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Kids Connect To Nature Through 'Hands-On' Science Camp

students, nature
Laura Palmisano

In science class students learn about the world around them. However, getting kids to make a connection to nature without them experiencing it firsthand is a challenge. That’s why a Western Slope school district in partnership with a state wildlife agency is taking middle school students to the woods. 

Stacy Lischka, a scientist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is surrounded by 15 sixth-graders in a forest on the Grand Mesa. 

She's leading them in lesson on stream ecology. The students are looking for macroinvertebrates, animals without a backbone, in Mesa Creek. 

macroinvertebrates, science, homework
Credit Laura Palmisano / KVNF
A worksheet that shows the macroinvertebrates a student found in Mesa Creek on the Grand Mesa.

These kids are from Bookcliff Middle School in Grand Junction and they will complete several lessons like this throughout the week.

They are here for the Outdoor Wilderness Lab or OWL. It’s a five-day environmental education camp, created through a partnership between CPW and Mesa County Valley School District 51.

At OWL, kids learn about biology, natural resources, astronomy, wildlife, orienteering, hunting, fishing and archery.

"We are trying to take sixth-grade kids and teach them about science in a place that they are familiar with, that is close to their home, that they can get a really good connection to and in a way that’s very hands-on," said Lischka

The goal of the camp is to get students interested in the outdoors and expose them to careers in science.

"One of the things we try really hard to do is give kids really life experiences of what it’s like to be a scientist so all of our class...are taught by professionals in the field," she said.  

Greg Weckenbrock is a science teacher at Bookcliff Middle School.

"I think part of the reason we want to showcase the wilderness to some of these kids [is because] for a lot of them it’s the first time they’ve been...out of town for four or five days," said Weckenbrock.

He said the lessons align with what’s taught in the classroom.

"In the education world, we are always trying to create a connection and to connect kids to what they are actually learning and give them a reason to care about it because when you care about something you can learn more from it," said Weckenbrock. "You take an interest. And, I think that’s what this does."

AlekziaFerrales, 11, and her classmates just wrapped up their stream ecology lecture.

Mesa Creek, water, Grand Mesa
Credit Laura Palmisano / KVNF
Mesa Creek runs down the Grand Mesa.

"We did a water quality experiment," said Ferrales. "It’s where we learned about the macroinvertebrates inside Mesa Creek. We about learned how sensitive they are to pollution and since Mesa Creek is not very polluted they can live here." 

Ferrales said she’s having a good time at camp so far and she’s passionate about the outdoors.

"I have a strong opinion that we should all keep the environment clean and help all of the animals inside nature," she said.

Jarod Green, 11, said he’s also having fun and likes the lessons. And, he’s zealous about one particular subject. 

"I love learning about nature and I’m always out in nature so biology is fun for me because I’m learning about what I do," he said.

Although young, Green is already considering a career in science.

"I think I might go into biology so that I can learn more about nature and clean our state," he said.  

Lischka said she likes seeing the kids’ enthusiasm for the outdoors grow over the course of the camp.

"This is what I do for my daily life," she said. "I sort of think about natural resources and how people get interested in natural resources. And, so one of the most exciting things about this program for me is thinking about how we sort of are encouraging these kids to think about natural resources for the future."

The camp is in it’s third year of a five-year pilot. During this stage, CPW is collecting data on how students feel about nature before and after the experience and what sticks with them six-months later. 

Editor's Note: This story was recorded in late April before school let out for the summer. 

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