Authors: Katie Caldwell and Dustin Angell
Last month, Dustin Angell, Archbold Biological Station’s Director of Education, and Katie Caldwell, the Jill Abrahamson Memorial Environmental Education Intern, were invited to present on Archbold’s virtual education projects for the Florida Association of Science Teachers (FAST) conference by the Florida Department of Education’s STEAM team (science, technology, education, art, and math).
“This was our first time attending and presenting at FAST,” explains Angell. “We have always focused on serving local schools, but virtual programing is bringing us new audiences and partners. The STEAM Team is helping us find our niche in the Florida classroom, which looks to be sharing how the practice of science works with examples from Archbold research.”
Prior to 2020, the vast majority of environmental education at field stations across North America was occurring onsite. In Angell’s presentation, ‘The Virtual Field: Remote Learning at Field Stations in Florida and Beyond,’ he explained how some of these institutions reinvented their education programs during the pandemic and come together to create The Virtual Field (www.thevirtualfield.org), a website where students can remotely visit biological field stations around the world to develop their field skills and environmental literacy. Archbold’s Executive Director, Dr. Hilary Swain, is a project leader for this growing initiative.
In addition to the field station collaboration, Angell outlined what Archbold is providing for Florida elementary school classrooms. Private virtual classroom visits bring Archbold to the schools with two class options available: the ‘Snakes and Skulls’ classroom visit introduces students to a live Florida snake and a variety of animal skulls.
“The snake seems to be a favorite,” Caldwell notes. “Some students are a bit wary, but some are just so excited. It’s great to see that the students are still engaged and curious even over a Zoom call. They’re in the chat asking questions and giving us fun facts that they already know about Florida wildlife. It’s really fun for us as educators and for the students.”
The other virtual classroom visit is a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style presentation. This format allows students autonomy to pick where they go on the trail, the questions they ask the scientists, and what to look at in greater detail.
Nature Wonder Alive with Mr. Dustin is a monthly interactive livestream show that takes viewers into various Florida habitats throughout Archbold’s 20,000 acres—from hiking in the endangered scrub to kayaking on Lake Annie. Since the program is live, the audience is able to participate and ask questions by typing in the chat box. Each episode features a guest scientist who showcases their research at Archbold.
Caldwell, who started in October and is the third consecutive education intern to work during the pandemic, is excited about the rest of the school year. “The virtual programs are game-changers for Archbold, but now we are scheduling in-person field trips again, too. This is exciting, because during my internship we are promoting both formats with the local schools. Dustin and I will be able to meet students virtually and take them for in-person tours,” Caldwell states.
Archbold Biological Station, located in Venus, Florida, is still closed to the public, but in-person guided tours are available for groups of 10 or more. To learn more about Archbold’s education programs, visit: www.archbold-education.com or call (863)465-2571.