Campbell Creek Science Center: growing into the future

two children with computer doing distance learning from the Campbell Creek Science Center
Two young at-home learners in Glennallen, Alaska watch as Science Center educator Molly Larmie teaches what the rings in the cross section of a tree can reveal. Courtesy Photo Russ Scribner.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many organizations and businesses pivoted, heading off in a different direction to find new ways of operating. 

For the BLM Campbell Creek Science Center, adapting to the new reality of the pandemic was less of a pivot and more of a leap into the future.  The staff was already exploring ways to provide environmental education throughout Alaska and recently completed a strategic plan.  When the pandemic hit, they put their ideas into action.

It was a big shift for the environmental educators who thrive on interaction with students of all ages.  The classrooms and woods that normally echo with the happy chatter of children on field trips were suddenly empty and silent.  The evening talks that offer adults and families an opportunity to interact with local scientists were temporarily halted.  But the staff embraced the challenge.

“All the instructors would like to be outside teaching kids and adults or traveling around the state to provide environmental education,” said Outreach Educator Molly Larmie.  “But having this time away from that has enabled us to really focus on new ways to broaden our reach.”

Campbell Creek Science Center Instructor teaching a virtual Alaska Animal Program via his laptop and Zoom
Science Center educator Brad Fidel presents a distance learning lesson on Alaska animals. Courtesy Photo Mary Fidel.

First up, they developed a suite of Nature Learning Resources, which now includes more than 48 printable, easy-to-do activity sheets covering a wide variety of topics – from birding basics to exploring the forest floor.  The science center’s website became an important tool for sharing these resources with parents, teachers, and partners who shared them further.

The Alaska Department of Education shared the Nature Learning Resources link with schools around the state.  The Anchorage School District printed the activity sheets and included them in science packets for students.  The Anchorage Public Library printed the activity sheets and paired them with books on related topics. And BLM interpretive sites throughout the U.S. are now using these resources in their environmental education programs.

With time to focus beyond the busy day-to-day operations, science center staff experimented with different ways of delivering programs. And with experimentation came important lessons.  Because some students use school-issued computers which block access to Facebook, the use of social media was less successful than hoped.  But Zoom provided the opportunity for live distance learning programs for students at home and in the classroom.  It also enabled the resumption of lectures popular with adults.  Soon, the reach of science center programs extended throughout Alaska and beyond, to the Lower 48, and even to Australia, Indonesia, and Bolivia.

But not all of the science center’s outreach was virtual.  The pandemic made outdoor exercise more important than ever for many and the staff reached this audience with a series of self-guided walks on the BLM Campbell Tract.  Temporary signs pointed out the identifying characteristics of migratory birds, highlighted the life cycle of salmon, and even suggested outdoor yoga poses based on nature.

Toddler bending over on the trail like a porcupine
A toddler practices porcupine pose on the Nature Yoga pop-up walk. Courtesy Photo Hannah Brewster.

And the Agents of Discovery app mixed technology and outdoor activity.  The science center developed missions for the app, which encourages young people to solve mysteries related to the natural world on Campbell Tract Trails. 

A hand holding a cell phone with the Agents of Discovery app open on it
The Agents of Discovery app provides nature-based challenges for Campbell Tract users developed by Science Center staff. BLM Photo.

The science center is currently working with the Anchorage School District and Alaska Pacific University to develop a multi-part Watershed Wonders distance-learning curriculum for fourth through sixth graders.  The lessons are tied to state science education standards while allowing students to learn at their own pace. 

Science Center Manager Nancy Patterson is glad she had a strategic plan in place when the pandemic hit.  

“We’re now about two years ahead of where we expected to be at this point in distance delivery of environmental education,” she said.  “I am proud of our team. They rose to the challenge of a very difficult year with energy and imagination.”

The mix of in-person, virtual, and self-guided programs is enhancing the science center’s efforts to connect people to public lands across Alaska and beyond.

A sign on a trail describing the features of migrating birds.
The pop-up bird walk highlighted the arrival of migratory birds on the BLM Campbell Tract. BLM Photo.

As the pandemic subsides, the staff looks forward to the eventual return of in-person programs.  They look forward to seeing the wonder in the eyes of toddlers looking through a magnifying glass for the first time and those lightbulb moments of understanding on the faces of older learners.  And they look forward to connecting virtually with participants around the world about the natural resources of Alaska.

Check out the Nature Learning Resources, sign up for one of the virtual public programs on the Activity Calendar, learn more about Agents of Discovery missions, and explore the distance learning options.



Maureen Clark, Public Affairs Specialist

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