Introducing Woodward Park’s newest outreach program
You have three nicely potted, thriving plants – a cactus, a marigold, and an azalea. The question is posed to a curious group of grade school teachers, as they take in the expansive overlook of the Tulsa Rose Garden from our new vista Pavilion, “what happens if we play the shell game and replant them in each other’s pots? Live or Die? Why?” Now the exploration process of critical thinking begins for Soil Chemistry, as part of their Summer Professional Development (PD) in the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance’s (TRSA) SENSEational Science. This is experiential STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) outdoors, where it naturally occurs.
Welcome to the new Outdoor Classroom at Woodward Park!
Outdoor Classroom has served over 12,000 Tulsa area, older elementary students since it started in the fall of 2015 at Camp Loughridge. Our young naturalist “customers” primarily come from low-income and marginalized communities in the Tulsa-area, where STEM inequities and lack of career mentoring are prevalent. They are now a part of a rich STEM ecosystem spanning across non-traditional educators.
Thanks to the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation for empowering this restart, and to our past donors who built a strong foundation to sustain this program, Outdoor Classroom is alive, well and blooming again in the 45-acres of the Woodward Park campus. The program leverages and collaborates with the legacy of the Linnaeus Teaching Garden program started by Tulsa Garden Center’s Director of Horticulture, Barry Fugatt. Outdoor Classroom at Woodward Park is a new program of the venerable Tulsa Garden Center. Our collaboration team will include the neighboring Tulsa Historical Society Museum to help add the “A” (Arts & Culture) to STEAM.
Every student’s 5-hour, class-day adventure starts with navigating the majestic oaks and arboretum, exploring the water ecology, while expanding student’s outlook beyond the length of their arms at their smartphones. We find tracks and scat on the trails, study the clouds, understand the shadows and the sun, learn life-skills while getting messy, all the time revealing a bigger living laboratory to positively impact their life journeys.
Field Trip of yesteryear, or Field Class of today?
Outdoor Classroom intentionally meets or exceeds Oklahoma Academic Standards for grade-level Math, Science and ELA (English Language Arts). It incorporates Next Generation Science Standards into every program, adhering to a 12-step Dimension of Success model certified by Harvard University’s McLean Teaching Hospital. Each class is customized to a school’s pacing calendar, dovetails into current curriculum, and plants the seed for months down the road. We bring textbooks to life! It is teacher/student driven, exceptionally educational, and FUN!
Our Naturalist Educator team has STEM/STEAM backgrounds, often coming from careers in Corporate America, government, or non-profits. We instill intellectual habits of curiosity, design thinking, perseverance and critical thinking to help pull kids through school, and reveal career opportunities the students may have never envisioned for themselves. We create excellent programming, leading to hope, which is a precursor to joy! Fun is in our nature!
Oklahoma is #1 in too many negative aspects. Too many of our students (and their beleaguered teachers) experience STEM inequities, high risk factors in marginalized and underserved communities, and missed learning opportunities, which all limit human potential. Outdoor Classroom at Woodward Park strives to be a bright thread in the rich tapestry of our Tulsa STEM Education ecosystem, providing a springboard to change communities from the kids on up.
How you can help
We seek volunteers, financial support for student scholarships, and collaboration to help provide an exemplary program for our students and their teachers. Please visit TulsaGardenCenter.org/ocwp to become a part of this incredible journey today. For social media visit @OCWPstem on twitter or facebook.
About the Author
Brian Bovaird is the Program Director for Outdoor Classroom at Woodward Park.