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Places around LA that are great to take students on field trips to or to assign as independent, family or group trips. I went to the LA Zoo, Franklin Canyon Park, Fryman Canyon Park and the La Brea Tar Pits. Teachers should go to these places and know them well.


This is an amazing park that offers free field trip visits. The visitor center has a museum, library and education center. They also have an amphitheater and hundreds of acres of amazing grounds to explore and hike. There is a large lake with easy to access trails around it as well as a serene pond filled with turtles, frogs and ducks.

The library is well stocked with books, pamphlets and educational materials on science as well as anthropology and history of the LA area and its native inhabitants. They have diagrams of what life might have looked like here before it was settled by Europeans. There are many stations set up displaying many samples of the local flora and fauna as well various rock samples that are found in the area. The viewing and interacting stations were amazing. There is one station how to ID what animal had visited based in its droppings, and others where students can dig through owl pellet debris and look for bones. There are mounted and preserved animal specimens found in the area: Mountain lion, Bobcat, Raccoon, Red Tailed Hawk, etc.

Because it is free and has easy parking, I feel this is a great place to take a class or send students on an assignment. I have talked to many people who have never been. I hike here often and even on beautiful days the park is often mostly empty. Below are some pictures from my visit. In the picture below is Judy Perez, who is in the SS Science Teacher program with me and who works with the park service.

     
  


2) Tree People & Fryman Canyon Park

This park also has an amazing new educational center at the top where Tree People is located. The grounds are beautiful and there are plenty of activities for students of all ages. The area also offers great views of the San Fernando Valley. The park is filled with wild life and has large, natural meadows and plenty of shade, making it a great in town hike on hot summer days. From Tree People, looking east towards Pasadena, one can see some of the best views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

     

In the Pictures above we see various educational activities and diagrams for learners. One shows sedimentation, another shows how water can be both saved and wasted. The Watershed garden is really nice and they have a running stream that demonstrates how the water runs off into the ocean. Examples are given stressing the importance of the run off and that it is important that the water that flows into the ocean after heavy rains be as clean as possible. Tree People also has an amphitheater and easy, gently hiking and walking with plenty of shade in case it is a hot day. The air quality is usually very good up there and with close inspection, one can see lichens on many of the tree trunks. These parks offer endless opportunities to learn. A class can focus on plants, mountains (Geology), insects, lizards (the place is packed with Western Alligator Lizards as well as the very common Western Fence Lizard), birds and mammals. The blue bellied Western Fence Lizard below in the picture was not harmed! It had already lost its tail to some unlucky predator that tried to catch it. It was playing dead in my hand. Actually, while upside down, gently stroking their belly along the grain of the scales will put them to sleep. It works for me anyway.

  


The La Brea Tar Pits are one of the best urban places to take students on a field trip. A good teacher can cover a wide range of topics (even on plants) from Biology to Earth Science. It is a great place to discuss fossils, fossil fuels, Chemistry, extinct animals, laboratory work (you can view lab techs working), excavation work and how time consuming and involved it is. A trip there could even just focus on the last Ice Age. Personally, I am a BIG FAN of outdoor learning and I could find ways to keep a class very busy and engaged with dynamic and inspiring work all year long while being outdoors. A place like the Tar Pits is a class room where endless topics can be discussed. Possible discussion topics include; how the tar was formed, why and what gasses are bubbling up. Why would an animal be attracted to the tar, go into it, get stuck and sink? What do you think composes the microfossils? 

      

At any of these locations one can also discuss plants and insects - even collect some to preserve for classroom observations or insect collections.

The Page Museum offers great exhibits, as well as aquarium viewing of scientists hard at work on recent finds from excavation pits. Students could be required to complete a worksheet during the trip and then write a reflective essay about what they learned as well as include various illustrations and diagrams. Evolution, fossil formation, forensic science, biological diversity, Geology, Botany, Anthropology, predator / prey relationships (and so much more) can all be seen and discussed here.

Being a member, I found it very inviting to go to the Zoo. Each time I go I try to go at a different time during the day to witness different levels of activity and feeding times.

Captive Flamingos, Phoenicopterus roseus, are pink due to the presence of Canthaxanthin, similar to Astaxanthin (C40H52O4) that colors salmon, certain shellfish, lobsters and shrimp. It is often fed artificially. When shrimp are alive, the color can’t often be seen because the molecule is in a complex with a protein giving a dark tint. Once boiled, the protein denatures and the color changes. A previously blue shrimp will turn pink the second it hits boiling water.

Below you can see Varanus olivaceus, the Gray’s monitor who call certain islands home in the Philippines. They feed on almost any small animal as well as fruits and supposedly are the only monitor lizard that eats fruit. The zoo makes sure to feed them the omnivorous diet they have adapted to and evolved with. These are endangered. 


Next we come to the Prehensile –Tailed Porcupine, Coendou prehensilis.

They live in Central and South America and eat leaves and fruit and sometimes crops. They have a long life span and can live several decades. They are considered a pest, sadly, by local farmers.

  

This attractive, lush cactus is not really a cactus. It is a Euphorbia, (Euphorbia sp.) a Naboom, which has similarities to cacti due to selective pressures where it evolved that were similar to where true cacti evolved. This convergence selected for thick skin and spines to protect and conserve the precious water they store. I collect and grow all kinds of exotic and crazy succulent and caudiciform plants from dry regions – mostly South Africa and Madagascar

The LA Zoo, and even more so the San Diego Zoo have an amazing, exotic collection of succulent and dessert biome plants from around the world. One can actually have a pleasant time just strolling and looking at all the plants. Animals always take center stage, especially the “cute” ones that people stand and take pictures of. Next time you are at the Zoo here in LA or in San Diego take time to look at all the great plants and the work that has gone into landscaping and placing them.

Behind me in the picture above is a Dracaena draco (The Dragon Tree) from The Canary Islands. Also in the picture is another large Euphorbia as well as a thick skinned and spiny Aloe ferox. 

A small, compact, yet deadly little Agave sp. is to the lower left of the picture.

I am a big fan of outdoor learning and feel it can provide some of the best learning opportunities for students – many of them who would rather be outside anyway. I feel a creative science teacher (especially Life & Earth Science) should be able to take a class outside and cover almost any topic. The outside IS a lab. All teachers should remember that an event such as a large Earthquake could force them into an outdoor classroom for several weeks and they should be able to conduct an efficient class based on what is outside. Soil microbes and Ecology, Atmospheric Science, Geology, Zoology, Botany, etc. This also applies if a teacher is working at an impoverished district with few good lab materials. Enough can be collected and observed for free to effectively transfer knowledge and stir inquiry of the natural world.

Other Resources: Examples of my own personal travel, stories, photos and development/learning that can be utilized in teaching.

Top of 3 Sisters Volcanic Arc, Rio Grande Rift, NM
Fossils, echinoderms, personal finds and collectionFault Slippage, I-40, Kingman, AZ
Lichen on Quartz vein in Granite
Example animals, Nature Conservancy Preserve, Santa Fe, NM

At 3 Sisters Volcanic Field, Rio Grande rift valley, west of Albuquerque, NM. A few example fossils from my own collection (most from the central Texas Hill Country). A nice fault slip, I-40, near Kingman, AZ. Lichens growing on Quartz in Granite. Example animals at the Nature Conservancy Land in Santa Fe, NM - what to expect to see if you are lucky!

Journal Articles that I found important and interesting -
1) Pedagogy and the development of a Marine Science course for K-8. From the Journal of Geoscience Education.

This is an excellent article and guide for any teacher to use and follow if they wish to conduct any form of marine science unit, or class. The focus in on K-8, but this can be applied to a high school Biology/Life Science class. Marine Science is very important and often overlooked and should be a major focus in any science curriculum, especially in coastal areas. My personal feelings, living in LA and knowing the importance of ocean ecosystems I feel that this topic should share a spot with the California State Standards as important as Genetics. The future of the planet rests with a healthy ocean. Most of our oxygen comes from the ocean. Marine science is a vital science that students should be exposed to.

There is even a discussion and evaluation at the end with examples of how students reacted to the activities. They were mostly positive and I feel this type of activity (learning about the marine environment) is actually critical (being outdoors and actually seeing and kinesthetically interacting) to learning about how important the ocean ecosystem is. 

Teachers living in land-locked areas could certainly still use this as a guide and make changes to it that would apply to a pond, lake or river system.

2) Journal of Research and Science Teaching - Abstract "Progressive Inquiry in a Computer-Supported Biology Class"

This abstract discusses using computers in elementary education and if they can induce and inspire inquiry based learning. The conclusion was that it is still vital that a teacher be there to assist them in the discovery of how things work and why in science. This study I feel applies to all levels of education as computers become more important at all grade levels and for class instruction in general. I am very excited about the potential use of computers in education and feel the internet is a wonderful tool to be utilized by students of all ages and by teachers of all subjects. However, it is filled with both false, biased, and surperfluous information that students (and anyone) must learn to safely navigate through. That can take a large amount of critical thinking to do that.

The computer should be a tool that is utilized, under the guidance of an instructor to assist in learning. Students should develop reasoning and inquiry skills interactive with real objects from a real environment, and then take their questions and observations and look for answers using the computer. This way they can see how their thinking and reasoning compares to what is on the internet.



 









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