Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Field Trips at the Jester Park Nature Center

Each fall, thousands of students make their grand return to schools across the state. My own children are just a month back into the swing of things...and beginning to get restless. As I picked them up on Monday, my oldest came running out of the building bursting with excitement - "Mom!", he shouted. "We are going to the botanical center next week on a field trip!". It is that sense of joy and wonder outside of the four walls of a school that begins of a lifetime of learning, and the Jester Park Nature Center will be at the center of such opportunities for the children of central Iowa.

Studies have found that field trips enhance a student's learning experience by providing exposure to important educational experiences outside the confines of the classroom, homework, and tests. Regardless of demographics, students that are offered educational field trips show a direct correlation to higher grades, graduation rates and higher income potential. Field trips leave participants with a lasting impact on schooling as it creates a particular brand of engagement that sparks curiosity and interest in continued learning outside of the classroom. Schools serving disadvantaged students are also able provide those children less likely to be exposed to the enriching experiences and benefits of field trips. This affords students the equal opportunity to experience something they may not otherwise be exposed to at home.

The Jester Park Nature Center will be the premier site in central Iowa for schoolchildren to participate in field trips exploring the great outdoors. Situated within a 1,675-acre park on the western shore of Saylorville Lake, classes will have space to roam the woodland, aquatic, and prairie habitats located just outside the front door of the Nature Center. While the purpose of the Jester Park Nature Center is to get you outside, it will also allow for visiting classes to bring the outdoors inside for further study. 

This facility will also include classrooms which will increase environmental programming opportunities for schools, and allow for year-round field trips even when Mother Nature is less than cooperative. With the inclusion of a rental facility, opportunities abound for outdoor recreation during field trips. Students may be exposed to activities that may otherwise not be made available to them such as fishing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, etc.

The Jester Park Nature Center will bring together the classroom, the outdoors, new experiences and memories for children of all ages. “Field trips give students the opportunity to learn in a natural environment and experience things first-hand and from primary resources, rather than texts; real objects rather than photos...Today's students are visual learners and a field trip lets them touch, feel, and listen to what they’re learning about, [which helps them] build on classroom instruction, gain a better understanding of topics, build cultural understanding and tolerance, and expose them to worlds outside their own.”
                              - Carylann Assante, executive director for Student & Youth Travel Association


Monday, August 29, 2016

Infusing STEM-based Programming, Naturally

Jester Park Nature Center will be leading the way in STEM-based learning opportunities for youth. The Jester Park Nature Center will be the gateway to both the outdoors and to STEM-based programming initiatives.   

What is STEM?
A concept that infuses four specific disciplines into a curriculum that fully engages and educates participants in:

Science - the study of the nature of the universe 
Technology - applying information to the design of goods and services   
Engineering - application of knowledge for the benefit of humanity
Mathematics - the universal language of nature

The STEM-based learning program provides students with an innovative, problem solving, and discovery-based environment that focuses on application outside of the classroom. Utilizing this learning model engages students in authentic, real-world problems through the infusion of technology and applicable curriculum. Education opportunities at the Jester Park Nature Center will follow this model of learning and will provide an environment in which STEM-based programming will naturally permeate into each visit.

Cultivating a curiosity of the world around us starts at a young age

Providing exposure to STEM through public nature centers is important for engaging early interest in students. The U.S. has become a global leader not simply by what we know, but also through what we can do with what we know. The Jester Park Nature Center will incorporate this concept with the goal to regain Iowa's legacy as a leader in both education and the workforce. STEM has been proven to provide a vital economic advantage for quality jobs in our state, and graduates that leave their schooling with full STEM concept integration are in great demand to meet current and projected workforce needs
Habitat walk through the Chichaqua prairie

Polk County Conservation Naturalists have been intuitively infusing STEM-based practices into their popular programs and field trips in our county parks for years. Habitat discoveries, insect safaris, and outdoor skills classes are a few examples of the opportunities available through PCC programming which contribute to community, place and discovery-based learning environments in which the student may grow. The Jester Park Nature Center will expand upon what Naturalists already offer by providing a structured place to go both explore the natural world and also return to the classroom to utilize the skills and concepts acquired. 

New STEM-based programming possibilities with the Jester Park Nature Center include:
  • extended ecology and biology studies for Kindergarten through college level 
  • Teacher externships
  • Numerous community based project learning opportunities such as native pollinator projects, water quality workshops, invasive species mapping and green living programming
  • STEM-based summer nature camps
  • STEM-based nature focused Pre-K partnerships
Classroom concept for the Jester Park Nature Center

The envisioned STEM classroom at the Jester Park Nature Center will be one that allows for creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills. This will allow Environmental Education staff to bring the outdoors inside for in-depth study and to be open to adaptation as technology evolves. 

“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world..."
 President Barack Obama, March 23, 2015

"Preliminary research on successful STEM schools indicates that cultivating partnerships with industry, higher education, non-profits, nature centers, and research centers is important for engaging students in STEM learning through internships, mentorships, interdisciplinary project-based learning, and early college experiences."

 Maureen Griffin and Eric Hall (Des Moines Hoover High School)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sustainability and the Jester Park Nature Center

Conservation and sustainability go hand-in-hand, and the Jester Park Nature Center will be a model for the merger of these concepts. The foundation on which the Center will be built revolves around the idea of creating an inviting space for visitors to not only learn about the natural world but also ways to sustain modern living in an ecologically responsible manner

The center will demonstrate and educate visitors on the value of sustainable construction of a modern space. The goal is to provide an example of common practices that people may incorporate into their own homes and businesses. The Jester Park Nature Center's overall objective is to minimize the impact of the built environment on both human health and the natural environment in which it exists. This will be accomplished by efficiently using energy, water and other resources; by reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation; and by protecting occupant health and improving employee productivity.

Some of the principle features of sustainability and healthy building practices that will be built into the framework of the Jester Park Nature Center include:

Natural Daylighting, LED Lighting and Occupancy Sensors

Besides its many aesthetically pleasing attributes, utilizing natural lighting from the sun touts many other benefits such as increasing productivity and comfort of a space for occupants, balance natural human circadian rhythms, and substantially lower energy usage. 

However, daylight is quite variable and unpredictable on both the daily and seasonal scale and is dependent on current weather conditions and solar position. Enter in the benefits of LED lighting!

LED (light-emitting diode) lighting represents a big leap in the lighting industry. These bulbs are highly efficient in terms of energy usage and are long-lasting, using around 75% less energy and lasting 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb ( LEDs are “directional” light sources which means they emit light in a specific direction, unlike incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs which emit light - and heat - in all directions. For this reason, LED lighting is able to use light and energy more efficiently. Occupancy sensors will then further complement energy usage and lighting plans for the Center by detecting when occupants are utilizing space and promptly shut off lighting when none are detected.
Geothermal Heating and Cooling, and Thermal Building Enclosure

A geothermal heat pump system will provide heating and cooling for the Center. This type of system uses the natural insulating properties of the earth to circulate water or liquids through buried coils that are warmed or cooled by the ground temperature. Ground source heat pump systems are over 40% more efficient than traditional heating and cooling systems.

Heating and cooling doesn't end with the unit used to supply a climate controlled environment.  Current building codes require a minimum rating in terms of insulation of walls and roofs by way of  their resistance to heat flow (R-value). A higher R-value denotes great insulating power. The building will be constructed with higher R-values than is required of insulation to further enhance the efficiency of the building. 

Parkitecture and Water Conservation 
The term "parkitecture" implies that a building’s aesthetic is sensitive to the natural surroundings; that the building becomes a part of the natural setting. Native plantings will not only serve this purpose, beautify the outside of the Center and educate the public on the benefits of native landscapes, but it will put education into practice. The use of native vegetation in rain gardens and bioswales on the grounds of the Center will act as an effective natural filter to remove pollution and remediate erosion that travels over the land in stormwater runoff. Water from rain or melting snow running off of the Center site will be filtered in these bioswales before entering into the watershed further downstream. 

You and every visitor that will pass through our front doors will be part of our bond, our legacy and our responsibility to the land. These features of the Jester Park Nature Center and more represent a model of  applicable building practices. It is our hope that the Jester Park Nature Center will serve to plant seeds of inspiration in each visitor to lead a more ecologically responsible lifestyle when they return home.