Students Experience Field-Based Learning at the Stroud Center’s New Outdoor Classroom

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Remember that cool teacher in school who used to take your class outside to talk poetry or sketch the variety of plants growing behind the school?

What we learned then as students had a lasting impact. There’s just something about going outside. It’s fun. It lowers stress levels. It helps students focus. And it’s a great way to learn about freshwater science.

For these reasons and more, we’ve made field-based learning an integral part of our education programs at Stroud Water Research Center.

A Quiet Place for Reflection and Investigation

Starting last fall, to enhance field-based learning at the Stroud Center, we showcased our new outdoor classroom.

Over 2,000 students and other learners engaged in hands-on learning activities at our outdoor classroom this spring — nearly three times as many as last spring! Photo: Steve Kerlin

It’s an engaging addition to our state-of-the-art indoor education lab that fosters stream investigations that let visitors explore White Clay Creek, the research stream that runs behind our offices.

Located just a short walk upstream, the outdoor classroom includes rustic-looking benches, lab tables, and an education kiosk that seem to naturally grow out of the woodland setting.

It’s a quiet place, equally suited to reflection and investigating the outdoor environment that keeps White Clay Creek clean and healthy.

More than ever, teachers, K-12 students, college students, professionals, and citizen scientists are visiting the Stroud Center for stream education and professional development. This spring, over 2,000 students and other learners engaged in hands-on learning activities at our outdoor classroom. That’s nearly three times as many as last spring!

The vision for the classroom came from the Stroud Center’s Assistant Director of Education Tara Muenz, who saw a need to enhance the learning experiences for visiting students.

The outdoor classroom includes rustic-looking benches, lab tables, and an education kiosk that seem to naturally grow out of the woodland setting. Photo: Tara Muenz

“The classroom is all around us, but at the outdoor classroom, we can now provide infinite opportunities to learn and do real science within close proximity to the creek. It’s a fun space that will continue to grow, and it’s already a great model that other institutions are recreating.”

An Innovative Design Using Environmentally Friendly Materials

For the design of the space, Muenz looked to nature. She explained, “I wanted to make sure we didn’t impact the creek or the native flowers in the area.”

Stroud Center Assistant Director Dave Arscott, Ph.D., crafted the benches and lab tables from cedar, which Muenz designed to be arranged in two semicircles for large-group discussion and water chemistry activities.

The innovative design of the education kiosk, which uses environmentally friendly materials, is the result of an Eagle Scout Project by Payton Shonk of Boy Scout Troop 23 in Downingtown. It also includes a rotating two-sided display with a magnetic dry-erase board on one side and space for a permanent outdoor educational sign on the other side.

“We liked this kiosk design so much that we are constructing two more education kiosks for different parts of our property,” said Arscott.

Shonk also designed and constructed a box for markers and natural wood benches. Funding was provided by the E. Kneale Dockstader Foundation and the National Science Foundation Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology grant.

Keeping the Focus on Learning

During most school field trips to the Stroud Center, students learn water chemistry at the outdoor classroom. They split into five small groups, use buckets to gather water from the stream, and learn scientific skills while testing the water at the lab tables. The design of the outdoor classroom minimizes the impact on the streambank and keeps the focus on learning.

“In addition to learning scientific skills at the lab tables, the design of the kiosk and benches around it help focus attention on the meaning-making part of the lesson” says Director of Education, Steve Kerlin, Ph.D. Through meaning-making, students learn to make sense of new knowledge and demonstrate their understanding of the lesson.

Students test parameters such as air and water temperature, pH, nitrates, conductivity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen at the lab tables. Educators then lead large-group discussions about the data the students have collected.

During these whole-class discussions, all of the data from the lab groups are shown in a data table. Questioning and discussion includes determining if the results are within acceptable ranges and evaluating the health of the stream.

Come See it for Yourself!

We’re excited to give you a tour of the new outdoor classroom, trails, and indoor research and education spaces, including our LEED Platinum Moorhead Environmental Complex. Contact Jessica Provinski to schedule your tour.

Interested in supporting our education programs?

To join us for an afternoon tea at the outdoor classroom to learn about the difference you can make, contact Jessica Provinski.

If you own a Pennsylvania-based business, you can help us reach even more students through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.

Interested in scheduling an education program for your school, youth or scout group, or professional development training?

Begin the registration process on our education contact page or email us for more information.