By Dr. Curtis Varnell
Area teachers experienced outdoor education at a recent workshop held at the Huckabee River Valley Nature Center. Held in collaboration with the Guy Fenter Education Cooperative, sixteen area teachers received a hands-on experience of the educational opportunities offered to students by the nature center.
The Nature Center offers students the opportunity to visit throughout the year. Just visiting the center and walking through the exhibits is a learning experience itself but, by tying the visits focus to educational goals and standards, the center can create student excitement and create interest in subjects across the curriculum.
A prime example occurred when teachers struggled into the hip boots and seined the edges of the lake. Students are provided complete lessons describing the importance of ecology, food chain, and interdependence of species. They also studied water quality which involved environmental studies in water chemistry and the danger of pollutants. That would be expected from the activity itself but students were expected to develop literacy skills through the collection of journals and then writing about their discoveries. Additionally, they learned to collect and evaluate data; high level skills involving averages, per-centiles of population, and graphing. Extensions included macro-invertebrates, drawing and identifying fish and animal species and other skills. Math, science, reading, writing, art- all while having fun and developing life-time memories.
As part of the learning process, the teachers were expected to participate in exactly the way students would learn in the fall. Teachers paddled kayaks and canoes, tried out archery skills, and waded through high grass and water to collect data. Later in the day, classroom instruction on reptiles and invertebrates involved teachers actively observing and handling various non-poisonous snakes and observing the feeding habits of the rattlesnake. Several of the teachers also arranged fall barge trips up the Arkansas River to participate in the Eagle watch and developed plans for the Arkansas Game and Fish personnel to visit their individual schools.
The educational cooperative provided a series of lessons for teachers to use as they continue exploring the world around them. These included lessons on water filtration, developing a school yard safari, and the water cycle.
A fun learning experience, the teachers went home exhausted but with a head-full of new ways to approach teaching by making the outdoors a vital part of their curriculum.
Attending the session were teachers from Waldron, Paris, Charleston, Clarksville, Westside, Scranton, Fort Smith, Booneville, and Greenwood. AGAF instructors for the program were Kendra Ingle and Chad Lowe assisted by Dr. Curtis Varnell of Guy Fenter Ed. Cooperative.