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No Child Left Inside: USU Set for Annual Natural Resource Field Days

Thursday, Sep. 08, 2011

grade school students at 2010 Natural Resource Field Day

Fourth grade participants in USU Water Quality Extension's 2010 Natural Resource Field Days use a net to collect water bugs from the Logan River. This year, USU will host more than 1,300 Cache Valley students during the annual outreach event.

USU graduate student Tiffany Kinder with grade school students

USU grad student Tiffany Kinder, right, helps participants in 2010's Natural Resource Field Days examine aquatic invertebrates collected from the Logan River using magnifying glasses. Kinder conducted an assessment of the outreach program.

It’s a no-brainer that fourth grade students who participate in Utah State University’s Natural Resource Field Days each year have a great time splashing in the Logan River, catching water bugs and dressing up as strange, aquatic critters.

The question is, asks USU graduate student Tiffany Kinder, are they learning anything?

“Our findings point to a resounding ‘yes,’” says Kinder, a master’s student in watershed science who conducted an assessment of the field days in 2010. “And, not only are they learning, they’re remembering what they learned more than six months after their field day experiences.”

USU has coordinated natural resource field days for youngsters, in various forms, for more than 30 years. Since 2000, Kinder’s faculty mentor Nancy Mesner, head of USU Water Quality Extension and associate dean for the College of Natural Resources, has led Utah’s Cache County Natural Resource Field Days for Cache County and Logan City school district fourth graders each fall. This year, from Sept. 12-23, more than 1,300 children from more than 50 classrooms will venture to Logan Canyon’s Guinavah-Malibu Campground to learn about the soil, plants, water and wildlife of the tri-state Bear River Watershed.

“We host several classrooms each day over the two-week period,” says Kinder, who serves as a staff member for USU Water Quality Extension, the coordinating office for Natural Resource Field Days. “The children spend almost a full school day in the canyon, participating in activities at varied learning stations.”  

Among the day’s activities, students are introduced to aquatic invertebrates that inhabit the Logan River. The children are encouraged to look under rocks at the water’s edge, take nets into the river to catch the tiny creatures and use magnifying glasses to view the animals’ unique features. The students, who typically range in age from 9 to 10 years old, learn how invertebrates are linked water quality and an environment that nourishes fish and other wildlife.

In addition to the two school districts, USU’s partners with the project include Cache County Extension, the Utah Association of Conservation Districts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

“Utah’s fourth grade curriculum focuses on Utah history, environments and wildlife, so the field days make a nice introduction for the school year,” Kinder says. “Teachers can refer back to the experience as their students learn about the state.”

To assess the field days, Kinder surveyed children shortly after their participation and again, eight months later.

“We assessed their knowledge of topics we covered during the field days and their attitudes about rivers and streams,” she says. “We were impressed that the children remembered what they learned and, eight months later, retained most of that knowledge.”

Kinder’s findings also indicated that children who’d participated in classroom lessons before and after their field experiences retained more knowledge.

“That really wasn’t a surprise,” she says. “Experience has shown us that combining classroom lessons with field activities enables children to learn more than just participating in one or the other.”

As far as assessing children’s attitudes about rivers and stream before and after their field experiences, Kinder says most participants had positive attitudes before the field days even if they claimed they “hated bugs.”

“What was different about the students’ attitudes after being in the canyon was the level of detail they used to describe how they felt about rivers and streams,” she says. “Before the field days, students wrote that they liked rivers. Afterwards, the students articulated why rivers were important and why people need to care about water quality.”

Kinder says her favorite student comment came from a youngster who described the importance of seeing “the big picture” when viewing a stream or small river.

“The child wrote ‘even though it may look small to you, there’s a whole new world inside.’” 

Related links:

Contact: Tiffany Kinder, 435-797-2580,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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