Vol. 4, No. 7




We enjoyed wonderful spring weather this year in New Orleans during NSTA’s National Conference. First Hand Learning presented a day-long Professional Development Institute (PDI) entitled “Outdoor Learning: A Path to Science and Inquiry” at the Audubon Zoo, among other workshops. The beautiful grounds offered a lovely backdrop to view the local and exotic wildlife, and to develop field guides to the indigenous species found there in Louisiana.

Participants were diverse; they came from across the country - Hawaii, Wyoming, and Florida, to name just a few home states – and represented teachers from kindergarten to high school, as well as science coordinators and curriculum designers. It was a great opportunity to learn from these thoughtful and engaged colleagues, as well as from First Hand Learning’s collaborators who co-facilitated along with FHL staff:

* Mark Baldwin, The Roger Tory Peterson Institute (
* Dr. Wendy Saul, University of Missouri – St. Louis (
* Therese Arsenault, Lansing Middle School, Lansing, NY (|86|&NodeID=86)

Thanks to all who participated in the First Hand Learning NSTA sessions this year. We were excited to meet so many who are committed to teaching from direct experience and using the outdoors to enhance their science inquiry and literacy. We hope to see you next spring in Philadelphia!

To learn more about Outdoor Inquiries® professional development workshops, visit:


As a nonprofit company we chose a name that reflected what we believe in and what we are trying to accomplish; hence, “First Hand Learning” (FHL). But the company is not the strategy. So what is firsthand learning and why do we at FHL think it’s so important?

Firsthand learning basically refers to gaining knowledge or understanding through direct, personal experience.

Firsthand learning empowers people by providing them with opportunities to figure things out for themselves, to believe in the analytical abilities of their own minds, and to connect with the world around them.

Firsthand learning arises from the learner's innate curiosity and the desire to investigate real phenomena. It requires close engagement with the immediate environment.

Firsthand learning generates questions that focus subsequent investigations. It invites learners to gather and record their observations, to analyze and interpret them, and to arrive at provisional answers.

Firsthand learning involves communication of the results of this investigative process. Sharing evidence and discussing findings with others underscores that learning is a social process.

Would you like some real-world examples of this sort of real-world learning? Read on!


Firsthand learning has a lot in common with the scientific process we call “inquiry” and can be considered a subset of it. Here is a variety of different resources, all demonstrating, in one way or another, learning through direct experience.

Some great real-world examples come, of course, from professional scientists as they seek to learn more about the natural world:

* Firsthand observation sometimes requires inspired methods for answering questions. Watch this nifty video clip that demonstrates via time lapse photography the movements of a glacier over several months. Be sure to note the clever set-up (no fancy equipment required!) used by the firsthand learner/climate scientist to gather his data:

* Here’s another example of a scientist investigating firsthand through developing research questions and figuring out how to gather meaningful data – in this case “wiring” a forest to determine how much water it uses:

* Finally, check out this great new website, developed with funding from the NSF, called “Understanding Science: how science really works”: It offers many helpful resources for teachers and the general public as it seeks to impart a better understanding of the complex and interactive processes inherent in scientific discovery.

For instance, follow the investigative journey of scientists tackling a question that seems at first glance to have no direct link to today’s world: What happened to the dinosaurs? Find out how firsthand learning is a necessary component of scientific exploration in this story that beautifully illustrates the collaborative and intricate processes of science:

Of course, firsthand learning is not exclusively the province of working scientists; it is for everyone interested in discovering something new for themselves. Teachers know that firsthand learning can be incredibly powerful for students. In this short video we see teacher Rebecca Vore connecting the curriculum to her outdoor garden, engaging her Austin charter school students in the process of discovery. It isn’t all inquiry science, but it is direct engagement with the immediate environment and offers a unifying context for learning:

Interested in firsthand learning this summer? Consider attending a week-long professional development institute focused on ecosystem literacy, the ecology of the Hudson River valley, and inquiry-based ecology ideas run by the Cary Institute, a great group of firsthand learners. Learn more about this opportunity and find out about paid fellowships at

Want to get started on some firsthand learning? Download a FREE First Hand Learning MINI-JOURNAL and investigate the world directly today!

What does firsthand learning look like to you? We welcome your thoughts, comments, photos, videos, etc. Share your favorite example of firsthand learning. Tell us how you integrate crucial “second hand learning” strategies, or how you prepare students to hone their natural curiosity and ask questions. Share your own inspirational moments and your frustrations. Contact us at:

The First Hand Learning Catalog offers science notebooks, field journals, hands-on science kits, posters, and more. Go to
We hope you found this edition of the Firsthand Learning E-NEWSLETTER informative. Please contact us with any comments, suggestions, or questions you may have by emailing us at:

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