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Published May 20, 2020
Ana Houseal, an associate professor in the University of Wyoming School of Teacher Education, served as co-editor for the book “America’s Largest Classroom: What We Learn from Our National Parks.”
Published on Earth Day 2020, the book seeks to improve the educational offerings available at U.S. national parks while providing guidance for teachers at all levels to meaningfully incorporate information about these parks into their instructional lessons.
“Engaging in learning in natural settings -- whether that be a backyard or public lands -- holds inspiration in a way that is critical to our mental and physical well-being,” says Houseal, who also is an outreach science educator for the UW Science and Mathematics Teaching Center. “Hopefully, this volume will provide an entry point for us to think about the value and importance of our shared public lands.”
Houseal worked with co-editor Jessica Thompson, an associate professor in the College of Business at Northern Michigan University, to compile the book. Additionally, Houseal wrote or co-wrote a couple of the book’s chapters. The pair were serving on the National Park System Advisory Board when they had the idea to put together a book that highlights the power of place-based learning and increases awareness of the educational benefits public lands provide.
Wyoming is home to America’s first national park, Yellowstone; the first national monument, Devils Tower; and the first national forest, Shoshone. These natural resources provide students with limitless possibilities to learn within the context of their own environments and allow them to connect with scientific, economic and social issues on a personal level. Thompson and Houseal’s book provides students, their teachers and their families with a way to connect those resources to real opportunities to learn and grow.
The manuscript compiles a number of case studies written by top teacher-practitioners across the country that present instructional ideas through which children and adults can expand their knowledge while enjoying national parks. The co-editors wanted to provide learning opportunities that would interest and engage a varied audience, and the book includes activities created specifically to interest families, educators and policymakers.
“Within the book, there are pieces tied directly to programs happening on Wyoming’s public lands that are aligned with state and national learning standards,” Houseal says. “There also are pieces that could help Wyomingites think about the history of learning in these free-choice settings and about the value of our parks as local and regional economic drivers.”
Several Wyoming voices are heard throughout the book. Teddi Freedman, a major gift officer with the UW Foundation; Colleen Bourque, an administrative associate for the UW Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources; and Kevin Krasnow, a research and graduate faculty member at Teton Science Schools, all shared their expertise and passion for public lands by writing chapters.
Houseal and others involved with the book’s writing and publication will present at the virtual Learning Revolution conference at 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 26. Several authors who provided chapters also will present throughout the day. To join any of the sessions for free, register at https://learningrevolution.com/.
“America’s Largest Classroom: What We Learn from Our National Parks” can be purchased from the University of California Press and through Amazon. Additionally, the recently published special edition of Parks Stewardship Forum, a free online resource, includes a reprint of two chapters that originally appear in the book and several other articles that expand on the book’s themes.