"So That We Can Save the Earth from Dying": Highlights from a Middle School Field Day

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Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education


Continued urbanization is likely to reduce human-nature experience, transforming human-dwelt spaces into increasingly artificial environments and removing humans from interaction with non-human living things and their ecosystems. In urban spaces, outdoor experiential educational activities can help students increase their familiarity with the outdoors and get their hands dirty. This case study reports on an environmental field day for middle school students from an urban Kentucky middle school. Students rotated through three activities (picking insects out of leaf packs, testing water quality, and planting trees), then completed a brief survey designed and administered by their faculty. Students rated the tree planting activity more highly than the other two activities (p < 0.0001), suggesting that this activity was more accessible, interesting, and engaging to a broader range of students. However, student qualitative responses to the water quality and leaf pack activities demonstrated an ability to make connections between those activities and the broader world, such as the importance of their stream-water quality for the Gulf of Mexico, or the implications of finding pollution-tolerant insects for understanding stream health. Overall, we recommend planning field days with multiple activities that offer various entry points for students with a range of prior experience of nature. We also emphasize the potential for these sorts of activities to help students develop a sense of awe or wonder in nature—seeing and handling things they never considered before but now experience as profound and interesting. These observations are consistent with the literature demonstrating the need for human-nature experience (especially in urban areas) to support developing a sense of affectivity for the environment and interest in taking environmentally beneficial actions, as well as the role of place-based experiential education in helping students bridge that gap.

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