Parks as Laboratories

A Program of the Los Angeles Unified School District Division of Educational Services - Mathematics and Science e

Middle School Environmental Field Science
Arnie Miller, National Park Education Specialist


Parks As Laboratories (PAL) is a partnership between the National Park Service and the Los Angeles Unified School District/Los Angeles Systemic Initiative. Arnie Miller, Education Specialist in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, explains how it works.

"Students come and do hands-on testing and collecting of data within the park, which they supply to us to help us achieve our mission of protecting and preserving our national parks.

"The students are trained in data collection protocols by their teacher before they arrive at the park. To participate in PAL, each teacher must complete a week-long classroom and field training session provided by National Park Service staff and district teachers.

"When the students get to the park, their classroom work comes to life. First we do a review of the data collection protocols and then divide the class into teams. Each team is led by a specialist - many of whom are retired teachers or national park service volunteers.

"The teams move out to their assigned site, which they find by using a compass to determine the direction, and a trundle to measure the distance. At their site they set up their study area, or 'quadrat,' which, in this case, is one square meter.

"The students then work together to do their protocols using various kinds of measuring devices. They collect and record their data such as soil temperature, air temperature, percolation of the soil, relative humidity, and the pH of the soil. They measure wind direction and velocity, and check any nearby water for macro-organisms. They survey the wildlife and plants in the area and identify them; they do net sweeps looking for insects and spiders, and record everything. At the end of the day, the students submit their data to us, and then we send it to the school so they may finish correlating the data, looking for errors, similarities and differences.

"This is the first time many of these students have been to an open mountain area, and they learn a lot, but they have a lot of fun, too. My favorite part of the program is the 'Aha!' we see in the students' faces, when all of what went on in the classroom suddenly comes together out here in the park."

For more information, contact Henry Ortiz, Science Resource Teacher (818) 997-2574 Los Angeles Unified School District, Division of Educational Services - Mathematics and Science

333 S. Beaudry, 25th Floor, 151-9 Los Angeles, CA 90017 Phone (213) 241-6420 Fax (213) 241-8469