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3 Organizations That Go Outside to Train the Next Generation of Scientists

Posted by Jessi Loerch at Nov 13, 2018 11:24 AM |

Three ways that graduates from WTA's Outdoor Leadership Training program are taking kids outside to learn about science and inspire the next generation of outdoor leaders.

We created Washington Trails Association’s Outdoor Leadership Training program and gear library to help people who work with youth get the resources they need to explore outdoors. We provide training on what we know best, like how to plan a safe hiking or camping trip, as well as access to our gear library. Then organizations that specialize in connecting with youth can use those resources to support their own work.

The graduates from our Outdoor Leadership Training program work with youth in many different ways, including introducing them to the hands-on application of science. Here are three programs that make use of the WTA gear library and are helping to train the next generation of scientists.

Nisqually Glacier visit
Students learn about geology and more on a trip to Mount Rainier with Nisqually Reach Nature Center. Photo by April Roe.

Nisqually Reach Nature Center

Since 2000, the Nisqually Reach Nature Center has hosted summer camps focused on inquiry-based science to teach students about estuaries and watersheds from their nature center at the Nisqually Estuary.

For the past two years, Education Director April Roe has led students to Mount Rainier National Park to see the Nisqually Glacier — the source of the Nisqually watershed. On the two-night camping trip, students get the chance to connect, learn about the unique ecosystems of the Nisqually watershed and develop an understanding and appreciation of public lands. While on the trails, campers investigate the geologic history of the Nisqually Glacier while learning to identify evidence of past geologic events with the help of knowledgeable educators Jeff Antonelis-Lapp, Chris Maun and Jane Poole.

Campers learn and teach each other about native plants found along the trails and weave bracelets that represent the different color dyes that can be harvested from plants in the Pacific Northwest. Both years, as they headed home from the park, students were already discussing plans to return with their friends and family to show them all they had experienced.    

Bright Water Waldorf School

The Bright Water Waldorf School in Seattle knows how to bring science lessons to the field for their middle school students, even in the winter months. In seventh grade, BWWS students study physics and are taken on a special snowshoeing trip at Snoqualmie Pass to see these principles in action. Students discuss the concepts of thermodynamics, conduction and insulation while digging snow caves. They learn about the six simple machines — basic systems that people use to make physical work easier — while learning crevasse rescue with a Z-pulley system. On top of experiencing the real-world application of physics in an exciting way, many students experience snowshoeing for the very first time. 

“We are enormously grateful for WTA’s support,” said Holly Mullally, one of the trip leaders. “This is Waldorf education at its best — experiential science in the outdoors — and we couldn’t do it without this incredible gear-lending program that WTA provides.” 

Wild Society

On their weeklong backcountry field study program, the leaders at Wild Society create the opportunity for their students to enjoy the wilderness while developing natural observation and inquiry skills. For the fifth year, Forrest Nichols and Myrna Keliher headed into the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula with 12 kids and Mark Darrach, a rare-plant botanist and Wild Society board member. The youth backpacked into the wilderness and participated in intensive field study days in which they learned field naturalist skills from Mark.

According to Myrna, as they hiked, Mark taught the students through an “open-ended inquiry-based approach grounded in wonder and gratitude, a hallmark of our programs. It was a joy to witness the effortless flow of information and curiosity travel back and forth between these kids, aged 11-18, and this well-seasoned, recently retired botanist.”

The teens learned early on in the trip about “the wood-wide web,” the underground mycelial network that connects trees from root tip to root tip, and the new research around plant communication and interdependence.

On the last day, a camper wrote in the group logbook, “I am just so thankful for everyone and I feel that we are more than a family and more of a wood-wide web. This trip has improved my skills and I am very grateful.”