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Connecting the Next Generation of Students to Nature

Posted Sep 06, 2019
Curriculum Update Pr 1

Students in the field using new resources and technology to learn about ecosystems.

The 2019-2020 school year will bring big changes to the curriculum-based nature experiences school students have at Asbury Woods. Over the past year, our Education staff and volunteer Education Advisory Committee have been doing a complete update and expansion of the Pennsylvania standards-based programs we offer to Pre-K through 8th grade students.

There were several goals of this intensive process including expansion of the number and variety of science and nature-based lessons we could offer to schools; to deliberately incorporate rich and meaningful STEM connections into every unit; diversify the portions of our property that are used for school visits so returning students remain engaged and excited; and infuse the Asbury Woods visits with a meaningful integration of technology to complement the way today’s students learn.

Traditionally, school visits to Asbury Woods have aligned with curriculum framework around Life Science. These school visits relied heavily on our exhibit hall animals and other native animals easily found and identified on the Asbury Woods property to teach a variety of topics including animal habitats, animal lifecycles, animal classification, food chains, biotic web of life on Earth, ecosystems, and animal populations. Our examination of how the Asbury Woods property could provide valuable lessons within other science frameworks has resulted in a tripling of the number of topics we are making available to schools.

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Students in the field documenting ecosystem findings.

The expanded content includes several new Life Science units and offers units in the new areas of Earth and Space Science and Physical Science. Examples of the new topic areas are Weather and Climate, Forces and Motion, Maps and Geography, Roles of Water on Earth’s Surface Processes, History of Planet Earth, and Fossils. These exciting new topics for student exploration will provide exposure to a variety of hands-on science learning using Asbury Woods as outdoor, natural classrooms. Additionally, each unit includes a specific career exploration component to help students make connections between their Asbury Woods experience and future career options. This additional career exploration component will help provide students whose interest is sparked by their experience at Asbury Woods to chart a pathway to envision those interests as part of a future career.

“The curriculum review is an important process to be relevant and innovative while meeting the needs of the 21st Century student. For the past 50 years we have been deeply rooted in nature exploration and now we’re infusing our nature-based curriculum with science, technology, and career explorations while keeping the hands-on connections to nature that students need to thrive in today’s world,” Dr. Justin Zona, Board Member and Fairview School District Director of Curriculum and Instruction.

The revised and expanded curriculum moves from our traditional model of one topic available for each grade in a specific season to a model where we provide topics in grade bands (PreK, K-2, 3-5 and 6-8), allowing for differences in how individual school districts meet curriculum standards. The new curriculum also ensures multiple topic offerings for each grade band and takes into account seasonal variations of how the lessons are taught. These changes will allow us to be more responsive to school districts’ needs, provide scheduling flexibility and help us better spread out use of the buildings and property to ensure specific parts of the property are not overused.

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Asbury Woods educators using new iPads and apps to gather data in the field.

In addition to the revised and expanded content, Asbury Woods is making significant investments in new technology, equipment, models and manipulatives to support the new curriculum. A suite of iPads with science, nature, and data analysis apps will be integrated into the learning environment at Asbury Woods. Technology can be a powerful tool that enhances rather than detracts from the learning experience, including learning that happens in the fields, forests and streams of Asbury Woods. The technology and equipment component will allow us to better integrate important science methods into the lessons and better match how students today are learning in their classrooms. Each of our units offered to schools will include activities around observation, data collection, data interpretation, and presentation.

“We have always been an amazing outdoor classroom, rich with possibilities for deep and meaningful learning experiences for kids. Through the curriculum update process we evaluated the possibilities to branch out and expand our biology and ecology offerings while adding earth science and physical science into the curriculum. I’m really excited to share the new technology resources with the students so we can dive deeper into nature,” Kelley Lang, Director of Education and Public Programs.

Other new technology and equipment includes exciting, hands-on items such as trail cameras, a weather station, nest cameras, sensors and probes for measuring environmental conditions, and a stream table.

These investments in the school curriculum updates, curriculum expansion, and new technology and equipment is all made possible thanks to donors who made gifts to the Preserving a Legacy Campaign. Our continued ability to reach students with meaningful environmental education, hands-on STEM lessons and outdoor nature-based learning is because of the generosity of those individuals, companies, and foundations who gave generously to move Asbury Woods forward.