WESTVILLE | Future teachers from Purdue North Central that is!
Thursday Oct. 27 there was a constant cold rain on the windshields of the PNC Biology 205 students' cars. They gathered at the parking area near the Little Calumet River crossing at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for an outdoor lab field trip. The first two groupings of lab students were well-equipped with rain-slickers, umbrellas, and tote-bags for collecting prairie-plant seeds.
"At least we're not having to deal with the National Weather Service's Severe Wind Advisory of last week!" said Tacy Fletcher, the organizer of the outing and Americorp Education Award recipient. "We had to postpone our field trip until today, and despite the rain & cold we have had a great turn-out."
The future teachers of the PNC Elementary Education department are intrigued by the unique ways that labs for biology class are incorporating real-world classroom teaching moments. These student/teachers met Ranger Ted Winterfeld at Mnoke Prairie to hear a talk about the Resource Management Division's need for volunteers. Winterfeld reinforced Fletcher's pre-trip lecture theme which was that Parks and Preserves want to help teachers take their students out on field trips-"so make a phone call-please."
Winterfeld reiterated that rangers can help teachers meet state standards in many different areas other than the obvious one-science.
Winterfeld also stressed the importance of being equipped even before a field trip and then summarized by saying "Be prepared!" He looked around at the young people standing under the dripping eaves of the tent noting all had prepared well for the cold and rain. He finished by saying "Let's head out to collect seeds and by the way...no whining!"
Later he confessed to this reporter that setting the expectations of student behavior ahead of time is a trick that works on students of all ages because he did not hear one word of complaint despite the cold rain accompanying the group all morning.
One of the future teachers, Ashley Fisch of Portage, later said, "This was great. I learned that you could teach the kids about land formations and different types of geology," but in a fun outdoorsy lab like this.
This enthusiastic response aligned perfectly with the goals of the organizers, which was to unify an activity which benefits a local park, but even more so, shows students the simple pleasure of being outdoors in a natural learning environment.
The underlying lesson: people learn while having fun!
One of the Lab assistants helping Winterfeld was Becky Hughes of Michigan City. Hughes was overheard saying, "Generations have grown up not knowing this area [the Dunes], and this activity is great as a first impression of nature for...older & younger students alike " Hughes' experience with leading groups for the Dunes Learning Center and at the Lakeshore for two seasons has encouraged her to return to PNC as a part-time employee in the biology department under the tutelage of Dr. Vanessa Quinn Assistant Professor of Biology.
Fletcher, also credits her love of nature-interpretation and leading outdoor labs to Quinn. "Vanessa Quinn's emotional and logistical support has helped me to hone my speaking skills, and the fact that she gives me a forum from which to speak, during her own lecture time, to prep the students for the field-trip- is the opportunity of a lifetime. Together Dr. Quinn and I want to break down the barriers between students and the great outdoors."
Following Fletcher's example, those who wish to take a family or civic group to volunteer at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore can go to www.volunteer.gov and type in their zip code to find opportunities.