On 1,500 acres in West Virginia’s southern hills, ACE Adventure Resort (http://aceraft.com/) delivers fun and adventure along with non-traditional instruction through STEM-based field trips offering hands-on learning for grades 9-12 in a stunning outdoor classroom. (STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, is a national effort supported by private companies.)
Students raft, zip, climb or hike their way to becoming more interested in the world around them while performing scientific studies and experiencing living history here. Using the natural world as a classroom increases students’ enthusiasm for learning, enhances critical thinking and relationship skills and improves academic performance across curriculums, observed Jackie Gallimore, ACE Director of Outdoor Recreation.
In 2014, ACE Adventure Resort launched this natural learning laboratory in tandem with STEM curricula requirements of area schools. To date some 400 students have participated in these educational programs hosted at the resort. Supported by business/industry, postsecondary and community partners such as ACE, students pursue, among others, hydrology and geology studies that incorporate whitewater rafting, rock climbing, zip-lining and hiking. Lessons may include testing water quality, fossil hunting and ecosystem exploration.
ACE’s 2015 STEM programs include:
WET AND WILD H2O – Students raft the New River Gorge collecting data for a citizen science water quality project. This is a journey through time that began over 300 million years ago when the youngest rocks of the Gorge were formed and water and erosion began to carve this 1,000-foot canyon. Considered one of the oldest rivers in the world, this is an ideal classroom for exploring firsthand how the waters on our planet cycle through the environment and sustain life as we know it. Students on this floating classroom learn about how water, the landscape and human activity are interconnected. Students practice debating skills while pondering the benefit and downside of dams.
GEOLOGY IN THE GORGE – Students learn the story of the rocks in the New River Gorge while fossil hunting for creatures 300 million years old. Interactive lessons examine the erosion and evolution that have exposed formations and this planet’s geological character in this 1,000-foot gorge. Students learn the natural history of the New River Gorge, the factors that cause change and how geology affects ecosystems and economies. Later they climb the very cliffs the planet spent millions of years compressing into rock. They dig soil pits to see how ecosystems are formed from the ground up; they debate using renewable versus nonrenewable resources and the effects these have on people and the planet, with the knowledge that coal is one of West Virginia’s biggest economic resources.
ECOSYSTEM EXPEDITION – Students study the ecosystems in the New River Gorge in part by zip lining over it. (Wildlife biologists still use this method to study forest canopy over Central America.) Students learn how plants, animals and non-living factors play critical roles in their environment and they compare how natural, human-influenced and animal-influenced ecosystems differ by analyzing tree species, animal signs and soil composition in a ‘natural’ plot, a ‘disturbed’ plot and a ‘beaver’ plot.
Gallimore anticipates two additional STEM programs will be available by spring 2016; Zip Line Physics and A Walk Through Time. For more information see: http://aceraft.com/pages/stem-educational-programs-for-groups. For reservations, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
About ACE Adventure Resort
ACE Adventure Resort is the East Coast’s largest mountain hideaway exclusively focused on world-class whitewater rafting along with guided adventures, outdoor sports and activities, lodging, camping and other amenities. The nearby New River Gorge National River is affectionately known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” and features rafting from April to October. The New and Gauley Rivers combined offer over 100 miles of rapids all within 30 minutes of the resort. Both rivers are administered by the National Park Service. ACE’s passion since 1980 has been to create vacations wrapped around these rivers and other outdoor adventures so that guests can experience “a world of adventure in one place.” The 1,500 acres here encompass both forest and a 5-acre lake plus a series of ponds, forest trails, spectacular cliffs for rock climbing, waterfalls and overlooks.