The Ultimate Environmental Classroom

October 24, 2016

When teaching environmental science, what better place is there to learn than the outdoors? McDowell Environmental Center in Nauvoo, Alabama, is the ultimate outdoor classroom! Offering the best hands-on environmental science experience, students are able to learn by seeing nature up close in the 1,140 acre classroom as they wade in a stream to catch macro-invertebrates, touch sandstone canyon walls, identify trees using a dichotomous key, and much, much more. Connecting people to the environment, teaching respect for the Earth and its beings, and promoting a commitment to a lifetime of learning is what Camp McDowell is all about! 

Serving 350-400 groups per year, Camp McDowell is the largest Episcopal camp and conference center in the United States. Camp McDowell offers 3-Day, 2-Night camps and leaves the learning subjects up to the educator. Daytime studies are age specific and consist of 1.5-hour, 3-hour, or 6-hour classes. Some of the 1.5-hour class topics include:  Canoeing, Meet a Map, Survival Skills, Forest Critters, Compass Skills, and more. The 3-hour classes get a little more in depth and include Native Americans & Earth, Down to Earth, Meet a Tree, Value of a Tree, Stream Studies, Rock Query, Aquatic Adventures and more. The 6-hour class is a Trail of Discovery hike where the group hikes into the deep sandstone canyons, visiting rock shelters and standing beneath waterfalls. 

Thanks to my tour guide, Whitney, I experienced several classes and was very impressed with what the students were learning, as well as their participation with their camp instructors. Camp McDowell's staff members are professional educators and all have college degrees, so the caliber instructor working with the campers is top notch! The first class was a "Down to Earth" Class that helped students understand energy and how we can use it better. In this class, students learned all about coal and how it is formed. The McDowell Environmental Center even has a re-claimed coal mine on the property where campers learn more about the process of how coal is retrieved and the process of how you put it back and re-claim the land.

For our next class, Whitney took me on a little hike through the woods to catch up with the "Native Americans & the Earth" Class. The Mississippian Era replica village allows the instructor to share the lifestyle of early southeastern Native Americans with the students. By seeing this replica village, students can see and understand how the Native Americans lived off the land and had a great respect for the land. They made their own food, clothing and shelter from things provided by the natural world. Native Americans were also very knowledgeable about the environment and used all of their senses to help them survive. 

Whitney also shared with me that campers not only learn and experience environmental science and math at Camp McDowell, but they also gain an understanding of shared community space and how you should treat your neighbor. The three days and two nights spent at Camp McDowell are definitely inspiring and help bring awareness of our surroundings to this younger generation. Protecting our environment and respecting our neighbors are both areas we should all want to excel. 

According to the McDowell Environmental Center, a 3-Day Program includes 12 daytime class hours and 2 night programs plus 7 meals and 2 snacks plus 2 nights lodging. Camp McDowell can accommodate about 150 students per session. Class curriculum is correlated to the Alabama and Mississippi State Standards for Science, Social Studies, P.E., and Language Arts. To make a reservation, email McDowell Environmental Center or call 205-387-1806.

Stephanie Miller

With over 25 years experience, Stephanie serves as a senior copywriter, social media director, and senior editor for Science Scene. Stephanie is always on the lookout for new educational and STEM-related opportunities and technology.