions?
  4. How do I give opportunities for youth to demonstrate how they solved a problem?
Perhaps these questions or one of the tools will spark in you a new way to help young people "make meaning" of their experiences in the outdoors!


References:

Cain, Cummings, Stanchfield (2008). A Teachable Moment - A Facilitator's Guide to Activities for Processing, Debriefing, Reviewing and Reflection. Kendall-Hunt.

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Smith, et al., (2013). Program Quality Assessment Handbook-youth version. David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, Forum for Youth Investment. Ypsilanti, MI.

Anne Stevenson, Extension educator & professor

Extension Center for Youth Development

joe-pye-weed.jpgWhile many people might not think much diversity could exist in their small well-manicured lawn or their local park's open space, these spaces actually represent a great opportunity to create insect habitat. By planting native vegetation instead of monocultures or non-native plants, we have a chance to transform these areas into habitat for native insects. Monocultures, such as a typical turfgrass lawn, or spaces with non-native plants don't typically support much insect life. By instead planting native plants that insects have co-evolved with, we can provide a food source for all life-stages of important insects.

Insects are extremely important for our ecosystem, not only for their incredible diversity, beauty, and services such as pollination, but also because they provide a large amount of the world's biomass. Many creatures, ranging from birds to lizards, eat insects, and those creatures are in turn eaten by others. However, in order for there to be insects, they must have a food source. Many insects are specialists that can only feed on a limited number of plant species, typically plants that they have evolved with over long time periods. In addition to serving as a food source and creating native insect habitat, native plants also tend to be adapted for the local climate, meaning that they tend to require less water and maintenance.

While more insect habitat is ideal, even just one or two native plants can make a difference. To start, find out what plants are native in your area. In Minnesota, some of my favorite native plants are liatris, asters, and of course the 13 different MN-native species of milkweed! It is also important to plant native trees, many of which also serve as a host plant for many insects. When purchasing plants, make sure that the plants haven't been treated with systemic pesticides. For more information on the importance of native plants, check out Douglas Tallamy's book "Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants." Good luck and happy planting!

Kelly Nail

University of Minnesota Monarch Lab


Welcome to another summer of the D2D eZine! Please use this as a resource to work with the other Driven to Discover Citizen Science teams! This summer we will have fewer issues - only one each month on the last Friday of the month. Each issue will have tips, updates, links and more to help your summer run smoothly. We love to share stories from our participants too, so please send us some pictures, video links, stories, and any questions or comments you may have. Other teams are a great resource too, especially if you are faced with a challenge you're not quite sure how to conquer. Reach out to your peers! They will have plenty to offer.

We hope you have a wonderful summer of citizen science and authentic science inquiry - remember we are here for you!

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