At the beginning of the program, students were given a pretest to see what they knew about the watershed. The results showed little knowledge of this environment. So the teachers began by introducing the students to the basics in these areas. Throughout the year, they built on that foundation in a methodical way. This approach turned out to have tremendous payoffs.
As the year progressed, the evaluation team observed that students were able to explain the connections between watersheds and the ocean, how the health of local waters affects humans and wildlife, and why watersheds and the ocean need protection (Strand 2). In addition, students were excited about what they were learning and brought their families to community events, such as Earth Day (Strand 1). The students worked with their families to create and distribute posters on storm drain pollution (Strand 5).
By the end of the first year, the program could claim some success. Although they had limited resources, the partnership between formal and informal education played a pivotal role in introducing children to their environment and what they could do to protect it.
These three examples—LabVenture!, the Lake Washington Watershed Internship Program, and MERITO—illustrate the potential of collaborations between formal and informal settings to maximize learning opportunities for students. Educators involved with each informal science program became knowledgeable about the school science curriculum so that they could provide the students with complementary experiences.
Because these programs take place outside school, they have the advantage of providing key instruction away from the pressure inherent in the formal school environment. These advantages could help reach students who have difficulty learning in school, are turned off by formal education, or are looking for a different kind of experience to inspire them to take their interest in learning to the next level.