Teaching Outdoors! Field Laboratories

This semester I volunteered to be a Teaching Assistant for a 400 level course in the Natural Resource Ecology and Management department, my home department here at Iowa State University. I absolutely love teaching, and it had been too many semesters since I had had the opportunity to TA. I am fully funded as a research associate and thus do not NEED to teach, but I WANT to, so I volunteered!

What I find really exciting about my home department is that many of our labs are OUTDOORS! Given that we study the environment, ecosystem management, animal ecology, and the interconnections between these disciplines, our laboratory is the outdoors. The best way for our students to learn is to actually go outside and see first hand the ecological and environmental concepts they are learning about in the classroom.

Not only does this really enhance student learning, but it’s a lot of fun!


The course is called Watershed Management and it focuses on managing human impacts on the hydrologic cycle. Throughout the course students learn about the hydrologic cycle in its natural form, and how human development affects water quality, quantity, and timing, as well as how those alterations impact surrounding ecosystems.

For this first outdoor lab we went to a lovely little woods nearby campus that has a walking trail known as Peggy’s Trial. This forested landscape features gently rolling hills, some degrading small creeks, a stream with a lovely terrace structure, and some very straightforward examples of human landscape alterations.

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