Information for Educators on the Muddy Sneakers Program:
- Why was Muddy Sneakers Started?
- How does the Muddy Sneakers program operate?
- Why Does Muddy Sneakers Lead Off-site and Schoolyard Expeditions?
- Has Muddy Sneakers Updated Its Curriculum To Reflect The NC Essential Standards For 5Th Grade Science? Will there be further refinement to address NC’s likely adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?
- What is Muddy Sneakers impact on EOG test scores?
In a 2002, report called Closing the Achievement Gap was published by the State Education and Environmental Roundtable with findings from a nationwide study involving 150 schools. The report summary reads in part:
Environment-based education produces student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math; improves standardized test scores and grade-point averages; and develops skills in problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making.
Following this report, Richard Louv’s Last Child In The Woods was published in 2005 addressing the detrimental effects of a childhood removed from nature in which he first coined the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ as a means of describing the current generation’s disconnect with the natural world. Louv’s work was embraced throughout the fields of education, psychology, science and political science and the conversation has yet to slow down. In response, conversations began outside the environmental education realm and currently, the United States Congress is considering how best to integrate environmental education into the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act through guidance derived from a bill referred to as the ‘No Child Left Inside Act’. Today, state public education departments across the country and around the world are brainstorming how best to develop and measure environmental literacy programs that address the immediate needs of the current generation.
Inspired by the kinds of possibilities expressed in the 2002 report, the statistical data presented by Richard Louv and the recognition that many local students were not being exposed to the incredible ‘outdoor classrooms’ so abundant in western North Carolina, Muddy Sneakers was conceived and designed to integrate with North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study. The focus was to be on the science curriculum with an effort to bridge the material with other core subjects.
How Does the Muddy Sneakers Program Operate?[back to top]
Weaving together a curriculum that builds on itself, schools commit to having their 5th graders spend between 6-10 school days over the course of the academic year participating in the Muddy Sneakers experiential education program. The order in which the curriculum is taught can be tailored to the needs of each individual school, with each ‘expedition’ representing a core topic, integral to the science curriculum and well suited to be taught in the outdoors. Whether in the field or on the school yard, each class is broken down into groups no larger than twelve students per one instructor, with each group being accompanied by one teacher/chaperone.
Muddy Sneakers instructors/naturalists are highly qualified and bring a diverse array of experiences and teaching styles to the program. Over the course of a year, every child will have the opportunity to learn from a variety of instructors, each with the goal of connecting their students with their surroundings through seeing, touching, smelling and ultimately understanding the science curriculum as it unfolds before their eyes. Under the minimum programming of 6 expeditions, each school will participate in Day 1: School In The Woods where they will become oriented to the outdoor classroom and the structure of a Muddy Sneakers day in the field. If a school chooses to do less than the full 10 expeditions, each school with be given the choice as to whether they would like to use their final expedition as a ‘Culmination Field Study’ (review of previous Muddy Sneakers topics covered) or whether they would prefer to use that day to cover another expedition topic.
Why Does Muddy Sneakers Lead Off-site and Schoolyard Expeditions?[back to top]
The schoolyard expedition format came about for a number of different reasons. Muddy Sneakers wanted to further explore teaching appropriate expedition topics on school grounds as an alternative to the field as a means of better understanding how the expedition format would translate to schools located in areas where there was not such a wealth of protected lands/natural areas in close proximity. A secondary reason was to teach students and teachers alike about the outdoor classroom available to them in their own backyard. The final major reason we decided to commit time and energy to exploring this format during the 2011-12 school year was to provide the Muddy Sneakers program at a reduced cost to the schools and the organization during a time of financial instability in both the school system and throughout the non-profit world. The schoolyard model involves fewer instructors for medium-large schools (40+ students) based on the model splitting the 5th grade class and having only half the children participate at a time (groups switch in the afternoon). This model also allowed the schools to save money by not having to pay for use of school bus transportation.
We feel the 2011-12 school year, in which each school participated in more schoolyard then field expeditions, was an excellent learning experience for all parties. Although we believe there is reason to continue to develop this approach, we have decided to reduce the focus in 2012-13 to no more than 2 schoolyard expeditions over the course of the year. Subsequently, each school will participate in at least 4 off-site field expeditions, in addition to the 2 schoolyard expeditions, and we will again strive to keep each field site within 30 minutes of the school.
[back to top]Has Muddy Sneakers Updated Its Curriculum To Reflect The NC Essential Standards For 5Th Grade Science? Will there be further refinement to address NC’s likely adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?
Yes, Muddy Sneakers’ Curriculum Team (comprised of highly qualified staff) in collaboration with participating teachers/administrators/advisors successfully overhauled the Muddy Sneakers curriculum following the 2011-2012 season in order to address NC’s new Essential Standards. Under the new Standards, the Muddy Sneakers curriculum includes some topics previously taught as well as new topics that will continue to be explored and refined. Below is a complete list of our current expeditions:
2012-13 Muddy Sneakers Curriculum Topics
Day 1: School in the Woods
Forces and Motion
Inheritance and Adaptation
Matter: Properties and Change
Energy: Conservation and Transfer
Field Study Culmination
The state’s decision to update the curriculum provided us with an opportunity to reevaluate our work in the field and reflect on lessons learned from our first four years in operation. In addition to revising the old expeditions and writing curriculum for each new topic, Muddy Sneakers felt it was an appropriate time to introduce a greater inter-disciplinary emphasis into each expedition as the organization seeks to develop a more holistic approach. In 2012-13, Muddy Sneakers began to creatively intertwine some of the national (and NC adopted) ‘Common Core’ math and language arts standards into the teaching of the science curriculum. We believe a natural setting is one of the best places to witness these connections firsthand and we will prioritize creating time for written/creative reflection.
In 2013-14, Muddy Sneakers expects to again revise its curriculum in preparation of NC’s adoption of the national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). NC is one of over 30 states that signed on to review the NGSS that have now been published in their final form. The Curriculum Team, with some additional support, will once again seek to tackle these changes and be prepared to present an updated Muddy Sneakers curriculum in fall 2013. It is the staff’s desire to not only stay current but also serve as a resource to each participating school as they adapt to the new curriculum. Muddy Sneakers supports a national science standard but will continue to approach expansion of the program outside of NC with an eye towards alignment with each state’s appropriate standards.
The natural treasures found in western North Carolina, a land of streams, escarpments, hardwood forests, rock domes, and waterfalls, create a joy-inducing theater for teaching and learning. While we are always seeking new field sites, our most common expedition locations currently include DuPont State Recreational Forest, Gorges State Park, Lake James State Park, NC National Forests, as well as many others. Much like we have with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, we will continue to pursue opportunities to partner with other land conservation organizations in an effort to further educate students about the private efforts made to protect lands in perpetuity and we welcome the opportunity to utilize more of these preserved lands as expedition sites.
As a teacher participating in Muddy Sneakers, you are asked to be an active participant in your class’ field experience, to partner with our field instructors to make the most of the outdoor classroom and to offer ideas, notes, encouragements and criticisms for how we might improve our program. We also ask each teacher to assist us in evaluating the quality of the program at the beginning and end of the season through a provided pre- and post-season evaluation. Please know your comments are appreciated and equally welcomed at any point during the course of the year.
[back to top]What is Muddy Sneakers impact on EOG test scores?
End-of-grade (EOG) test score data for the 5th grade was compiled by school for the school years 2005-06 to 2010-11. This report, titled Muddy Sneakers – 5th Grade EOG Results by School, shows the average percentage of students at or above proficiency in the subject is significantly higher for schools participating in the Muddy Sneakers program than that among those schools not participating. In addition, a number of our schools have seen increasing passing rates into the mid-90th percentile, roughly 20% above the state average.
Summary of 5th Grade EOG Test Results
The following table displays the cumulative averages of the percentage of students at or above proficient in the subject for all schools listed in the report.
|All Years (2005-11)||72%||81%||80%|
|Years without Muddy Sneakers||58%||77%||79%|
|Years with Muddy Sneakers||83%||87%||80%|
Note: 25% increase in science scores!