The Learning in Florida’s Environment or LIFE program is a statewide program of the Department of Environmental Protection that brings middle school students out to public conservation lands for science-based environmental education. The goals of the LIFE program include increasing student achievement in science, strengthening teacher capacity for inquiry-based instruction, and preparing students for future studies and careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.
Since 2004, over 21,000 students and teachers have participated in hands-on field labs in more than 22 different state parks and other public conservation areas. The LIFE program has produced over 80 unique, outdoor, environmental science field labs following the “Five-E” Instructional Delivery Model. The program prioritizes underserved and/or underrepresented populations and has pioneered a number of tools. These include the School Profile Index to systematically expand diversity in program participation and the Cultural Competency Self-Assessment to strengthen capacity among providers to integrate culture into program design and delivery.
Possibly the biggest success of the LIFE program has been the establishment of a consistent program model for environmental education within the department and beyond. The program’s core set of guiding principles establish continuity from one site to the next, while allowing content to be tailored to the specific needs of participating teachers and the unique attributes of each field site. These guiding principles include multiple field visits during the year, content alignment to state standards, emphasis on field based observation and inference, long-term partnership agreements, collaborative content development and delivery, subject integration, systematic assessment practices, a focus on underserved and/or underrepresented populations, and the integration of service learning.