A new STEM in Woodward Park


by Brian Bovaird, Outdoor Classroom Program Director, Tulsa Garden Center

“Today, you all are going to be scientists.” A hush of wonderment falls over the older elementary students on the bus, just before disembarking on an incredible 5-hour exploration of the 45-acres of our historic Woodward Park. The Naturalist Educator has their full attention now.

The Naturalist, clad with a compass around their neck, a bandanna, outdoor work clothes, and a really cool walkie-talkie on their belt, continues: “The #1 thing a scientist does, is make observations and collect data. Scientists look beyond the length of their arms at a smartphone. They look out the windows, at the ground they are walking on, into the wooded areas and natural mazes off in the distance, and up at the skies to predict the weather. The clouds have a story they want to share.

“Are there any wild animals, snakes or poison ivy?” are often the first questions asked by this now attentive audience. Everyone is united and engaged as a team. Unbeknownst they are about to dive deep into Science, Technology (no batteries required), Engineering in Math (STEM) outdoors, where it naturally occurs. Their curiosity is primed to become explorers, pioneers, adventurers and innovators on a journey into Outdoor Classroom at Woodward Park.

For most of the 4,000 5th/6th graders, and teachers too, they come during the school-day from low-income neighborhoods, adverse family structures, and under-resourced schools spread across the Tulsa area.

They are often never told they can be something different…a scientist, an engineer, an inventor, a Naturalist teacher, a poet, an artist, or a steward of our precious natural resources. Outdoor Classroom is a giant step to building self-awareness, critical thinking and revealing HOPE, to positively affect their life journeys.

“I have never seen students that normally are not engaged, or even those with behavior issues, completely open up and come alive. I am literally moved to tears watching them “bloom.” Thank you all so very much.” —Ali Upton, Former Celia Clinton 5th grade teacher

They are ready to engage, and albeit with some initial trepidation, get hands-on messy in nature. Outdoors, they will discover where mankind has developed many of the greatest innovations over the past 3,000 years. Plants (producers) convert the sun’s energy to food, pesky wasp nests share the same geometric structure used in aircraft wing design, riparian zones around our water features simulate organs in our bodies that filter out the bad, and drones are coded with “bearings and distance,” just like the compass they will use to navigate through our large post-oak trees. The sun, stars and planets have a story they want to share.

Our natural ecosystem is stronger by its diversity. They will learn about the disastrous mite that wiped out the monoculture of our famed Tulsa Rose Garden several years ago.

The students realize the power of their own diversity, whether cultural differences, learning differences or that here-before-quirky kid who loves math. They are all heroes now! They need each other to be stronger for the challenges before them. Give youth a voice!

Outdoor Classroom at Woodward Park brings textbooks to life back in the classroom. We are empowering students to leverage and nurture their own natural talents to succeed. We are changing communities from the kids up! Adventure is out there!

Please explore Outdoor Classroom as a volunteer and/or supporter. Learn how our program is nationally evaluated to achieve real outcomes for our young participants. Sign your school up today on our website. Albert Einstein quipped “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”


Dylan AxsomComment