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Improving Education at U.S. Nature & Environmental Centers Sara Melena Sunita Hilton, Ph.D Department of Natural Resource Recreation & Tourism Colorado State University Tim Merriman, Ph.D National Association for Interpretation October, 2006 Partnering Organizations

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improving education at u s nature environmental centers

Improving Education at U.S. Nature & Environmental Centers

Sara Melena

Sunita Hilton, Ph.D

Department of Natural Resource Recreation & Tourism

Colorado State University

Tim Merriman, Ph.D

National Association for Interpretation

October, 2006

partnering organizations
Partnering Organizations
  • National Association for Interpretation
  • U.S. National Park Service
  • Colorado State University
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • North American Association for Environmental Education
  • Association of Nature Center Administrators
defining nature centers

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Defining Nature Centers

Nature centers are,

…essentially educational, scientific and cultural in purpose with professional staff, open to the public on some regular schedule. The Nature Center manages and interprets its lands, native plants and animals and facilities to promote an understanding of nature and natural processes. It conducts frequent environmental education programs and activities for the public.

Definition from the American Association of Museums

slide4

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Why Study Education at Nature Centers?

  • Educational Infrastructure

(St. John & Perry, 1993; Falk, 2005)

  • Surveys of nature centers focus on organizational and physical characteristics

(National Science for Youth Foundation, 1990)

  • Little information available on how nature centers are developing environmental programs
  • Abundance of materials available and appropriate to education in nature centers
  • Limited resources
research objectives

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Research Objectives
  • Conduct a census of nature centers in the U.S. to provide baseline data about education efforts, staff, budgets and resources.
  • Discover which educational materials and curricula are being utilized by nature and environmental centers and why.
  • Conduct a needs assessment for nature and environmental centers in terms of what they need to improve their educational efforts.
framework for understanding education at nature centers

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Framework for Understanding Education at Nature Centers

Study purpose:

To understand the application of environmental education materials & needs of nature and environmental centers

Meeting the goals of environmental education

Guidelines for Excellence

NAAEE (1998, 2004)

Evaluation in formal settings (Korn, 2000, PLT, 2004, Marcinkowski & Iozzi,1994)

Evaluation of quality & accuracy

(Salmon, 2000, NAAEE, 1997, 1998a, 1998b)

slide7

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Learning Settings

in Environmental Education

Free-choice learning

the type of learning that occurs when learners exercise choice and control over learning

(Falk & Dierking, 1998)

Formal settings

Public Schools

Free-choice environmental learning settings

Nature centers, parks, zoos, museums

slide8

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Environmental Education

Formal

Partnerships (Knapp, 1996; Milton & Cleveland, 1995)

Free-Choice Environmental Learning Settings

Museums (Falk 1999, Falk & Storksdieck, 2005)

Aquariums (Adelmann et al, 2000)

National Parks (Brody, 2002)

Interpretive programs (Knapp, 2005)

slide9

Environmental Education

Materials

Developed for use in formal & free-choice settings (EETAP, 2003)

Evaluated for quality and accuracy

(NAAEE, 1997, 1998; Salmon, 2000)

Effectiveness

(PLT, 2004; Marcinkowski & Iozzi, 1994)

Theoretical

Framework

Research

Questions

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Methodology

Questions

methodology

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Methodology

Population

  • National Park Service (270 units)
  • The Centers Directory (1,800+ centers)
    • National Association for Interpretation & the Association for Nature Center Administrators (2002)
      • Interpretive centers, nature centers, visitor centers and environmental learning centers, zoos, aquariums, Forest Service, BLM, Park Districts
organizational identification

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Organizational Identification
  • 2,144 viable addresses, 835 returned (39%)
baseline data
Baseline Data

Organizational & Financial Characteristics

baseline data13
Baseline Data

Organizational & Financial Characteristics

baseline data14
Baseline Data

Organizational & Financial Characteristics

“Programs are limited because of funding and staff shortages.

Nature centers are at the bottom of the food chain in city government.”

baseline data15
Baseline Data

Organizational & Financial Characteristics

slide16

Baseline Data

Physical Characteristics

slide17

Baseline Data

Visitation & Education

slide19

Educational Materials

“I have a phenomenal staff of trained educators and I would never waste their talents & skills by asking them to present programs prepared by someone else.”

slide20

Educational Materials

“I have a phenomenal staff of trained educators and I would never waste their talents & skills by asking them to present programs prepared by someone else.”

needs assessment
Needs Assessment

Educational Materials

needs assessment22
Needs Assessment

Staff Training

needs assessment23
Needs Assessment

Teacher Workshops

conclusions

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Conclusions
  • BaselineData
  • Use of Materials
    • Resource for ideas & activities
      • We feel strongly that we do not want to do things on-site that can be done in the classroom, so that leaves out most published materials.
      • Those materials are mostly designed for use in a formal classroom setting & by classroom teachers. We want to get kids outside to experience what they are learning in the classroom. We tried to occupy a different niche w/our materials.
slide25

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Conclusions

  • Needs
    • Related to facilitating direct experience with local environment
      • Field supplies, classroom equipment
        • Our “environmental educ” is blended with site specific themes for school groups with emphasis on getting students outside to experience the resource.
    • Marketing & Funding
      • We provide quality EE programs with little budget for the lessons.
      • Many grants & funding opportunities are available for new programs, positions or facilities. We would like to see more dedicated funding from the state for existing programs.
    • Staffing
slide26

Conceptual

Framework

Conclusions & Recommendations

Introduction

Background

Need &

Purpose

Literature

Review

Questions

Methodology

Results

Recommendations

  • Support local & regional networks
    • Local issues
    • Sharing ideas
  • Marketing & Funding
    • Visitor needs assessment
    • Forums
  • Research
    • Case studies
    • Perceived value of nature centers
abundant ee materials
Abundant EE Materials

Questions?

By catching children early, we help them create a connection to the environment and they learn to CARE about it, thus changing future behavior to a better stewardship ethic, rather than growing up to be “Impact Monsters: we spend $ on cleaning up & repairing effects of vandalism & dumping. Also creates well-informed, future voters & leaders.

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