STEAM in the Park
Exploring National Parks from the Outside In
Nonprofit organization Expeditions for Education created their headliner program, STEAM in the Park, to give teachers the opportunity to spend a few days exploring National Parks across the United States. Agora Curriculum Coordinator Lauren Shaffer was selected to attend and was able to gain the firsthand experience to engage students even more. The relationships she established mean exciting things for the Agora student body—thanks to this opportunity, Lauren is bringing STEAM in the Park to Agora through National Park Rangers and exciting virtual park experiences! The focus will be on grades K-8 but will include some high school opportunities as well.
Lauren recently spent five days in New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia, where she learned about sustainability, responsibility and the principles of Leave No Trace. In order to participate, Lauren had to submit an application explaining why Agora would be a wonderful candidate for such a program. Among 25 other educators of all different backgrounds, Lauren was the only cyber-educator selected to join the New River Gorge Group.
As curriculum coordinator, and in collaboration with other educators on the trip, Lauren helped create close to 50 lesson plans that can be used by students across the country. The educators worked with park rangers on topics like the identification of moths, water quality and treatment, sustainability, and a NASA constellation program.
When asked about the importance of collaborating with the National Parks, Lauren said, “We hope these connections will broaden students’ horizons and allow them an experience that they might not otherwise be able to have. With this program, we can bring the national parks to Agora students—it’s a global community.”
All different kinds of sciences are represented in these programs, from biology to ecology to astronomy and beyond. As with the educators’ program, STEAM in the Park encourages environmental accountability and sustainable living. Conservation of energy, resources and nature is integral to living responsibly, and this program includes lessons on alternative energy resources and how to interact respectfully with surrounding ecosystems.
The lessons within these programs span a diverse set of subjects. They are created to align with the standards of in-class learning, enabling students to engage in activities about landforms, animal life cycles, histories of the parks and how they were affected by industrialization, and aspects of engineering like creating river bridges. Lessons will cross over between science and civics, ethics, history and engineering.
The adoption of this program into the Agora curriculum is unique because it is virtual. This gives Agora students the opportunity to explore American National Parks of every kind, while speaking with experts from all over the nation. Students can participate in a plethora of learning activities, including a virtual walk-through of the parks. All rangers are formally educated within their specific subjects. For instance, Lauren met a ranger from Lincoln Boyhood National Park in Illinois who will be partnering with Agora to talk to students in grades K-2 about Abraham Lincoln. Lauren was also able to make connections with educators and rangers who attended events at Bryce Canyon, the Great Smokey Mountains, and the National Mall in Washington, DC. All of them share a common goal: promote STEAM and get students interested and engaged with nature.
“A big takeaway is what the National Park Service provides and how Agora is going to bring these parks to its students,” says Lauren, “All parks have histories and landforms that are important to learn about. Park rangers will be invited into classrooms to talk about different regions, different animals and ecosystems, and how people use resources in the parks.”
National Park rangers are excited to enter the classroom atmosphere, and virtual learning opens a hoard of possibilities. Agora students will have the opportunity to learn from these experts, and the experts can learn from Agora’s virtual learning expertise. Expeditions for Education and STEAM in the Park have been looking to expand virtually, and Agora is elated to be a facet of that journey.