By Marion Goldstein, Elizabeth Pierson, Jamie Kynn, and Lisa Famularo
The PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit is a new set of free, public media resources designed to help informal educators and parents infuse science learning into outdoor recreation.
Few people think of urban areas as ideal places to learn about nature. The tall buildings, dense concrete, and heavy traffic found in these locations cause most people to believe they need to leave the city to experience the natural world. The PLUM LANDING Explore Outdoors Toolkit is a new set of free, public media resources designed to help informal educators and parents infuse science learning into outdoor recreation. Developed by trusted media producer WGBH in partnership with researchers at Education Development Center (EDC), the Toolkit aims to get children (ages 6–9) from low-income, urban communities outside so they can explore the environment around them while debunking the myth that nature is something that only exists beyond city limits. In an activity called Fly It and Spy It, for example, families throw a Frisbee and closely observe what may live in the space where it falls. In City Heat Island, children measure and compare temperatures across artificial and natural surfaces (such as concrete vs. grass) to better understand why the abundance of artificial surfaces in cities often make them warmer than surrounding areas.
A 2015 grant from the National Science Foundation funded a three-year project in which developers at WGBH, researchers at EDC, and partner informal education programs throughout the United States worked together to iteratively create, test, and refine the Toolkit to support the needs of informal educators and the communities they serve. The Toolkit was piloted in after-school programs for children, family programs facilitated by educators, and programs in which families do activities on their own. Research showed that the Toolkit can be implemented successfully in all of these settings and can foster science learning by promoting children’s engagement with science content and use of practices aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
The Toolkit consists of hands-on and digital resources to engage youth in carefully designed, fun, physically active outdoor science explorations. Activities, which are accessible via the online Toolkit, can be extended through the use of videos, handouts, and an app, which all encourage youth and families to explore nature in their own urban neighborhoods. The Toolkit was designed to support educators at all experience levels, be easily adapted to meet local needs, and be engaging for diverse youth. Below are some of the lessons we learned while developing and testing the materials.
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