Opening the Walls of the Classroom and the Boundaries of the Park

Curated by Judy Buchanan
October 25, 2016

Resources in this collection have emerged from a growing partnership between the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Writing Project (NWP) designed to bolster connected learning opportunities within the national parks and reach more young visitors and educators.

“We’ve seen students walk away and say: My voice matters,” — Cris Constantine, National Park Service Education Program Manager, Northeast Region.

The collaborations between individual historic national parks and Writing Project sites emerged from this invitation to imagine how connected learning opportunities could be fostered to reach a broader audience. Each collaboration uses a local park as a platform for place-based, hands-on learning. All partnerships involve active engagement with the park’s resources, writing and publishing, while individual activities continue to develop and change each year for both educators and youth. Students in Philadelphia, for example, wrote their own “declarations” about gun control, grappled with big questions like “What does freedom look like?” and learned how to “read” the portraits hanging on the walls at Independence Hall. They shared their writing on a blog at the National Park Service website where they commented on their classmates’ work.

“The park experience gives students the opportunity to have an authentic learning experience as they step onto a historical land or in the footsteps of historical figures,” said Suzanne Norris, park ranger at the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites in New York, which partners with the Hudson Valley Writing Project to host a summer writing camp for middle school students. “The greatest accomplishment for me is helping the students realize they can have a voice through writing.” She recalled one student’s short story about FDR, told from the perspective of a tree on the land.

Robust professional development opportunities for educators help them develop place-based curriculums that make use of local historical resources. Grace Morizawa, working with teachers of the Bay Area Writing Project and National Park Service rangers and resources from the Golden Gate National Recreational Area (NPS) and the Tule Lake Segregation Center (NPS), writes about how teachers sought to develop a curriculum that is relevant to today’s issues such as immigration, race, criminalization of Black and Brown citizens, treatment of Muslims, leadership, and the role of the press.

The challenge was to develop curricula that was practical and would actually be used in classrooms. By going deep in this story,  teachers asked about the historical thinking skills and historical content that students could tap as they examined other areas of the curriculum.

The resources here support both the sharing of youth work and the further development of resources for educators working in and outside of school. They were developed with the explicit goal of opening the walls of the classroom and the boundaries of the park. This is the work we’ve been learning together and we invite you to explore and share your own.

In addition, the NPS invites everyone to:

  • Explore the stories of America’s people and places. These stories are found across our nation’s landscapes—in more than 400 national parks, in national heritage areas, along historic trails and waterways, and in every neighborhood.
  • Learn about the natural resources in parks, from the rocks under our feet to the sky overhead. Investigate the issues that affect our parks and how we join with neighbors and partners to address them.

Quotes excerpted from The Beauty of Learning on Historic Land by Natalie Orenstein written for Educator Innovator, February 2016

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