My STEM Units

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student

National Parks and STEM; a perfect match.  Wait.  What?

When you think of national parks, you probably see the connection with Science first.  Depending on which park you imagined, you might be making links to weathering and erosion or volcanoes and other other landforms.  Math probably comes next as you imagine students calculating the height of granite cliffs or estimating the number of bison in a square mile.  But, you probably don't think of Technology when it comes to national parks.

If you think about it, national parks have always had technology.  For instance, I'm pretty sure you don't carry your water in wicker baskets and wear wool clothing head to toe.  You use the power of technology in moisture-wicking fabric and specially-designed water containers that fit on your back.

National Park Service has done a great job lately of incorporating technology into their programs.  I have seen QR codes on interpretive signs, interactive displays in ranger stations, and Q?rius exhibits at Smithsonian museums.  NPS has an online WebRanger program for children.  I have facilitated virtual field trips from Glacier Bay in Alaska to Grand Canyon in Arizona.  To celebrate their centennial, NPS will even host a social media event entitled "Find Your Park" (more information to be announced on April 2, 2015).

When one thinks of national parks, most think of the big Western parks; Yosemite, Arches, Hawai'i Volcanoes, Grand Canyon, etc. But the National Park Service also includes historical parks. Parks such as Harper's Ferry and Gettysburg.

Enter the "Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student" initiative.
Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student (TM) is a program created, developed and sponsored by The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership at the request of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), in partnership with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and Harpers Ferry Middle School. 

Based on their hands-on experiences in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and analysis of primary source documents, approximately 70 Harpers Ferry Middle School students served as writers, editors, photographers, choreographers, set designers, videographers, and even public relations representatives to produce and promote six mini-documentaries, depicting their understanding of the famous John Brown Raid in Harpers Ferry, which set-off fighting in the American Civil War. (NPS

Common Core has brought the use of primary sources to the forefront of our instruction.  And STEM education along with 21st Century Skills has brought educational technology into focus. All these initiatives and programs excite the STEM teacher in me, but they don't really prompt students to create their own impression of the park by using technology.  Today's students are not content to be mere consumers of technology, but creators of it as well. Service Learning Projects, like the Harper's Ferry project, bring these worlds together.  Like the student says on the video, "With vodcast, I can learn what they were feeling."

So, I ask you, which historical sites do you have near your school?  What Service Learning Projects can your students embark on to not only produce videos for students far away, but also as a way to express their understanding of the importance of those events?  It's about making those connections.  With the past and with the future (students).

For more information on how you can use National Park Service resources in your classroom, read the series here: National Parks, Treasures for Teachers.

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