Science education is essential for the prosperity of society. Assessments of science education in the US show poor student performance and a chronic ethnic disparity among students pursuing higher education. Simultaneously, environmental problems are increasing locally and globally.
Pedagogic improvements are needed to make science education (ecology) an attractive, rewarding, and fulfilling option for K-12 students and teachers. Higher education institutions can contribute to these improvements by training new generations of ecologists and science educators in ecology outreach.
The Redwood Environmental Academy of Leadership (REAL) program is an effort of Stanford University (faculty/staff/students) to collaborate with teachers and connect to students of Redwood High School (RHS) in place-based learning. This alternative/continuation high school supports under-represented students who experience additional educational challenges in their respective traditional schools.
The main goals of REAL are to (1) provide RHS students and teachers with sustainable resources to teach and learn ecology, (2) engage students in active, hands-on projects that create the desire to learn and confidence that they can do well in science and (3) to produce a program that is replicable and transferable.
Survey results show that the Cordilleras Creek, which flows through the RHS campus and outdoor laboratory settings are major assets of pedagogic improvements. A quantitative analysis showed that students showed a stronger understanding of the skills involved in doing science (data collection, analysis, and interpretation, species identification, measurements) and an increase in self-identity and confidence in being a scientist. Incorporating California Education Standards into the program’s curriculum was found to be an important design aspect essential in developing long-term investments and program replicability.
The needs of improving science education in an alternative high school are met with this collaborative effort by Stanford University and Redwood High School.