The National Science Foundation recently published in the National Register a Request for Proposals to address three problems among the underlying causes for poor performance in science education for K-12 students. The three areas are:
1. Too many teachers teaching out-of-field
2. Too few students taking advanced course work
3. Too few schools offering a challenging curriculum.
The OUS Nature Center’s content filled programs have been very successful with teachers and students. The programs help to prepare teachers for the classroom and help create enthusiasm for science in the students, but this is not enough. Teachers say the Nature Center programs are exactly what are needed – “they also say they need more of them.” The teachers from every school that bring students on a field trip to the Nature Center say that it was “the best field trip they have had.”
The OUS Nature Center education programs address all disciplines in an outdoor setting. By using the environment as the integrating framework for learning, student programs are organized around environmental themes or projects, which include elements of science, math, social studies, arts & humanities, and history. Activities are easily adaptable to many settings from the classroom to land labs, including 4-H, Girl and Boy Scouts and church groups. Students learn from environmental education materials and activities designed by Project Learning Tree, National Wildlife Federation, Project Wild, and activities prepared specifically by the Nature Center staff.
The Nature Center is the destination for field trips by various classes and grade levels for many Tri-State area schools. All-day programs have been successfully presented for as few as 10 students to as many as 200 students. Large groups are split into units of 30 students and led through the activities by Nature Center university student staff.
The Nature Center equipment inventory includes much of the material for K-12 science education. In fact, most of the experiments and demonstration materials one finds at a Center of Science and Industry (COSI) facility are available at the Nature Center. Because of space constraints materials are taken out of storage and set up for specific programs. The current Nature Center campus is small. It includes a classroom, a laboratory, and an office/computer lab. Most of the Nature Center programs use the out-of-doors as the classroom. The facility was outgrown the day the facility opened.
Knowing the problems in science education, the long-range goal is to expand the size of the Nature Center campus to include a science center dedicated to pre-service and in-service teacher development with facilities to offer advanced and challenging programs of study for area K-12 students; a natural history museum with emphasis on artifacts depicting the natural history of the Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia Tri-State area; an astronomy observatory for students and the public to see the universe; a programmable laser system to do interpretive evening programs of historic area events; and an Iron Furnace museum that will display iron furnace exhibits and history for the local public as well as visitors to the area.
Outreach, under the name “OUS Natural Wonders Outreach Programs”, has become a big part of the Nature Center activities. Nature Center staff volunteers travel to area schools, libraries, home-school gatherings, and scouting groups to present programs which spark K-12 students’ interest in science and mathematics. These programs include: The OUS Science Wizard, The Reptile Experience, The Rock Hounds, and The Wonderful World of Spiders. Over the last three years, the outreach programs have touched the lives of over 10,000 students in the Tri-State area (100-mile radius of Ohio University Southern). Nature Center personnel are working on ways to expand the outreach programs to include mammals, raptors, frogs & toads, and fish.
An expanded OUS Nature Center campus will provide a valuable resource for teacher development and a challenging setting of advanced curricula for students interested in scientific disciplines, both of which are desperately needed benefits to science education in Tri-State area schools. In addition, the campus will become a destination for visitors to the Tri-State area.