Our Place on Earth: ACCF’s Outdoor Learning Curriculum

PlaceEarthGraphic4a-640wOur Place on Earth is ACCF’s geography education curriculum. When people hear geography they often think of maps, and that’s a good start. Think of geography as the study of the earth as our home. Geography spans and integrates a wide range of disciplines. Geography is fun! It’s adventurous. And it helps us connect ourselves to the world around us…thus Our Place on Earth.

Thanks to a grant from the Gray Family Foundation, ACCF offers geography education opportunities to K-12 students in Douglas County, adding three dimensions to complement their existing science, math, social studies, and other classes: field-based learning, digital technologies, and the geographical imagination (see below).  Our Place on Earth (OPoE) serves dozens of Douglas County classes, with thousands of student-hours annually. See our ACCF Facebook page, where classes and our school coordinators post updates on their activities. (And if you’re a teacher, see our page for you.)

Here are some sample activities ACCF supports via OPoE, organized into the three interrelated dimensions introduced above:

  1. Field-based learning. Our 78-acre site offers opportunities for area students to get outdoors and experience this place they call home. One important field-based curriculum we have adapted for OPoE is GLOBE, a worldwide, collaborative K-12 outdoor science program covering four broad earth systems: the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and pedosphere (soils). GLOBE is closely correlated with U.S. Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and embodies a good deal of the rationale behind NGSS. ACCF is an official GLOBE Partner! Sample field activities include:
    • Map My Hike. An important preparatory activity involves exploring the ACCF site. We have plenty of compasses, and a variety of printable maps (plus clipboards with measuring scales), students can use to learn about the site by mapping their exploration.
    • What’s the Weather? Many atmosphere activities in GLOBE are relatively easy to do. Students can use simple instruments to measure important weather properties, and then compare their results with the ACCF weather station and nearby weather stations. Data from the ACCF weather station can be readily downloaded and analyzed to understand trends over time.
    • Adopt A Plot. Inspired by Landsat satellites, which image the earth via 30 x  30 meter pixels, students doing GLOBE activities around the world map land cover and other characteristics using nominal 90 x 90 meter plots (the actual size depends on latitude). We have established nine plots on the ACCF site corresponding to actual Landsat coverage; see here for more details on our Landsat plots. We have developed GLOBE-inspired protocol for students to collect land cover, microclimate, soils, and wildlife data on these plots. Students then compare their plot to others on the ACCF site, to land cover and other data on Oregon Explorer (see below), and to GLOBE and global satellite data to get a bigger picture of their place on Earth.
  2. Digital technologies. Digital technologies can support field-based learning, and extend students’ experiences to include other places. One important OPoE partner is the Oregon Explorer Natural Resources Digital Library, with readily accessible information on Douglas County and Oregon. Similarly, GLOBE offers student-contributed data, and opportunities for collaboration and comparison, from around the world. And students collect field data using mobile devices, utilizing protocol and technologies similar to what scientists actually do. Students learning these technologies are preparing themselves for a wide array of professional opportunities in future. Here are some related activities.
    • Zoom In, Zoom Out. Google Earth is a captivating free application students can use to explore everywhere from the ACCF site to the whole world. We will soon have a network link enabled for students to display ACCF map layers on Google Earth. They could then turn relief and shading on to consider how slope and aspect may affect the vegetation they will discover on the ACCF site…or, for instance, to visualize how topography and contour lines relate, so they can predict easy vs. difficult ACCF hikes on the map!
    • Where’s My Watershed? That’s a trick question: since smaller watersheds are nested inside larger watersheds, each of us is often a part of many watersheds at once. The ACCF site, for instance, is part of the Alder Creek-Jordan Creek catchment, which is part of the South Umpqua River watershed, which is part of the Umpqua basin covering Douglas County! Oregon Explorer digital portals help students find out what watershed they are part of, and view maps and graphs to help them understand their watershed and compare it with others.
    • Who’s Hot and Who’s Cold? The GLOBE site offers easy to use data visualization tools, so that students can readily view, compare, and download weather (and other) data collected on other GLOBE sites across the world. This offers a fun way for students to understand global climate, and living conditions in different parts of the world.
  3. The geographical imagination. No matter whether students participating in OPoE are doing activities related to natural and social sciences, the arts, mathematics, or English language arts, the geographical imagination integrates the perspectives these subjects offer on places, and reminds students that places are connected to each other and the larger global context. In conjunction with elements such as GLOBE, NGSS, and Oregon Explorer, U.S. National Geography Standards, Oregon geography (social science) standards, and materials available via the Center for Geography Education in Oregon offer a wealth of ways for students to develop a geographical imagination. Here are some sample activities.
    • Be an Interpreter. Just like U.N. interpreters translate from one language to another, geography interpreters translate the world around us to help us make sense of its interconnections. We do this on the ACCF site via a series of interpretive signs placed alongside our trails…but we’ve only started! Students can contribute by identifying potential interpretive sites on trails without signage. They’ll mark the location, take photos, go back to school to research their questions, then return to the site to verify their answers. The end product will be one or more interpretive signs added to the ACCF site. (Students: keep the title ≤23 characters, and the description ≈40 words.)
    • Walk Across Oregon. Of the many resources offered by C-GEO, the Center for Geography Education in Oregon, the giant floor map of Oregon, measuring 16 x 22 feet, offers a great way for students to exercise their geographical imaginations, and comes with an instructional guide. (The National Geographic Society also has giant maps of various parts of the world.)
    • What is Our Place on Earth? All the above resources and activities ultimately help students address the big question: what is their place on Earth? What makes their place special? How is their place like or unlike others in their region, country, and planet? How do all the dimensions of their place—hydrological, cultural, economic, biological, etc.—interrelate? Answers to these questions may take the form of student maps, graphs, posters, essays, drawings, even theater! There can be many ways to appreciate, and communicate, our place on Earth.