The Aquatic Education Network gathered educators virtually on December 10, 2020 to discuss strategies to provide students who are learning remotely with field study experiences. Field studies are an important element of watershed education. This year, teachers are faced with the challenge of providing students with meaningful watershed education experiences without being able to pile on a bus and head to the nearest waterway. The December meeting was an attempt to figure how to engage students in the essential elements of a field study in remote and hybrid learning environments.
The conversation covered:
- Identifying the basic elements of a high quality remote field study
- Safely engaging students in data collection
- Creatively providing students with materials
A good field study has three key elements. 1) It is a valuable experience, both educationally and personally. 2) It is connected to the curriculum and the students’ lives. 3) It engages students in real work – that is, the activities are useful and productive. In today’s remote learning environment there are challenges in getting materials to students, getting them out into the field safely, and connecting with experts. On the other hand technology provides opportunities for going places without leaving your desk, new tools are available for collaborating across time and space, and home environments provide opportunities for the creative educator.
At the meeting, three models for remote field studies emerged from discussions:
- Students can study the Genesee River watershed using maps, data and media available online from Genesee Riverwatch. To demonstrate the flow of water and pollution in the environment students can be asked to create models of the watershed using materials at home.
- Students can study water quality with protocols and materials provided to students in school, through an organizational partner, or mailed to them. Students can contribute their data to a shared data set.
- Students can engage in backyard investigations that lead them to build a more informed mental model of how their home environment connects to the larger ecosystem. Tool like inaturalist can be useful for this type of investigation.
The uncertainty of our current situation has everyone’s plans up in the air and the stress of what educators are asked to do has them feeling overwhelmed but there is still a strong commitment from educators to provide students with the education they deserve, whatever it takes. Coming together to problem solve and share ideas around remote field studies was a powerful example of why the Aquatic Educators Network is a valuable structure for teachers, students, and our community as a whole. Everyone agrees that getting together in person is the ideal way to build a community stewardship minded educators but educator feedback from the discussion says this was a good substitute until that day comes.
The meeting slides contain additional resources.