On a map of Los Angeles County, South El Monte looks pretty far from the Los Angeles neighborhood of Westchester. Yet the recent approval of $3 million for the San Gabriel River Discovery Center has made it possible for top-notch urban ecology education to be available in both of these places. Specifically, the San Gabriel River Discovery Center will be joining the Ballona Discovery Park in offering hands-on science programming for students across LA County.
Ballona Discovery Park was founded in 2010 by LMU CURes and the Friends of Ballona Wetlands and continues to thrive today. A two-acre native garden and wildlife habitat, it is located adjacent to the Playa Vista development and serves as an outdoor laboratory for pre-kindergarten through graduate-level science education. Staff members from CURes and our partners (LMU, Friends of Ballona Wetlands, Heal The Bay Foundation and The Bay Foundation), conduct tours, formal classes, teacher training workshops and research laboratories at the park on an on-going basis. These activities benefit students across the county as well as a range of community groups, spiritual organizations, religious groups, urban planners and nature enthusiasts.
EcoVoices, an urban ecology education program run through the Youth Science Center and headed by Dr. Richard Shope, will provide educational programming at the new San Gabriel River Discovery Center. Dr. Shope describes the important education services that EcoVoices will contribute to the Center:
“The idea is that an inquiry science expedition EMULATES a true field expedition. To make this happen, the structure of the expedition experience is designed to move through several ‘Discovery Zones,’ corresponding to a couple of science education concepts: Vygotsky’s ‘zones of proximal development,’ the ‘distance’ a student can move toward conceptual understanding when coached; learning cycles zones, moving from exploratory (observation and hands-on activities) to investigative (where students generate questions that grab their interest and then carry out a field investigation), to constructive (where students construct their conceptual understanding and share it with others).
We do this by 1) taking students on a nature hike, inviting them to notice patterns; 2) providing a science show that communicates main concepts of the expedition (ecosystems, water cycles, biodiversity, urban ecology, etc.); 3) hands-on activities, that incorporate keeping a science journal of the experience; 4) a field expedition experience to carry out an investigation; 5) pooling the information to produce new knowledge; 6) creating and performing a science show to share findings.
This either takes place fast (2 and half hours) or with more time, a more extensive experience (5 hours). There are several variations of how things can be structured and still be an inquiry science expedition.”
Dr. Eric Strauss, Executive Director of CURes, was thrilled to hear the news about the new Center in South El Monte. He commented: “The brilliance of EcoVoices is that Dr. Shope is able to combine the best teaching elements from the sciences with those of entertainment to encourage the creativity of students no matter what their interests are. We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Shope and glad that he can be both a central figure within EcoVoices and the Community Science Research Fellow with us at CURes.”
At CURes, we can’t wait until these educational programs begin at the new San Gabriel River Discovery Center. Congratulations to everyone involved with this project!
About the Author: Laurel Hunt is the Programs and Communications Manager for CURes. She is also the Secretary of The Mediterranean City Climate Change Consortium (MC-4), a global climate adaptation network.