The Larry F. Sobotka Science Discovery and Outdoor Learning Center at IUP, located in the courtyard of Stouffer Hall, is certainly not IUP’s largest learning space, but it might be its most versatile.
The 7,150-square-foot center is designed to create an outdoor learning environment. Not only does this center offer IUP education majors unique perspectives on teaching science, it is also a resource for the region’s teachers and elementary and middle-school students.
The site is all about Pennsylvania. The plantings are unique to the state, and its water feature is designed to attract insects and animals—dragonflies, frogs, and birds—that you’d find in the commonwealth. Every part of the space tells a story or offers information. Even the sidewalks have tracks of animals native to the state: deer, groundhog, turkey, great blue heron, bullfrog, black bear, and human.
“It’s not unique for a university to have an environmental center or to be associated with an outdoor science center, but it’s special in part because it’s such a little space offering so much information, it’s focused on Pennsylvania, and it has something for all levels of children,” Meghan Twiest, a faculty member in the Professional Studies in Education Department, said. “Young children will understand that the marks in the sidewalk are animal tracks. Older students will not only identify what animals made the tracks, but can do an analysis of what the tracks mean—was the animal running or walking, for example.”
Having the center on campus also maximizes accessibility for students and faculty members from a variety of disciplines, she said.
“The wall strategically blocks out the noise and busyness of the surrounding buildings and traffic, and it is technology friendly, with wireless connectivity, an interactive white board, laptop, and Doc Cam [document camera, for displaying an object to a large audience]. While its main function is to provide a resource for environmental education, it can also be a gathering or meeting place for students or community groups.”
Resources within the center blend with various programs at the university, Twiest noted.
“For example, one wall has information about different leaves of trees found in the state. If students are interested in trees and wood, one of things we will do is to direct them to the university’s Center for Turning and Furniture Design, to show how different woods can be used for furniture and other items.”
Twiest also has designed a set of lessons for teachers that will complement a visit to the center. “The curriculum continues to be a work in progress because the four information boards being designed for the center will be rotated, so there is always something new to discover.”
“It’s so exciting to me to have the opportunity to work with the Science Discovery and Outdoor Learning Center. Teaching science—and helping children to discover a love of nature—is definitely my passion. Funds for field trips in public schools are being cut, and children aren’t spending as much time outside as my generation did. I want to make sure that children—and our students—learn about nature, so when it comes time for them, as adults, to make decisions about the environment, they understand how important these decisions can be.”
The pavilion for the center is named in honor of Anna Young Feisley, a 1911 graduate of Indiana State Normal School, now IUP. The funds came to IUP from her son, William B. Feisley, who died in 1999. His will stated that the gift was in memory of his mother, to be used in support of elementary education students at IUP.
Information about how to assist with other philanthropic needs of the learning center is available on the Support IUP website.
Meghan Twiest, a professor in the Professional Studies in Education Department, has been at IUP since 1987. She received both her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Clarion University (elementary education and science education, respectively) and received her doctoral degree in science education from the University of Georgia in 1988. In addition to her IUP teaching experience, she was a sixth-grade science teacher in Macon, Ga.
Twiest currently teaches science methods to undergraduate elementary and early childhood majors. She also teaches at the graduate level, including in the doctoral program in Curriculum and Instruction. She has been a twenty-year active member of the National Science Teachers Association, North American Association for Environmental Education, National Association for Research in Science Teaching, and the Pennsylvania Science Teachers Association; is a frequent presenter at national and state conferences; and serves on committees and boards associated with these organizations. Twiest has coauthored one book and has published her work in journals such as Science and Children, Young Children, and the PSTA Exchange.
Classes she teaches at IUP include Teaching of Elementary Science, Creativity and the Elementary School Child, Science and Health in a Literacy Based Early Childhood Curriculum, and doctoral course Curriculum 951, Issues and Processes in Curricular Change.