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60 students from Marin Primary Middle School unplugged from their Ipads to spend the week at Clem Miller Environmental Education Center in Point Reyes. Students spent the week learning about local ecology and without access to the internet, they spent time connecting to one another.

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With professional naturalists on hand, the students had an opportunity for guided exploration of their own backyard wilderness. Students learned about the dynamics of the San Andreas Fault and its impact on the lay of this national seashore. Students were provided opportunities to track animals, weave baskets, and take a solo walk through the dark.

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The most amazing part of the Clem Miller Environmental Education Center are the lessons around stewardship. Student were assigned chores at the end of the week which included scrubbing toilets and sorting trash out of the recycling bins. One girl expressing her disgust with scrubbing the toilets led a young man to reply, “I clean my toilet at home, because that’s just what you have to do.” This confusion could have triggered the most important thing she learned on this trip. I watched her face as she grappled with the realization of her privilege.

DSC05267 Student curiosity continues to be the driving force of outdoor education. Schools should always be fostering this curiosity but are often overrun by institutional structure and testing. By returning students to nature they are driven by intrinsic motivation. As a guide you are able to harness that motivation and solve the mysteries of the natural world. Our mystery of the week was a skull we found while exploring with a small group. The effort and intention that went into researching student driven questions about this skull is where memorable learning happens.

Students then return to school and plug in to recharge. Their parents have come to get them at the end of the school day and the first thing they hear about was the mysterious brush rabbit skull. The mothers disgust with the topic was a quick end to the inner flame behind this magical teachable moment.

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