Shaking Hands with Forest Park

"I'll show you how to put the worm on your hook," said Dennis Cooke, a Missouri Department of Conservation Outdoor Skills Specialist. "Then you're on your own."

Doris Adams, a St. Louis area teacher and a first-time angler, awkwardly flung her wormed hook into the heavily stocked Forest Park Hatchery Lake. It landed with a plop. Before the ripples rolled away, her bobber plunged. She excitedly set the hook and reeled in the first fish she had ever caught.

"Oh my goodness!" she screamed. "Look at him! I want to hold him!"

Doris and 26 other St. Louis area teachers were enjoying new outdoor experiences as part of the eight-day Forest Park Voyagers Teachers' Academy. The Voyagers workshop shows teachers how to help their students explore and enjoy the natural resources of Forest Park, one of St. Louis' oldest and best-known urban parks.

The Conservation Department has helped preserve much of Forest Park's natural resources through funding or management, and the Voyagers program is a natural extension of those efforts.

"We wanted to help teachers recognize the outdoor learning opportunities in the park," said Patti Redel, Outreach and Education Regional Supervisor for the Department. "Urban students don't have to drive very far to see many different ecosystems, including an upland forest, stream, wetland and lakes. We created the Teachers' Academy to show them what opportunities are available in the Park and how bringing students to the park could help the teachers meet their educational objectives."

The Voyagers program is founded on the principle of experiential, hands-on education. People learn best not just by doing, but by doing and then thinking about what they have done, what it means and how they might do things differently. The park setting, with its many opportunities to physically interact with nature, is perfect for this type of education.

"If we are fishing to catch a fish, it is just fishing," explained Jim H. Wilson, E. Desmond Lee Professor for Experiential Education. "But if we catch a fish, find out what fish eat, what the oxygen level and temperature of the water mean to that fish and how the time of day affects fishing success, and if we then figure out how we might use that information to catch other fish or create better fish habitat, it becomes a learning experience."

During the Voyagers program, teachers see how art, history, math, science and writing blend into