Forest Field Investigations
Forest Field Investigations (FFI) is a new program of the Texas Forestry Association to provide students from diverse communities an opportunity to have inquiry-based (hands-on, minds-on) experiences in local forests. Even in timber-based communities, many children do not have opportunities to go to the woods. Obstacles preventing children from being outdoors arise from family issues - parents' concerns about safety, overly-structured family time, increased interest in electronic recreation - and public school issues mostly centered around accountability.
FFI events give students (and teachers) a day in the forest! Part of their day is unstructured - a leisurely walk to increase comfort levels, dispel fears about being outside and answer questions about what the students see. Informal lunch time conversations with facilitators serve to check comfort levels and reflect on student observations; journal writing at the end of the day provides further reflection for students. The structured portion of the day utilizes Project Learning Tree (PLT) activities specifically selected to teach concepts and skills that teachers have identified as student weaknesses. PLT Facilitators will be trained to teach and reteach desired concepts and skills with the goal of improving student performance.
At the conclusion of these events, FFI will have:
- demonstrated that field trips, better known as field investigations, are as valuable for preparing for the TAKS as classroom time
- provided an opportunity for teachers and students to have a better understanding of environmental concepts
- trained teachers, by example, on how to manage students in an outdoor setting
- dispelled perceived fears and increased comfort levels for students and teachers in being outdoors
- acquired a body of data that shows PLT activities are effective tools for improving student performance on Science TAKS so we can convince administrators to use our resources
In mid-2008 485 fifth and eighth graders from the East Division of Houston ISD participated in the first season of FFI. These students are categorized by the Texas Education Agency as 78% economically disadvantaged. Students from the first school arrived at the Jones State Forest wondering if they could see the zebras that lived in the forest. A show of hands demonstrated that this was the first time most of them had ever been to a place that didn't have buildings!