Tyson program benefits area youth, teachers

Say “biological field station” and many people envision graduate students doing populations studies or taking climate readings.

Jim Ligman, a teacher at Oak Hill Elementary School in the St. Louis Public School District, prepares his students on April 13 for an earth science program at Tyson Research Center.
Jim Ligman, a teacher at Oak Hill Elementary School in the St. Louis Public School District, prepares his students on April 13 for an earth science program at Tyson Research Center.

But the University’s Tyson Research Center serves a purpose for K-12 students as well as for ecological researchers.

Each year, thousands of young students visit Tyson for educational outdoor activities through the Tyson Field Science Program (TFSP). Many children collect their first insects, see their first animal tracks or take their first hike at Tyson.

Throughout the year, students from St. Louis City and County schools stream out to Tyson to participate in half-day field trips.

Middle-school students explore dry creek beds for rocks made of shells from ancient seas, or artifacts worked by ancient Native American hands. Elementary-school students walk forest trails to collect hickory nuts and grapevines, and discover the myriad plants that thrive at Tyson.

Each year, the TFSP welcomes more than 10,000 pre-K-12 students for educational outdoor experiences. Through a special agreement, more than 20 percent of these students are from St. Louis Public Schools.

“Many children, especially those from urban districts, have never visited a wild, natural environment,” said Marty Galganski, TFSP coordinator.

A former faculty member in the WUSTL and Maryville University education departments, Galganski is assisted by instructors Jane Walker, Emily Whitney and Joe Nydegger.

The TFSP mission is to stimulate discovery and enhance a sense of wonder about the environment through outdoor activities for pre-K-12 students. The program seeks to lay a foundation for students to investigate scientific questions and make informed decisions about the natural world.

It fills an important gap in science education for students of diverse ages and experiences.

“The Tyson Field Science Program is an example of cross-department collaboration within Arts & Sciences,” said Edward S. Macias, Ph.D., executive vice chancellor, dean of Arts & Sciences and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences.

“This program combines expertise from the departments of Biology and Education. It is also one of many endeavors at Tyson that shows the value of an urban university having a field station so convenient to our campus and the city.”

This past academic year, the TFSP has continued providing high-quality, hands-on outdoor science education programs to St. Louis-area students. Repeat business and positive feedback from teachers and parents indicate many people are touched by and value the experiences at Tyson.

The program has increased its audience in recent years, thanks to support from the Gaylord Foundation and the Friends of Tyson.

In July 2001, the TFSP became a part of Science Outreach, a biology department program that seeks to enhance the teaching of hands-on science in K-12 schools through teacher-professional development programs.

“The merger has allowed the field science program to develop its working relationships with area teachers,” said Victoria May, director of Science Outreach. “While people know the program as an exceptionally rich resource for children, this past year we continued to develop our vision to extend the programming to teachers.”

The TFSP is involved in graduate courses and professional development for teachers through two National Science Foundation-funded projects at the University: The St. Louis Math and Science Partnership (funded through Science Outreach) and the Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning (CISTL, funded through the education department).

In summer 2003, five teachers and five high-school students did CISTL-funded internships in inquiry-based ecology education. In addition, 20 teachers involved with CISTL participated in staff development programs at Tyson.

These programs and others will continue this summer. The TFSP also initiated new programs for teachers and students last year.

“We piloted a unique science program for middle-school teams to integrate grade-level content in history, geography and sometimes math or language arts, with a field experience in ecology or geology,” Galganski said.

Current research in environmental action spurred the development of a parent-child program to be piloted in September, Galganski said.

“Adults who identify themselves as active environmentalists, when asked what occurred influenced them, most often referred to experiences in nature with a mentor as a turning point,” she explained. “We believe that parent-child bonding in a natural setting may be laying the groundwork for future adults who will care for the environment.

“However, children who have a one-time visit to a nature preserve as a part of a field trip often return with a greater dislike for nature than before they left. How this research impacts our future is leading our staff into new avenues of reading and discussion.

“We want to move forward in new ways, such as building connections to teacher-professional development and offering multiple-visit programs.

“We’re not just field trips for kids anymore.”

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