THE YELLOWSTONE EXPERIENCE: TEACHING AND LEARNING ON A SUPERVOLCANO
University of Arizona (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2015 Proceedings
Publication year: 2015
Page: 3923 (abstract only)
Conference name: 8th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 18-20 November, 2015
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:Although teaching and learning in the classroom has its merit, place-based education provides valuable opportunities for applied learning in an environment conducive to a deeper understanding of any given subject matter. “Learning consists of the active generation of meaning” (Wittrock, 1992, p. 536). For skill learning, all age groups benefit more from active–elaborative training than from passive training, and are more adept at transferring the learned skill to a more difficult task (Vakil, Hoffman, & Myzliek, 1998). Nowhere is active learning more inviting in the environmental science and historical realms than in Yellowstone National Park. As the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at 20-million acres, Yellowstone is one of the largest temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth. Scientific understanding is but one of the many types of meanings that can accrue as people develop emotional attachments to meaningful places (Semken & Freeman, 2008). A cross-section of 12,000 years of human habitation, the forming of the Yellowstone Supervolcano 640,000 years ago, and the continually evolving flora and fauna provide unlimited opportunity for hands-on teaching and learning experiences in the social and natural sciences. With the natural world as the classroom all the senses can be brought into the teaching and learning equation. When individuals subject stimuli to different levels of mental processing, they retain information that has been subjected to the most thorough processing (Slavin, 2009; Craik & Lockhart, 1972). In Yellowstone National Park the opportunities for graduated levels of processing have been expanding since the park received its first 300 visitors upon its inception as the world’s first national park in 1872. Nearly one and one-half centuries later educational opportunities abound for any given audience: youths to adult, informal to formal, episodic to extended expeditions, and actual to virtual. In 2014 Yellowstone National Park received over 3,500,000 visitors. As of July 2015 visitation is on track to surpass that number with a 26% increase compared to the same time last year. Two premier educational programs in Yellowstone have seen an uptick in interest as a result: The Young Scientist and the Junior Ranger programs. Both are self-guided, scientific inquiry-based explorations of Yellowstone National Park intended for learners age four through adult. Each program fosters a familial approach to learning. Where the Junior Ranger program is a broad learning activity for many features of Yellowstone, the Young Scientist program is a more in-depth focused study pertaining to the geothermal and geologic features within the Yellowstone Supervolcano caldera. At Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Visitor Education Center in-process junior rangers and young scientists have many resources at their disposal for the learning process including science experimentation toolkits, ranger-led learning activities, multimedia displays, and technologically-interactive simulation models. With the scientific method as a learning guide and numerous micro-environments to explore throughout Yellowstone the learning outcomes are only limited by the time availability and enthusiasm of each individual learner. This paper explores teaching models utilized by the National Park Service, and two premiere learning activities in Yellowstone National Park designed to boost competency in environmental science specific to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Area.
Keywords: Science, teaching, learning, technology.