Category Archives: Technology

NPS Junior Ranger – Authentic Learning inside and outside the classroom


National Parks as a classroom

downloadMore often, in my role as a consultant I hear teachers talking about context and I could not agree more.  Recently I was working with a teacher who was using 4 Square writing strategy to help her students write an informational piece of the recent wildfires in Tennessee. She was passionate about the topic but was concerned that her students would not be able to grasp the content because of a lack of context.  I offered to support in the classroom as I have traveled to the area.  It got me thinking about the ways in which we as educators can build a bridge between the classroom and the real world. One such way is our National Parks system (NPS).

The US national park system is extensive, expanding (Stonewall Inn in NYC was just designated part of the NPS) and  can feel very overwhelming.  I myself still struggle sometimes in trying to figure out what is protected under the NPS. I believe that all too often when you hear NPS you think of places like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, and rightfully so.  The reality is The National Park System touches every state in the US and many territories. Some with vast national parks and others with National monuments, historic sites, preserves, lakeshores, seashores, rivers, trails, wilderness, parkways, and memorials.  The list is as diverse as it is long, each place providing a unique opportunity to learn and absorb something amazing at the United States.

 

And while simply just finding yourself at an NPS site will open anyone up to a world of learning.  But as a lifelong learner when I find myself in a park, I immediately think how can I make this work for kids.  Fortunately, the NPS has already thought of that with their Junior Ranger Program.

What is Junior Ranger

Image result for junior ranger

At many of the places run by NPS is a program called Junior Ranger. While some may see as kitschy at first (even I was skeptical) a world of learning awaits. As an educator, what better way to tackle a learning opportunity than with a guide book that is interactive, engaging, and fun. Better still, for children who meet the requirements for their age, a badge is presented to them as a token to commemorate the learning experience and visit.
Each junior ranger book is unique to its park or park system. Often times parks along the east coast are historical in nature and the authentic learning experiences engage children in a myriad of activities. For example,

  • At Thomas Edison National Historic Park, students are provided the opportunity to talk with rangers inside Edison’s lab and ask questions.  They are able to see first hand the exact place that Edison invented the battery with the actual equipment he used. hqdefault
  • At Hopewell Furnace, students are encouraged to participate in a scavenger hunt (of sorts) that takes them all through the preserved community.  The exploration affords them the opportunity to gain deep insight into life at that time and what it meant working on an “iron plantation.”
  • At African Burial Grounds students will hear stories about the grounds, as well as complete activities that teach them the importance of symbols and artifacts and how they were used with language.

While parks in the western park of the US tend to be more geographical with the vast amount of land protected.  At these parks, the learning is often more focused on  the history of the Native People, animals, and  geography.  For example,

  • In Death Valley, students are encouraged to learn about animals that are native to the desert and how are engaged in activities on their survival in the vast geographical differences of the landscape.
  • At the Grand Canyon,  junior ranger exploration has more focus on how the canyon was formed.  Learning about the history of the canyon, animals that navigate the steep embankments, and the reasons behind the colors is also embedded in the guide books.download-1
  • At Bryce Canyon exploration is on science, nature, and geography. Students are lead through a myriad of activities on how and why the Hoodoo’s are they way they are. Then they are given a great insight into one of the canyon’s residents – Prairie Dogs!

When a park is not an option

WWhile I believe every teacher wants to get their students out of the classroom to learn, sometimes that is not always an option.  Often times, we as educators, spend hours looking for ways to engage our students but again NPS has found ways to bring the parks to the classrooms through Junior Ranger programs that can be done remotely.  Topics for these programs include;

  • The Underground Railroad – a guidebook has been designed to help students understand the history and significance of the both those who were seeking freedom from slavery and those who were helping “passengers” on their journey to freedom.
  • Archaeology –  with two different books that focus on the science of archaeology and what it has taught us about the past.
  • Paleontology – a fossil lovers dream, this book touches on everything from the smallest to the largest fossils and the science around finding and preserving them.
  • Astronomy – a guidebook which has a myriad of activities around the stars, sky and the dark sky, movement.  The guidebook helps students understand light pollution and the importance of using light responsibly.
  • Speleology (cave exploration) – a detailed dive (no pun intended!) into caves and their importance of protecting them.  The learning activities provide real insight into the what lies inside the darkness and why they are so important to ecosystems.
  • Wilderness exploration – a great way for students with no context of the wilderness to gain some.  With so many kids in cities being able to learn about the wilderness
  • Oceanography – a closer look at the oceans, the ecosystems and why they are so important to protect.
  • Traveling Clara Barton – this opportunity is great for a class to learn about the Civil War, Clara Barton, letter writing and the US postal system with just a few stamps and patience!

Junior Ranger Resources

There are a number of websites that chronicle their experiences with Junior Ranger. Below are a few that I have visited to learn about their junior ranger experiences.

Additionally, many National Parks have their programs online so you can front load before going to a site.

Web Rangers

If all that is still not enough learning to be done, the NPS has gone one step further creating WEB RANGERS!

This interactive site breaks down activities by level and interest. Web rangers is an extension of the Junior RangerImage result for web rangers program, allowing students to reach learning experiences that may not otherwise be accessible for them. Broken down into categories, web rangers is highly interactive and packed with learning.   It does require the students to have a username and password so it can remember their progress towards earning rewards but it is worth the setup.

Essentially, as educators, an entire learning experience is already created for us at a location which exists, in part to educate.

All we have to do is find our park!

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Special Populations


As an educator I find that more students are coming with to me with unique situations filled with roadblocks that challenge their learning. Whether it be a learning disability, sexual identity, language roadblock, or socio-economic disparity,  It seems like when I was growing up there were two kinds of students – general education students and special education students – and these two populations of students rarely mixed.  Nowadays, students with all kinds of classifications come together in a classroom and sit before a teacher, some vested in learning, others completely disinterested and others desperate  to learn but can’t for one reason or another.

The more I talk to other educators, the more I find that they have to consider so many factors when planning a lesson, not just the standards that their given districts are expecting their students to master by the end of the school year.

FInd resources to support the diverse needs of these special populations has become a focus of mine this summer as I begin to plan PD for the upcoming school year.  In the past, I have simply picked a topic to focus on, like engagement or assessment.  And while that has served me fairly well, I have come to realize that it has not met the needs of all the students that walk into my school each day.  Therefore, I have decided to dedicate a new page to following special populations which will include links to the resources I have found.  Hopefully others out there will be able to use these resources to support their own individual learners within their classrooms and schools as more and more of these students continue to need our attention and support.

Transgender Youth
English Language Learners
Students with Disabilities
At-risk Youth
Addressing the varying needs of boys vs. girls

 

So please feel free to click on a picture above, it will take you to one of the pages under my new tab on special populations and will have more links, websites, videos,  and strategies to support students that are classified in these special populations.  As I come across more resources I will continue to update these pages, so check back often.

I do believe every child is unique.  Every child wants to learn.  It’s just a matter of figuring out how to help them overcome their roadblocks so they can.  Sometimes we need to learn from them, we need to have our own teachable moment so we can give them successful teachable ones each and every day!

On an aside: As make sure you check with your local district or state for their most current policies regarding protected classes.  In New York Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) went into effect December 31, 2013. DASA training is now mandated for all educators.  Many districts now publish their policies under DASA or laws similar for their protected classes.  For example, NYC policy for transgender youth can be found here.

Edshelf…very cool


I just discovered edshelf and in many ways it was by accident.  I was looking for something completely different in goggle and the first hit I got was two different links to different edshelf collections.  Now I may be completely behind the times in just learning about edshelf, but after a bit of agonizing I decided that even if just one person reads this and learns about edshelf, then it was worth blogging about.

So for those of you who have not heard of this website, it allows educators to create collections (based on whatever organizational means you consider fit!) of apps that they can or do  use  in the classroom.

In my opinion – sheer genius!!!  I wish I knew about this site sooner.  I am constantly coming across apps that I think are great, and while I don’t necessarily have the opportunity to use them right away, it is hard to keep track of them.  Thanks to edshelf, NOW I DO!!!  It also gives me (and hopefully you) the opportunity to browse education apps in one place and decide whether you want to take the time to download it before you go through the trouble of setting up an account.  Perfect!!! Thank you edshelf

I have just started to play with my edshelf account, but have already create three collections and an example of one is below.

Mind Mapping on edself
Mind Mapping on edself

What is also a real plus is you can print your collection page, with or without QR codes and give the handouts  to your students, staff, parents, etc. as a reference tool.

If you use technology in the classroom, then I would urge you to check the site out.  Even if you are not interested in setting up an account, you can definitely glean much information from the collections that have already been created by other educators.  For me, it was clearly my teachable moment of the day!