Science and Teaching for Field Instructors


Many years ago, there were these two students majoring in Environmental Studies/Natural History at the University of California, Santa Cruz. They had field classes with creative, brilliant professors who loved to teach, and had their minds blown and relationship with nature deepened by a course called The Natural History Field Quarter. They wanted to pay it forward (before paying it forward was a thing). One of them put on hiking shoes, and became a field instructor in outdoor science schools. His hikes were fun–full of activities, games, funny chants, songs, some exploration, and interesting science information. The other one pulled on hip waders and went off to teach kids and teachers about the ocean. He founded an ocean education project for schools. He was good at delivering science information in fun and interesting ways. Students, teachers, and peers told both of them they were awesome.

After years of critters, kids, and friendship, they both ended up at Lawrence Hall of Science. There were a lot of nice people with big brains there, thinking about education and creating useful materials for teachers. Our two Field Quarter graduates soaked up new ideas and research about teaching science and how people learn. They learned tons. They learned how to ask questions and lead discussions in ways that prompted learners to talk about science ideas, and they saw firsthand how this triggered students’ brains cranking. They realized there were ways of designing and sequencing activities that were more effective for teaching all that information they used to tell students. They realized that coaching students on thinking like a scientist helped students engage more deeply with nature than they thought was possible, and fired up their curiosity. They realized that with a more learner-centered approach, kids and teachers feel like they are awesome- which made them feel awesome, too. And they realized that this was actually more like how they were taught in Field Quarter. They wished they could go back and apply everything they’d learned to outdoor science instruction with kids.

At the Hall, they met another employee/buddy/former science researcher who was developing serious chops teaching and coaching teachers and university students. These three worked at the Hall for many years, continuing to learn while they wrote, taught, and led a lot of very cool projects. But they yearned to apply what they’d learned at the Hall to outdoor science programs, and to create resources for field instructors. One day, they got together and wrote a grant proposal- -and it worked! And they became BEETLES! They were excited, but they felt incomplete. They knew they needed more expertise on their team.

Meanwhile, two other thoughtful, hard-working and enthusiastic field instructors were stirring things up — one at Teton Science School, and the other at programs in the Pescadero Valley of California (both hot-beds of outdoor science). These two dreamers didn’t know it yet, but they were about to become BEETLES, too.

The BEETLES core team started making great music together (so to speak). They added some of the best and coolest field instructors and environmental education leaders to their team as advisers and consultants. They rolled up their sleeves and created professional learning sessions for field instructors that led the instructors to think about science teaching and learning in different ways. They stayed up late making student field activities that were full of nature exploration, wonder, science, figuring things out, and student talk. They asked field instructors to try out activities and give feedback. They got enthusiastic help from everyone they asked in the outdoor science education community. Their network of environmental education and outdoor science buddies grew and grew… It was a lot of work, but it was fun and rewarding. They made a website to share these resources for free. You are on that website (hi!). “They” are us, and we are BEETLES. We hope you try out the stuff you find here with field instructors and students.