The University of Idaho McCall Outdoor Science School: Building E‐STEM Identity in Idaho
The University of Idaho McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) connects students to peers, mentors, community leaders, and experts in an E-STEM initiative focusing on the context of Idaho’s land, water, and communities, using problem-based and inquiry-based approaches in small groups to solve complex real world problems with innovative solutions.
MOSS demonstrates innovation with its focus on place-based expeditions, collaborative online environments, and integration of E-STEM along all grade levels. Inclusive of participants from the K-12 grade range all the way up to PhD faculty, the program has led to numerous peer-reviewed articles and demonstrated success in increasing student science identity and science process skills.
"McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) is a well-run program that connects young people to a deeper, authentic experience with the scientific process to make it relevant to their lives. The program is notable for its effective use of place-based learning. It takes youth to locations that they care about, and exposes them to places they could care about in the future. The connection between real research and action was a very strong piece of MOSS. Its innovation stood above the other projects of a similar nature because it made very clear how the relationship between youth, graduate students, and professors was executed. We feel that many projects try to make vertical connections work between learners and teachers. But MOSS appears to have cracked that puzzle by adapting their learning structure in ways that are much more effective and useful for learners at all levels in the system. They have shown how well an organization can seamlessly integrate conservation and restoration with an education experience. At the same time, MOSS is also providing graduate students with learning of equal value as they support youth in the program. The videos demonstrate clearly that there is a diverse set of learners collaborating to the best of their ability. The innovation of engaging graduate students at the Masters level allows high school-aged youth to imagine themselves as part of Environmental STEM in both their academic life that is familiar and in workforce positions that may be new and meaningful. Graduate students also have connections to their professors, so there is a very elegant generational scaffolding that happens in this project. We seldom see these relationships articulated so well. We believe this stands out over the projects where there is a stark difference in age between the instructor and the learners. MOSS truly represents the idea of a learning community that embraces all ages and all abilities to work toward a common environmental goal through applied STEM learning. We also see this as a sustainable model because each year brings new learners to the project, new questions are asked, and new energy can continue to build on the successes of predecessors. The partnership with the Northwest Renewables Alliance and the Department of Agriculture investigating jet biofuel from PNW wood waste shows a very high level of technical achievement. MOSS does not approach environment as simply restoring nature. Instead, they think hard about how technological innovation can drive forward transformative environmental programs. We think it’s so important that youth are exposed to these cutting edge technologies as part of the learning process. We’re seeing a trend where innovators are carving new paths outside of the nature preserve to think comprehensively about our entire environmental system. We believe that developing new forms of energy and finding new solutions are critical to our future."