From David Gardner, Director of Environmental Education at Barrier Island Environmental Education in South Carolina.
Our organization had a lesson we offered regularly on marine mammals. We offered the lesson on our site because sometimes dolphins could be spotted offshore. But we realized that because the students couldn’t really explore and investigate actual dolphins other than occasionally spotting their fins, the lesson was essentially a classroom lesson done outdoors with lots of props and games and wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunity for students to engage with nature on our site. We decided to shift our instruction to interesting things on our site that students could investigate, but we weren’t sure what that should be. So the whole staff took a day to explore their site together. They got down on their hands and knees with hand lenses and poked around to see what was interesting and might be easy for students to explore. During the experience, the group became interested in how the slough (ephemeral wetland) formed in the maritime forest. We discussed and puzzled over this together as a staff. It resulted in our team later turning an existing two-hour forest ecology hike into a discovery-focused experience with the goal of students ending with the tools and natural history knowledge to have a valuable discussion on this question. The staff exploration exercise also led to staff coming up with a bunch of authentic broad questions, which turned into a brainstorm about productive broad questions to use in other existing lessons in their organization.