Connecting students and youth with our national parks is crucial in fostering the next generation of park stewards, but it is likewise important to connect teachers to our parks to emphasize the parks’ potential as a living classroom, inviting inquiry, learning, and discovery to students of all ages. Launched in 1992, the National Park Foundation (NPF)’s Parks as Classrooms education program seeks to connect and develop collaboration between parks and teachers across the country. Through supporting projects such as professional development workshops, curriculum development retreats, and more, NPF is helping teachers become advocates for our parks as places of learning.
Highlights & Projects
Building a Model
Parks as Classrooms developed a model collaboration between San Francisco State University and Golden Gate National Recreation Area to help new teachers develop inquiry and place-based programming in national parks. Teachers were provided free curriculum materials, field trip ideas, and workshops for students. The students – ranging in elementary to high-school-age – were able to make connections to real world issues in national parks while enjoying the outdoors.
Mammoth Cave National Park
By partnering with Western Kentucky University’s Education Department, Mammoth Cave National Park initiated the largest inquiry-based outdoor learning training for education majors in the country. Focusing on students who are about to become teachers, it demonstrates the advantage of using outdoor settings and inquiry-based learning techniques to teach critical thinking skills in both science and social science subjects.
Rocky Mountain National Park
This project developed and implemented a high school curriculum for Grand, Jackson, and Summit counties that links Colorado Education Standards to park resources and themes. Participants created pre-visit materials for the park’s online portal, in-park learning activities and programs, and post-visit evaluative materials.
Parks Climate Challenge
Working with the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park delivered climate change education to local teachers. The park also developed a video that demonstrates who to conduct one of the curricular activities created to demonstrate the impact of climate change in the park. After a successful run, the training was incorporated into the Summer Science Teacher Institute, a five-day workshop for science teachers. The program was funded with the help from PG&E.
Connecting National Park Service education staff and science methods faculty from local universities, the PARK Teachers program helped design a science module for pre-service teachers, selecting content based on the park’s natural resources. The modules focused on inquiry- and place-based learning strategies, and helped the pre-service teachers build confidence in content knowledge and teaching skills in science.