13 Nov Source to Sea Program Adapted to Meet Demand for Virtual Education
Friends of the Los Angeles River has adapted our Source to Sea watershed education program to meet the needs of both students and teachers for academically sound and engaging virtual learning. As a community-oriented organization with a mission to connect students to nature, we needed to become creative with how to foster that connection virtually.
In March, when COVID 19 put an unprecedented halt to in-person learning, we immediately shifted gears to ensure that the students and teachers awaiting their LA River Rover school visits and River Field trips could still complete the program. We quickly filmed River Rover and Field Trip lessons, adapted resources to include recorded narrations on PowerPoint presentations to make life easier for teachers to continue, given the quick shift to an on-line classroom.
The summer of 2020 was all about planning: we consulted with remote learning experts, studied up on the best practices of virtual environmental education, and brainstormed engaging activities. Our educators attended webinars from organizations like North American Association for Environmental Education(NAAEE) and Better Environmental Education, Teaching, Learning & Expertise Sharing (BEETLES). NAAEE and BEETLES are both experts in the field of environmental education. They stress the importance of navigating our work with an equity lens and to always think about the individuals and communities who are not participating. It was all uncharted territory, but perhaps one silver living of the pandemic was that it provided us with a unique opportunity to become more nimble and learn from the experts so we can continue to meet the needs of our students.
We are proud to have transformed our in-person Source to Sea Watershed Education Program into a virtual program. Traditionally, this program consisted of four lessons, two taught by the students’ teachers and two taught by FoLAR River Educators. The FoLAR-facilitated lessons took place aboard our LA River Rover, our mobile-museum parked at their schools, and at the LA River on a field trip. Our educators are now delivering both of these one-hour lessons via Zoom. Students still learn about the River’s history, build their own water filtration systems, identify native biodiversity, practice nature journaling, and ask/answer many questions!
During our virtual, live lessons we give students opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas about the topics we’re discussing. Prior to meeting with us, they submit questions to FoLAR for us to answer during a Q&A session. The Education Team has received very interesting, creative, and at times challenging questions from the students which keeps us on our toes! It is a reminder that educators are always learning from their students. Some of our favorite questions so far are: “What can I do to help the LA river go back to its former glory?” and “How would trout survive if they came back with the new species that live in the LA River today?” By giving students opportunities to share and formulate questions, they are honing their critical thinking skills.
We also provide a moment for students to observe nature — from their own homes. We ask students to get up and find something around them that represents nature. Next, we invite the students to a writing exercise and ask them to follow the prompts: “I notice..”, “I wonder…”, “It reminds me of…” Most students choose to observe a plant or a vegetable. Some look out a window. One student went outside to observe his father’s garden and began to talk to us about how much his family enjoys gardening. Another student got creative and observed his own hand because he couldn’t find any plants around him. And that’s what we want students to realize — that they are a part of nature, not separate from it. We remind them that these are tools that they can carry with them when they go on walks with their family or visit their local park. Providing students the time to observe and write about nature allows their appreciation for it to grow and helps them look at the environment in entirely new ways.
And the discovery doesn’t end there! After they’ve successfully completed the program, FoLAR provides them with resources to keep them exploring the many lessons the River has to teach and information on how to get involved in the River movement. We provide them with field guides they can take with them to the River, and also encourage them to pick up trash around their neighborhoods and at our next CleanUp.
What is especially exciting is that we will be able to expand our reach during this remote learning school year. Based upon Source to Sea’s reputation for academic excellence, we were asked to fulfill an immediate need in the LA Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Central District. We joined a coalition of informal science educators from museums and community organizations to provide STEM education to 5th graders from LAUSD. The STEM Partnership with LAUSD is a 9 week program in which students receive lessons from a different organization every 3 weeks. We are able to provide 6 lessons during our time with the students which allows us to dive deeper into watershed science, nature based solutions, and nature observations. In a time in which we are spending most of our time indoors and close to home, we’re giving students the tools to stay curious about their natural surroundings.
We have heard from teachers that some students are visiting the River with their families. One teacher even received pictures from students identifying and admiring native plants. Environmental education encourages students to find awe in nature, bringing them a sense of relief during this time. They are also encouraged to share what they’re learning with their families to demonstrate what they have learned about making nature observations and encouraging their family members to do the same, becoming teachers themselves.
“Students very much enjoyed having Ilianna and Mireya visit our ZOOM class to instruct lessons and opportunity to share their ideas and creative scientific process. They are excited to visit the LA River in the near future and we continue to learn more about how to revitalize the river. Students gained invaluable knowledge about the history of the LA River, including the Tongva indigenous people, how engineers solve problems and the effects on our environment, and the importance of biodiversity and revitalization of our Los Angeles River. Students have been inspired to learn more about the LA River and think about the future of our river.”Fourth Grade teacher from Multnomah Elementary School in El Sereno
It has been rewarding to see students engaged through the screen, and witness how computer savvy they’ve become. We want to give a huge shout-out to the incredibly passionate teachers we have been able to partner with so far. They have been exemplary and continue to amaze us with how hard they work, finding creative ways to keep their students learning despite all the challenges of a virtual learning environment. They all deserve superhero capes and so much more!
If you are an educator looking for ways to engage your students in nature-based activities, check out our free, online curriculum and feel free to contact us!