Do you consider yourself a nature nerd? Do you geek out outdoors?
For up-and-coming environmentalists with diverse interests, a new opportunity to build and share skill sets is about to go viral. The Sprout Fund, in collaboration with 20 organizations (including the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy) has unleashed the City of Learning initiative. Through this program, students are challenged to climb their own personal achievement ladders to gain new skills, then digitize their success.
In our hyper-connected world, young people not only have to be well-rounded, but well connected. The Sprout Fund aims to engage over 3,000 students this summer through a myriad of studies, then plug them in to digital badges as a way to quantify and share their accomplishments with teachers, college admissions, and future employers. By working through specialized curricula designed by each organization to earn badges, students can strive for cyber certifications of their achievements.
What exactly is a digital badge? Think scouting badges meets LinkedIn, explains Taiji Nelson, a Naturalist Educator here at the Parks Conservancy. Under his guidance, a team of five exceptional high school students — graduates of our High School Urban EcoSteward program — will be the pioneers not only in working towards these digital badges, but also of our Young Naturalists program. Starting in June, these Young Naturalists will spend five weeks developing expertise on park stewardship, ecology, tree identification, and much more — all while working towards badges that will show the world what they know.
Week by week, Young Naturalists will earn the following badges, embedded with data and particular to the skills that they’ve mastered:
Beginner tree ID badge
Our budding botanists and future foresters will learn to identify the common trees of Pennsylvania by their leaves, seeds, buds, bark and branches. They do this by recording observations of 10 different native trees, learning to use field guides, attending an identification hike with a tree ID expert, and writing a field guide entry in the form of a blog.
Birding basics badge
Naturalists will learn the basics to identify all of the birds that flit, tweet and roost in the parks. They do this by using field guides and journals to learn how to identify 10 species of birds, hiking with a birding expert, and writing a detailed field guide entry for one species of native bird.
Healthy parks, healthy cities badge
Earners of this badge explore and study parks to learn about the important role of trees in forest ecosystems. They will participate in a transect-survey (studying trees along a specific path) of several forest plots and gain experience with collecting and interpreting data, use scientific tools and methods, and practice systems-thinking.
Urban EcoSteward badge
The skills needed for this badge are generally developed long-term in our Urban EcoSteward program. To earn this badge, EcoStewards must learn how to properly use the tools needed to work in the parks. They will also master invasive plant species identification. To earn this badge, they’re required to plan and complete at least one restoration project to manage erosion, canopy loss or fragmentation, litter, and invasive species.
Young Naturalist badge
Earners of this badge gain experience making and recording observations in nature journals using a variety of scopes, methods and mediums. Analyzing the features of plants, animals and landscapes strengthens their ability to compare, contrast and synthesize many observations to form a conclusion. Analyzing natural change strengthens their systems thinking and ability to form assumptions and predictions.
Young people that participate in the City of Learning not only benefit from working with The Sprout Fund and the many civic, educational, creative, and outdoor organizations associated with this initiative, but they’ll also be connected to a larger network across the country kicking off similar digital badge programs. Through City of Learning, we hope to see that young people gaining new skills in the parks can translate that into success throughout their lives.