Environmental Learning ESTEAM Lessons To Grow! Natural Play STEM

Growing Green Kid Trip Engineering Design Challenge™

Our imaginations can still travel during this time of COVID-19!  Wanderlust is a German word meaning love of wandering, exploring, and travel.  The German word fernweh is the “travel ache you can’t translate,” also known as “pain to see far-flung places beyond our doorstep” according to the BBC travel article in March 2020.  

Welcome to the Growing Green Kid Trip Engineering Design Challenge™. This playful week-long, flexible learning project is designed especially for kids and families practicing social distancing and shelter-in-place during spring of 2020.  

Yes… people, water, land, air, and living things connect in our neighborhoods… and in lands far away too!  Whether you plan a real trip or an imaginary one, in this project kids will experience map skills, biodiversity, geology, systems, money management, and leadership.  Kids lead the fun project (while secretly learning math, reading, science and social studies at the same time)!  All ages are welcome to participate.  Please pack your wanderlust for this environmental STEM learning adventure!

As a child, my parents had my brothers and I keep trip journals about our adventures.  From rock-hopping at state parks along Lake Superior to longer road trips with National Park Service pitstops like Mammoth Cave, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Badlands of South Dakota; the journaling was more than just words, but practice in reflection and connection.  The memories, and learning, sunk in because I reflected upon the adventures then shared those stories with others when we got home.  How about adding some writing skills to this EnviroSTEM adventure?  

You can grow family connections and your child’s writing and reflection skills with the “Growing Green Kid Trip Engineering Design Challenge™ by sharing your trip plans or creating stories based on your trip research.  For example, create an imaginary character that takes this trip in the future, or in the past: “As we walked the beach of Red Lake, Henry found what looked like a rock but what he found was so much more.”  

Call relatives and have read children their stories!  Elders in your community may be in need of some friendly phone calls. And be sure to interview your elders about their travel experiences, too.   “Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872 and it was the 1940’s when my 4 great aunts borrowed their brothers new car to road trip west from Minnesota to see those water-spouting geysers, stay in the new lodges, and see bears feeding in the dumps.”  …And that story is true according to my Great Auntie Eleanor who shared it with me when I was a child.

Another community-builder is to imagine the trip, real or imaginary, with other families and friends.  Families that create the trip plan together can create stories together too:  “Finally, the mountains that we had been waiting to see!  When we arrived a the Grinnell glacier hiking trailhead in Glacier National Park, Amy and Milo heard the cackle of a jay that seemed to be telling them to get going.  In the distance a group gathered to watch a grizzly bear on the hillside.” 

Stories are powerful, and memories of travel last a lifetime.  I can’t wait to hear about your adventures on Growing Green Hearts Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter.  Below are 7 easy steps that will guide you on your Growing Green Kid Trip Engineering Design Challenge™ journey.  

Step 1.  Our problem to solve is this:  Plan a Green Kid Trip!

You are the trip planners.  You’ll travel to a place very different than what you know.   A real adventure!   Your trip plan must include these criteria and constraints:

  • 5 local foods to try
  • 4 silly/fun things to do or see
  • 3 national or state parks along your route
  • 2 hours of activity and exercise each day
  • 1 local endangered animal to observe, protect, or support

Here’s a diagram of the process we’ll follow.  

We defined the problem, now add your criteria and constraints for your family.  Here are some questions to guide you:

  • How many people will be travelling together?
  • How many days will your trip last?
  • Do your travel buddies prefer a trip by bike, car, boat, train, or airplane?
  • How much money will you be allowed to spend?

Where should your team put your travel plans?  I recommend these three options to record your teamwork and travel journey:

  1. Reuse an old notebook by removing the pages that have been written on then adding some flair with a new artsy cover, hand-made by you.
  2. Use separate pieces of paper for each team member’s ideas logn the trip planning journey, then bind the papers together using string and a creative tag board cover.   In the end, you’ll have your own trip travel guide.  
  3. Use re-stickable tape to put a poster on the wall in a common space of your home.  People can add ideas or resources throughout the week.

Step 2.   Teamwork + EnviroSTEM basics

As the saying goes,  “Teamwork makes the dream work.”  Real engineers work in teams to make things happen.  It’s important to remember that environmental STEM means connecting the knowledge, skills and our actions, with environment and science, technology, engineering, and math.  These guidelines will help your team work together in a caring way and perhaps even this (#enviroSTEM) challenge can last for days, even a week or more, because:

  • There is NOT one right answer.  
  • Your trip plan will change and evolve, and that’s what process is all about!
  • You’ll use your imagination to create new solutions.
  • You’ll compare and contrast where you live and what you know with brand new things, places, creatures, and ADVETNURE!
  • The engineering design process includes many iterations of: design, build, test, and improve.  So plan on many ways of doing things.
  • Materials we will use are all recyclable, reusable, compostable.
  • From magazine, maps and books for research to cardboard and crayons for book-making…stuff you already have around the house can be used in unique ways.

Just like at the campsite, at the end of your challenge, please do your best to practice the “Leave No Trace” philosophy, which looks like:  

  • Keeping the memory, perhaps some photos, rather than keeping to much “stuff.”
  • Returning natural objects back to nature.
  • Taking apart your project and appropriately sorting the materials for recycling or returning them where you found them.
  • Cleaning your space back to the way it looked before, with little waste.

Step 3.  Research near and far.

To research “near”….get outside to explore where you live!  Hike or bike around your local park, neighborhood, or yard to answer these questions.  Write them down or just talk about what you found:

  • Where do you see the most water?  
  • How did the water get there?
  • Where is the land the highest?
  • What makes the land highest there?
  • Is the land in soil, sand, gravel, or rocks?
  • What landforms are you standing on…mountains, plains, or plateaus?
  • Who lived on this land before you? (names or people or cultures)
  • What living things do you see?
  • What animal tracks can you find?
  • What is the largest plant you see? 
  • What is the smallest plant you see?
  • How are the different plants spreading their seeds?
  • What have the animals been eating?

To research “far”… dream up opposites compared to where you live.  Begin with a list of places that include opposites to your answers above.  Then do a web search to find places that support those opposites. A few examples…  

Water from melting snow has collected on my driveway.  An opposite of that would be travelling to a warm place with huge ocean-water views and beaches.  I could look up information on Florida state parks, National Parks of the southern United States west and east coasts, and/or global UNESCO World Heritage sites near oceans.

An ant was walking along in the sunshine on the warm sidewalk. An animal much larger than an ant, that lives in the water rather than soil, is the orca whale. Orcas and gray whales can be seen from parks in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and more. Researching those places or animals using movies or websites. Also, the book Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly has pre-teen scientist using enviroSTEM and travel to connect with her favorite whale!

Tiny tulip leaves are peaking through the soil. Since tulips are spring and summer flowering plants with bulbs that grow close to the ground, an opposite could be the giant Redwood Trees of California.  I could look on a map of California to find Redwoods National Park, watch a video about the history and culture of coastal northern California, or read the young adult novel Lemons by Melissa Savage, which is set in the area. 

Mud and muck was allover the park today, even on the trails by the hills!  A place with little water is a desert and a large, sometimes flat desert areas can be found in Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, and New Mexico.  

STEP 4:  Designing Your Green Kid Trip 

Create charts or lists that include these categories.  Work together or separately to find the information you need.  Share the findings with your trip team on your poster, in your notebook, or on separate pages:

  • Where should we go?
    • List everyone’s ideas for places
    • Compare the list with your criteria and constraints
    • Hold a vote for your favorite area/state/country
    • Decide on a route, for now, knowing that it will change as you research your interests further
  • What should we do there? 
    • Ideas for 5 local foods to try
    • Ideas for 4 silly/fun things to do or see
    • Ideas for 3 national or state parks along your route
    • Ideas for 2 hours of activity and exercise each day
    • Ideas for 1 local endangered animal to observe, protect, or support
  • How should we get there?
    • List everyone’s ideas for how to get there
    • Talk about or list pros and cons for each way to get there
    • Hold a vote 
  • How much will it cost?
    • Camping vs. hotels vs. combination of both
    • Groceries vs. dining out vs. combination of both
    • Biking vs. airplane tickets vs. train tickets vs. rental car 
    • Entertainment (museum fees, parks passes, souvinier, etc)

Step 5.   Design-Build-Test-Improve

You get to iterate your Green Kid Trip Engineering Design Challenge™ like a real engineer!  Iterate means to design, build, test, improve… again and again.  Engineering is about practicing the process, innovation through iteration, not just the finished product.  (Great stories of innovation through iteration are posted to NPR.) Engineers can make our roadways safer by timing traffic lights and lighten pollution by designing water or air filters.  You are planning a trip, not building a machine, and you don’t have to get everything right the first time.   Engineering is about problem-solving, which can be building machines, but it is also about schedules, budgets, and planning, too. 

Design-build-test-improve your Green Kid Trip in your notebook, poster, or pages of paper.  Keep adding new ideas to your trip plan, and crossing off things that will not work for your trip.  Remember, if something does not meet a criteria and constraint, you’ll need to solve that problem.  

Review what your team came up with for these questions from step 1.

  • How many people will be travelling together?
  • How many days will your trip last?
  • Do your travel buddies prefer a trip by bike, car, boat, train, or airplane?
  • How much money will you be allowed to spend?

Get mathy!  What could you do to use less fuel?  If you are driving, you’ll need to calculate an estimate on how much gas will cost.  Here’s are three different ways to try:

Step 6.  Continue Your Research. 

Take a break from creating to do some reading or watching for research.  Videos, websites, books or a print-out page can help with this step.  Your research goal is to find out more about:  

  • 5 local foods to try
  • 4 silly/fun things to do or see
  • 3 national or state parks along your route
  • 2 hours of activity and exercise each day
  • 1 local endangered animal to observe, protect, or support

Resources to help you…

10 Most Endangered Animals of North America article  

North America’s Most Endangered Animals article

UNESCO World Heritage Sites shown on an interactive world map

National Parks Conservation Association describes teh difference between a national park and a national monument

U.S. National Parks by list and by location on a U.S. map

United States National Monuments chart with agency, state and years established as a national monument

Parks Canada by region and travel planning tips

Bioreserve Parks of Mexico

State Parks and Recreation Areas of Minnesota with interactive map

State Parks of Utah with interactive map

State Parks of Florida map and NOAA map of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

State Parks of Montana with map and travel tips

State Parks of New Mexico with maps, activities and photos

State Parks of Alaska by region with an interactive map and trip tools

Based on what you learned about language, history, people, plants, or animals… Does your route change?  Could you lengthen the stay of your trip?  Or will you invite others to join you? Apply what you have learned in some new ways!  For example, once you learned that there is great surfing for beginners in the same area as a hike to see the Redwood trees, you may want to cross off what you had scheduled for day 5 and spend an extra two days in Crescent City, California.

Step 7:  Share and Show you Care!  

Connect with friends and family by sharing your trip plans or with the by sharing your trip plans or by creating stories based on your “Growing Green Kid Trip Engineering Design Challenge™” research.  You’ve already done a lot of research, so just use your trip plan as a writing prompt!  

Record your stories in your notebook or a separate journal.  Hmm…Will your imaginary character that take this trip in the future, or in the past?”  What artifacts will you find on the beach or along the mountain trail?  Could an old map of the area lead you to long-long treasure in a cave or hidden shipwreck?  

Call relatives and read your trip plan or stories.  Grandparents or elders in your community may need a friendly phone call.  If you share your Green Kid Trip plan, be sure to interview your elders about their travel experiences, too! If I wouldn’t have asked my Great Auntie when I was a child, I never would have learned this:  “Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872 and it was the 1940’s when my great 4 aunts borrowed their brothers new car to road trip west from Minnesota to see those water-spouting geysers and bears feeding in the dumps.” 

Congratulations!  Our shared resources, global community, and future generations benefit from environmental stewardship actions by today’s green leaders.  Thank you for practicing yoru green leadership by playing with Growing Green Kid Trip Engineering Design Challenge™  and noticing nature where you live!  

You can share your skills and green ideas with your #EnviroSTEM story or photo through GrowingGreenHeart’s facebook page, Instagram, or Twitter.  Thank you for supporting #GrowingGreenHearts with #EnviroSTEM and #NaturePlay!

This playful lesson series, Growing Green Kid Trip Engineering Design Challenge™   is designed especially for kids and families practicing “social distancing” during spring of 2020.  The material posted here is copyrighted and for use by individuals.  Contact Growing Green Hearts, LLC for use with classrooms, districts, or other institutions.  Growing Green Hearts, LLC is a social business working to serve locally and globally through environmental education curriculum writing, site visits for kids, enviroSTEM teacher trainings, and natural playground coaching.  

Play. Learn. Love.

March 28, 2020