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Chester Elementary School sixth-grade students and teacher Camille Klimek (far left) take a timeout to pose at the back of the Olsen Barn on March 29 during the PUSD’s Outdoor Core classroom work as part of the Next Generation Science Standards program. Photos by Rob Wade

Outdoor Core adopts Next Generation Science Standards strategy

Outdoor Core is the Plumas Unified School District’s new strategy for the Next Generation Science Standards that the California Department of Education has adopted to update and improve the framework for educating students to appreciate science-literacy in an outdoor setting.

PUSD is first rolling out the new Outdoor Core strategy at Chester Elementary School, before officially expanding the program district-wide throughout Plumas County schools next fall.

Outdoor Core adopts the core concepts of NGSS to celebrate mountain culture and brings context to learning, stated Kellie Bainbridge, CES kindergarten teacher and garden club coordinator, in a published article in the Chester Progressive.

Rob Wade, PUSD outdoor education coordinator, said that the school district has been given creative license to determine how it wants to proceed in the delivery of the new standards.

“The PUSD’s Outdoor Core is basically an acknowledgment that we live in a rural mountain environment,” Wade said, “with lots of forests, creeks and meadows, and we want our students to experience those environments in an outdoor classroom setting as part of their curriculum.”

While students receive their traditional courses like math, science and literacy, Wade said they also have the opportunity and privilege to learn life science through studying our mountain habitats.

Camille Klimek’s sixth-grade class takes a trip to the mouth of the North Fork Feather River in Chester Meadow, during a school outing March 29. Students were engaged in a field journaling activity focused on observation and investigation, tied to their annual watershed classroom studies as part of the Outdoor Core curriculum, a Next Generation Science Standards program. The kids ate lunch beside the river before proceeding to the shoreline of Lake Almanor, which was at its highest water level in the past 16 years due to a series of extensive winter storms.

Each grade level focuses on different aspects of the ecology in the Feather River watershed, he said, with sixth-graders following the inception of the headwaters all the way to the ocean by the end of the year.

“Our approach is unique; no one else in the country is implementing the Outdoor Core curriculum the way we are because of where we live. … We’re able to take full advantage of the natural resources around us as part of teaching and learning.”

Wade said his role as outdoor coordinator for PUSD has been to encourage kids to experience the outdoors as a way to inspire them to gain knowledge beyond the classroom.

“I’ve been working with Chester Elementary School specifically on this pilot program, from kindergarten through sixth grade.”

Every grade level has a specific outdoor focus, Wade said, with kindergarten pupils learning about gardening; first-graders are taught about insects and invertebrates; second grade covers the study of reptiles and amphibians; third-graders learn about mammals; fourth-graders are introduced to fish and other aquatic species; fifth grade is the year of the bird; and sixth-graders learn about the watershed.

“The idea is that the kids build on their knowledge of the outdoors year-by-year,” and how everything is ultimately interconnected, Wade noted.

Students then take their findings and integrate their studies across the grade-level curriculum, to incorporate scientific observations, thought processes and discoveries to build critical thinking, said Bainbridge.

In order to become more observant of nature, students incorporate field journaling skills as taught by John Muir Laws, a California scientist and naturalist who developed the preeminent field guide for the Sierra-Nevada, to record their outdoor experiences during field trips to various locations within the watershed.

PSUD is also partnering with biologists and foresters from the U.S. Forest Service, Collins Pine Co., Feather River Trout Unlimited and other groups like the Plumas Audubon Society to support elementary teachers in the field and by providing speakers in the classroom, together with assistance from the Feather River Land Trust through its Learning Landscapes Partnership program that identifies properties that are close to county schools for preservation.

“Students appreciate the amazing and incredible habitats that humans and wildlife share in the Sierra-Nevada,” Bainbridge said.

They learn to understand how to look more closely at nature, she noted, and to express wonder at the world around them.

One thought on “Outdoor Core adopts Next Generation Science Standards strategy

  • Kudos to the PUSD for their “Outdoor Core” program, and the Feather River Land Trust for their “Learning Landscapes” program and the way they have partnered with each other for the benefit of our students. Rob Wade and Paul Hardy are incredible examples of people who are devoted and dedicated to sharing the magic of nature with the youth of our incredible county. I am so thankful for all of those devoted teachers who are contributing to the success of these amazing programs!

    These wonderful programs are inspiring and should be adopted nation-wide!

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