Tom Arsuffi, Director of the Llano River Field Station, explores the importance of a sense of place. A ‘sense of place’ in nature is fundamental to learning, understanding and an informed citizenry. Texas Tech University’s Llano River Field Station (LRFS) is the place that brings diverse stakeholders together to address and provide solutions to critical natural resource and water issues.
LFRS is the largest inland field station in Texas; bisected by the headwaters of the South Llano River and located in a vast (25+counties) and biologically diverse area called the Texas Hill Country. One component of LRFS is our Outdoor School (OS), recognised as a Texas Exemplar Program for K-12 students, using best learning practices, NASA’s lesson plans on air quality, and GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) protocols. Our Outdoor School illustrates, incorporates and addresses multiple exemplar categories, but is

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especially strong in teacher professional development, and is highly effective with transdisciplinary STEM instruction and improving success of traditionally underrepresented students. Effectiveness is attributable to

  1. standards-based STEM curriculum and lesson plans,
  2. auditory, visual and kinesthetic instruction and learning,
  3. inquiry based learning,
  4. teacher training, professional development, observation of OS teachers and instruction, and
  5. transdisciplinary, multi-experiential learning, instruction and activity that includes team building, manners and self-confidence across the OS STEM curriculum and a 3 day/2 night stay.

GLOBE training and capabilities enhances the effectiveness of our already successful program and provides added dimensions in areas of problem-based learning associated with the scientific method, technology and equipment to acquire, process and interpret environmental data associated with earth, water and weather.
The mission of the Texas Tech University Outdoor School is to inspire students and teachers to develop passion, a sense of ownership and identity towards nature and the watershed in which they live, while building better classroom environments and generating higher state assessment scores. To do this, we have implemented a program designed to provide unique opportunities to use the environment as an integrating context for interdisciplinary, collaborative, student-centered, hands-on and engaged learning, with a focus on the sciences and mathematics. The OS has had remarkable quantitative success and impacts demonstrated by student performance on state-wide standardized tests, national awards and publications. Since inception, the OS has provided professional development and science/nature education to nearly 20,000 students, parents, and hundreds of teachers. About 50% of participating students are of low socio-economic status and educationally disadvantaged. A 5th Grade Teacher said of OS,

“Yes, the children saw, experienced, touched, and learned more than a week in a classroom could provide. More importantly, we saw learning and teaching going on the way we know it should… They got to get down and dirty. They explored, caught, measured, encouraged, questioned, hypothesized, corrected, ran, whispered, walked, dreamed and laughed all day long.”

The OS is a priceless experience that delivers curriculum through hands-on, real-world application devoted to creating innovative educational experiences that immerse learners into authentic activities that stimulate imagination and understanding of challenging STEM concepts. OS instructors create an individualized stay filled with science, mathematics, social studies, reading and writing. The students become scientists, gaining curiosity and using ideas of their own to accomplish required tasks. Places like OS and LRFS are tools in the arsenal to combat the outbreak of Nature Deficit Disorder, as highlighted by Richard Louv in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’. For more information, please contact Tom Arsuffi: …………………….. This article was first published in NAEE’s journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 110). To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.

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