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Schools in Parks: Making STEAM Education Natural AND Fun!

This week, we journey where the classroom reaches the sky, and every leaf turns the page to a new experience. On this week's podcast, we meet some of the creative minds behind North Carolina's successful Schools in Parks program. Join Randy Bechtel and Mary Meyer of North Carolina State Parks, and Sarah Yelton and Taylor Prichard from UNC Institute for the Environment, as we uncover the magic that happens when third through fifth graders swap their desks for dirt and textbooks for the great outdoors.

Our guests bring to life strategies for building STEAM experiences — think water quality testing or wildlife tracking — that complement the curriculum while also fostering connections between children and the world around them. Afraid of bringing the kids outside? Not sure where to begin? This episode is a treasure trove of strategies for transforming STEAM education into unforgettable outdoor experiences.

I first met Randy, Sarah, Taylor, and Mary as part of a Schools in Parks experience at Pilot Mountain in NC. They brought a team of educators attending the NC Science Teachers Association conference out to the mountain at sunset, where we had the opportunity to explore angles through the rocks and trees. It was my absolute favorite experience of the entire conference -- and their passion for STEAM education and outdoor classrooms piqued my interest. Some images from that first encounter are below.

Starting small can ignite a wildfire of curiosity — even a ten-minute jaunt outside the classroom can open new possibilities. In this episode, Randy, Mary, Sarah, and Taylor share some of their favorite outdoor lessons and experiences, as well as strategies for engagement.

The Schools in Parks Collaborative page on the UNC Institute for the Environment website includes some great lessons and activities that can be taught in parks or on school grounds, as well as contact information for Taylor Prichard and Sarah Yelton.  NC listeners can also find teacher application information for the 2024-25 cohort of the Schools in Parks Collaborative!

Here is a link to the NC State Parks Field Trip webpage, which includes a variety of resources for setting up a successful park field trip in NC. Even if you are joining us from another state, I highly encourage you to check out the resources as they may spark inspiration that can lead to your own memorable field trips wherever you live. 

The full time NC State Park educators that are part of the Schools in Park program include:

By collaborating with informal educators like park rangers, and by integrating outdoor experiences with the curriculum, teachers can confidently guide students of all ages through nature's endless classroom. So lace up your boots, grab a notebook, and join us in inspiring an enduring love for nature that grows with every STEAM lesson learned in the great outdoors.

Watch the full conversation here:

Listen to the podcast episode here:

And because I love good book connections:

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