MMSA’s research team has been working with the ELLMS Collaborative members starting back in the Fall of active2020 through Spring 2021 to complete a retrospective evaluation of their Residential Environmental Learning Center (RELC) Programs. ELLMS (Environmental Living and Learning for Maine Students) is a collaboration of Maine-based RELCs (Chewonki, The Ecology School, Schoodic Institute, and UMaine 4-H Camp and Learning Centers at Bryant Pond and Tanglewood) working together with Maine schools and other partners to facilitate learning opportunities that empower students to create healthy, vibrant Maine communities. All ELLMS organizations commit to sustained programs with Maine youth that includes: strong science, sustainability, and community-based civics curriculum; robust social-emotional curriculum; couples outdoor and in-school experiences over multiple years; and teacher-driven professional development through ongoing collaboration.
The research project is evaluating both the impact on teachers and students as well as supporting post-COVID programming planning for each of the members. Specifically, the project is examining the: similarities and differences in how each RELC implements programming; longer-term impacts on students and educators; and, how school and teacher partnerships with ELLMS programs influenced teacher outcomes–specifically around science teaching efficacy and knowledge, and connecting content to their community? To date, MMSA researchers have surveyed and interviewed 15 teachers across the programs and surveyed about 23 youth. They have also completed an extended case analysis of each of the RELC’s programming in the last year or so. Some of the project’s initial findings indicate that schools and educators experience impacts across a wide variety of practices and approaches to outdoor environmental learning during their collaboration with RELC programs. Additionally, many teachers and students describe the RELC experience as a life-changing event–pushing both teacher and student outside of their comfort zones to being more open to experiencing outdoor learning from different perspectives.
Over the past several years MMSA has offered support to many organizations within and beyond Maine for outside evaluation, research planning and management, and general support throughout the research design and implementation process. Delivering successful STEM learning curriculum and opportunities, in either informal or formal learning environments, is not just about what or how educators teach but also about understanding the outcomes of those programs and projects. We believe that STEM learning is more successful when schools and organizations invest in research-to-practice projects that incorporate strong research methods with great teaching and learning. As well, many smaller organizations and programs struggle to keep up with understanding the outcomes of their work and often do not have the specialized knowledge or staff to commit to full-scale research or assessment plans. Feel free to reach out to Scott Byrd (firstname.lastname@example.org), Researcher, if you are interested in discussing how your organization or programs might be supported through a collaboration with MMSA’s research and evaluation consulting team.