For the last three months I have been working with an old friend who runs an organization called the Great Basin Institute (GBI) to develop experiential education programs at the Galena Creek Visitors Center in the Galena Creek Recreational Park above Reno in the Galena forest. The Visitors Center has for many years offered outdoor education programs for kids through summer camps and with students from the Washoe County School District who come to the park to experience this incredible nature park and learn about the environment and the scientific work that goes on to understand such places and develop ways to insure their health.
For over twenty years now I have served on the Board of Directors of GBI and watched it grow from a seminar for graduate students in the Environmental Humanities program at the University of Nevada to a multi-million dollar operation that works to preserve and restore wild lands throughout the western United States. The Galena Creek projects reflect GBI’s original goals that were to educate through field studies attached to field work dedicated to improving the conditions of Nevada’s natural resources. Ten years ago GBI inherited operation of the Galena Creek Visitors Center from the Washoe County Parks System and responsibility for educational programs at the Center and in the park. In the park is Camp We Ch Mi, a hundred bed lodge where campers enrolled in week long sessions stay.
My role is to help to make camps and other educational experiences powerful experiences with nature and learning that help kids grow more interested in nature and kind of work those involved in preservation and restoration do using science to guide their work. My goal is to develop interdisciplinary, problem solving-based activities that allow participants to feel scientific thinking so that they understand the power of science as a tool for developing understandings that are meaningful and useful. With scientific thinking as a model for good thinking, we want to bring in other disciplines to demonstrate how a person can think their way to understandings that are not just meaningful but exciting. That excitement, we think, is what causes a person to become an earnest life-long learner, one who has the skills, knowledge, and disposition to seek information to fuel thinking that leads to knowledge upon which he or she makes informed and thoughtful decisions throughout life.
At the Visitors Center, we are working to create experiences that will help the public understand the Galena Creek area as a unique place where the high desert rapidly transitions to alpine forest, biomes changing in the distance of feet rather than miles. The displays and activities we are developing will focus on the Truckee River watershed of which Galena Creek is a constituent, its natural history and those elements of human history that have had an affect upon it.
Currently, we are working on a project involving restoration work on Galena Creek and, as a part of the restoration effort, we will offer institutes for teachers that will allow them to help in the project while interacting with the science and the scientists and engineers whose expertise will guide the restoration effort. Our goal here is to help teachers to connect their teaching to the world to which it applies, to understand better how the disciplinary methods and knowledge they teach about is used to achieve meaningful ends in the world, the hope being that they will use the experience to do more to attach instruction to the reality their disciplines describe and are used to guide action.
I am thrilled to be a part of this project.