Outdoor experiences central to Sycamore, IU partnership



A partnership between Sycamore Land Trust, the IU School of Education and several Monroe County elementary schools aims to get kids out of their science classrooms and into the environment.

Shane Gibson, the environmental education director of nonprofit organization Sycamore Land Trust, and IU School of Education professor Meredith Park Rogers have been working together to teach education students how to create hands-on science lessons for elementary students.

“I want them to understand as classroom teachers how they can use their outdoors as a classroom,” Park Rogers said. “They can learn about their own local environment by having their kids go outside the walls of the school.”

Gibson came to Park Rogers’ Integrated Sciences course for a week and walked her students through outdoor activities he uses in Sycamore’s everyday educational outreach. They played games introducing the concepts of predator-prey relationships, natural resources, connections between living things and miniature habitats for 
native Indiana species.

Gibson said he focused on teaching the education students activities they could easily duplicate and change to cater to any age and lessons from readily available curriculum like Project Learning Tree and Project WILD.

Now those IU students are visiting Templeton Elementary School and Harmony School and implementing the tactics they’ve learned to help kids broaden their understanding of science. Five education students, along with Gibson, visited Templeton Elementary School on Friday. Park Rogers said they worked as a team to lead activities and discussions.

As part of their class, the education students must document kids’ reactions – their questions, comments and what they say they’re learning from the experience. Park Rogers said she wants her students to “dig in on how kids are thinking about the science.”

Even though they only had an hour, Gibson said the kids reacted positively.

“I think it was really successful for being a Friday,” he said. “I think the kids were 
really engaged.”

Stephanie Lukas, a senior studying elementary education, said the kids already knew a lot about habitats. Before the visit, Templeton teachers read them books introducing the concepts Park Rogers’ students then solidified. Lukas said the kids were excited.

If the outdoor lessons reflect what kids learn in classrooms, Gibson said they could strengthen the children’s foundation of knowledge about the environment. Repeated visits and outdoor experiences will build kids’ awareness.

“It’s not just a one-time stop,” he said.

Park Rogers said she wants her students to see the importance of making community connections that can support their science teaching. Finding speakers to bring in, activities to take outside and local preserves to visit can “get kids actively engaged in thinking like scientists,” she said.

“Kids have a narrow understanding of what science is, and this allows them to 
broaden it,” Lukas said.

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