“When does a scientist become a scientist? It is not when a person knows many facts and even understands in depth some aspect of the natural world. I would suggest the transition occurs when curiosity about a phenomenon leads to an inquiry for new knowledge. This can occur in a person with little or lots of knowledge about a subject. It is an attitude of inquiry.”
– James Bryant Conant, 1947

In most science classes (K-12 and undergraduate), students do not have the opportunity to be scientists on a regular basis.

The mission of Research Nature is to connect students to science and nature by promoting undergraduate research.

This model 1) allows science students to be scientists in the classroom; 2) presents case study and problem-based learning strategies to other instructors through training sessions; and 3) offers science and nature-based programs to the community as enrichment opportunities.

In 2009, 48.9% of Americans ages six and older participated in outdoor activities, 22% of which got outside two or more times per week. Children between the ages of 8-18 years spend an average of 6.5 hours per day with some sort of electronic media. It is no surprise that school classrooms seem boring by comparison. Many students have lost their appreciation of nature because indoor activities and technologies, such as video games, computers, and movies, dominate their time and interests. Natural science classrooms are a prime place to help reverse this trend. Nature education is often incorporated as a means of curriculum enrichment, as it allows students to explore outside the limitations of the classroom. Richard Louv states in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, that we must save an endangered indicator species to save environmentalism. That species is the “child in nature.”

This initiative uses both project-based learning and case-study methods of instruction to allow students not only to learn about science, but to do science. Mitchell Community College students have the opportunity to  participate in ongoing research projects or to create their own projects within specific science classes. A good review of project-based learning research can be found here. Currently, this initiative is successfully incorporating undergraduate research into community college curricula. Mitchell Community College students use lab space as well as the Statesville, NC greenway trails and nearby state parks (i.e. Lake Norman State Park) as their research sites. In addition to performing original research, students also have the opportunity to review current literature in their field of interest and write book reviews for this site.

Select community college students have the opportunity to share their research experiences as they mentor K-12 students during STEAM Day activities. Community college students also lead the elementary students in age-appropriate nature activities. Part of the enrichment component also includes a summer enrichment program.

The following suggestions from Hungerford and Volk (2003) form the foundation of this curriculum:

  1. Teaching biological and ecological concepts that are environmentally significant
  2. Giving learners the opportunity to develop some sort of environmental sensitivity
  3. Teaching in a way that results in an in-depth knowledge of issues
  4. Teaching investigation and evaluation skills
  5. Providing a wider scope that permits investigation of issues beyond the class projects

Hungerford, H. and T. Volk.  2003.  Notes from Harold Hungerford and Trudi Volk.  The Journal of Environmental Education, Winter 2003: 4-6.

Louv, R.  2008.  Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.  Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.  390 pp.

Roberts, D., U. Foehr, and V. Rideout.  Generation M: Media  in the Lives of 8 to 18 year Olds.  Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005.  145 pp.  The report is available online at:

The Outdoor Foundation.  20.  Outdoor Recreation Participation Report 2010.  The Outdoor Foundation.  68 pp.  The report is available online at:



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