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“Outdoor Explorers,” an environmental education program

Laura Stevens, Melinda Voss, Andie Wyatt, and Taya Malone
Conservation Biology class, BIO 345, Biology Department, DePauw University
Fall semester 2004

Introduction
We developed an outdoor environmental education curriculum to teach grade school students about ecology and conservation.  Our curriculum, named “Outdoor Explorers,” was divided into four stations:  animals, plants, soil, and water.  The lessons incorporated hands-on activities that illustrated ecological concepts with an overarching theme of conservation.  Students from Greencastle Middle School participated in the “Outdoor Explorers” program at the DePauw University Nature Park. 

Hypothesis
With a fun and engaging curriculum, an outdoor setting, hands-on activities, and a review of ecological concepts, we hypothesized that students would find the “Outdoor Explorers” experience engaging, interesting, and educational. 

Methods
Activities for the animal station included observing skulls, constructing food chains, identifying animal tracks, and observing cockroaches.  A survey was given to students and teachers to assess the success of the field trip.  The survey was randomly and anonymously administered to 35 students and teachers 5 days after the field trip.  Available answers in the survey were YES!, yes, sort of, not really, and not at all.  The survey also asked “what did you like the best?” and “what did you like the least?”  To measure knowledge gained by the students, we administered pre- and post-tests to 97 students.  The pre-test was taken 30 minutes before and the post-test 30 minutes after the field trip.  The pre- and post-tests were identical and consisted of short-answer questions.  Examples of questions included “what is a food chain?” and “what is an animal’s habitat?”

Results
The field trip was conducted on October 28, 2004 in the DePauw Nature Park.  About 150 sixth-grade students from Greencastle Middle School participated.  Groups of 20 to 30 students rotated among the four stations, spending approximately 35 minutes at each station.  According to the survey results, at least 80% of the students agreed that they had fun or found activities interesting or educational.  We observed a significant increase in score of 2.47 between the pre- and post-tests (from 19.98 to 22.45;  p << 0.001, paired t-test). 

Discussion
The results of our study showed that there was a gain in environmental knowledge.  The pre- and post-tests were poorly designed, however, and more conclusive results would likely be observed if a more effective and objective test were written.  Also, many improvements can be made to the curriculum to increase the effectiveness of the educational activities.  Survey feedback suggested adding more hands-on activities, more time, and more challenging activities, for example.  These improvements can be made in future executions of “Outdoor Explorers.”