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Distance Learning Takes Flight with Tools for Science Teachers
Minnesota Ag Connection - 11/20/2020

Kathy Kneeland, a high school science teacher with Robbinsdale Area Schools, was feeling anxious about distance learning for the fall of 2020. Then she met Maxime, a bald eagle from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. An Extension curriculum connected the dots.

Maxime was only the beginning. Education raptors will visit thousands of students virtually this school year. Kneeland also has other new tools and the University will guide her all year, helping her spark excitement even when dark winter days arrive.

The University's Outdoor Investigations in the STEM Classroom (OISC) program, with funding from the Cargill Foundation, supports teachers who work with low-income students to provide equitable access to STEM opportunities. Teachers get the tools they need to engage students in the process of scientific inquiry and critical thinking. Students then develop and conduct their own outdoor scientific investigation.

University of Minnesota Extension and the Raptor Center brought together 6th- through 12th-grade science teachers like Kneeland from nine metro school districts for three days of virtual workshops, integrating the online Raptor Lab and Outdoor Investigator curriculum into classrooms that moved online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It is harder to make personal connections with students in distance learning," says Kneeland. "I am really looking forward to using Outdoor Investigator with my students because it gives them the opportunity to choose a topic to study, a chance to experience nature and the opportunity to build critical thinking skills that they can use beyond my classes."

In a time when many students are primarily learning on screens, this program gives educators a way to encourage getting outside and it aligns with Minnesota and Next Generation science standards.

Sharing and reflecting on experiences is part of what makes learning meaningful and lasting. Extension and The Raptor Center are preparing for the 24th annual Ecology Science Fair.

The Jan. 30 event will provide a forum for elementary, middle school and high school students to present their research, as well as participate in fun ecology-focused breakout sessions.

This year's fair will be held virtually as the Ecology Science eFair. Students conduct independent investigations at school, a local park or at home. They share their findings with others, answering interview questions from a scientist.

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