Outdoor environmental education and distance learning on laptops seem diametrically opposed. K-12 teachers throughout California have always relied on community education partners for getting students into nature and interacting with flora and fauna during field trips. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic’s restrictions on in-person activities have severely impacted programs from educational farms, marine centers, zoos, parks, and museums. How will outdoor environmental science education happen in distance learning mode? 

Community Education Partners

Many community education partners pivoted to providing digital learning experiences for children and families on their websites. Some will also provide digital field learning experiences for schools during the 2020-21 academic year. Please visit the websites of your region’s local outdoor and environmental education community partners to find out what resources they will offer to support distance learning. Here are a few examples of online outdoor/environmental science education resources:

  • Canopy, located in Northern California, has developed K-12 bilingual English/Spanish digital interactive lessons about trees that utilize students’ backyards and neighborhoods. 
  • Tree People, in Southern California, provides digital learning opportunities about trees as well as other environmental topics such as water and soil.
  • With an online video series, Hidden Villa invites students to take virtual tours of their Los Altos Hills farm and provides at-home activities.
  • Students can virtually dive into Pacific Ocean thanks to online mini-courses from Monterey Bay Aquarium which are available in English or Spanish.

Community environmental education partners can help educators bring the outdoors online and inspire students to take their families outdoors during distance learning.

Citizen Science Projects

Teachers may engage families in supporting their young scientists by encouraging participation in local citizen science projects identified through SciStarter. Free apps such as iNaturalist, eBird, and Nature’s Notebook empower students and their families to contribute to citizen science data pools. National Geographic’s BioBlitz Program guides educators in organizing family-school-community opportunities to use citizen science apps collaboratively to create a snapshot of an area’s biodiversity.

Time in nature may be a welcome break from screen time for students. Backpocket Learning offers offline, at-home outdoor and environment activities. Beetles Project offers educators an online toolkit to help them teach students field journaling to improve observation skills. John Muir Laws has made his complete book How to Teach Nature Journaling free to download which may support teachers in integrating art, math, language arts and science.

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