The Nature Conservancy's work to educate and excite 4th grade students about the Great Salt Lake is featured in the Winter 2009 issue of The Journal of Environmental Education. Research conducted by the University of Utah suggests that children who participate in the Conservancy’s Wings & Water Wetlands Education Program, which involves a wetlands field trip, better understand the concepts taught to them when compared to their peers who studied wetlands only in the classroom. The students in the Wings & Water program also formed more positive attitudes about the outdoors and the importance of conservation.
“This study highlights the educational value of experiencing nature first-hand,” said Heidi Nedreberg, who directs the Conservancy’s Wings & Water Program. “Utah supports one of the world’s most important wetland habitats, yet too many kids are only reading about it in books.”
In this groundbreaking pilot study, University of Utah researchers developed a method of evaluating outdoor education programs that tests both knowledge of and feelings toward wetlands.The study compared 4th-grade students who learned about wetlands in the classroom with students who participated in The Nature Conservancy’s award-winning Wings & Water Wetlands Education Program at The Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve in Layton, Utah.
“Our results show that students who participated in Wings & Water were better able to identify which species belonged in a Utah wetland,” said Adrienne Cachelin, adjunct faculty in the Environmental Studies Program and co-author of the study.“But we wanted to go further and see whether students also formed positive feelings about wetlands, since outdoor experiences may be more central to fostering pro-environmental behaviors than knowledge.”
When asked about their feelings towards wetlands, students who participated in Wings & Water were the only groups to express sentiments about conservation, wanting to return, being happy about themselves, and feeling safe, while students who did not attend were the only ones to express negative feelings.
“In addition to helping kids master core subjects like science, our program encourages them to understand the importance of protecting nature for future generations,” said Nedreberg. “It’s exciting to see the impact of field-based programs, and I hope these research findings will inspire more teachers and parents to help children connect to Utah’s natural places.”
Research conducted since the initial study has revealed that students who participate in the Wings & Water program are also better able to identify the relationships that exist between wetlands species.Encouraged, the researchers are now working to further develop the method of evaluation and will conduct more research this spring.They hope this article and their continued research will lead other outdoor education programs to also consider testing feelings in addition to knowledge.
The Nature Conservancy’s Wings & Water Wetlands Education Program provides Salt Lake County and Davis County 4th-grade students with a tailored wetlands education experience that corresponds to state core curriculum science standards. Since its inception in 2005, the program has reached more than 6,000 students in 4 school districts. Based at the Conservancy’s Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, the Wings & Water Program features a field trip through the heart of the preserve’s 4,400 acres of wetlands. The volunteer naturalist-led tour is complemented by targeted classroom lessons and an innovative student discovery booklet.
For more information, contact Heidi Nedreberg at (801) 531-0999 or email@example.com.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.