McCALL -- The University of Idaho McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) strives to make science a real, tangible subject for middle schoolers and high schoolers, immersing them in forestry, geology and hydrology.

The publicly-operated program is another winner of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation ID21 award for creative and innovative educational practices.

This week, around 95 Moscow Middle School students traveled to McCall to spend the week at MOSS, learning about science in Mother Nature's classroom of the Ponderosa State Park.

It's really fun to work with students who've spent a lot of time outside but haven't ever really thought to ask scientific questions about what they're seeing, Dr. Karla Eitel, MOSS Director of Education, said.

Year-round, scientists host students, teachers and parents at the outdoor classroom, teaching the students about science and the environment.

Our graduate students act as our field instructors and we have a K-12 program where we have mainly 6th grade classrooms from around the state come and spend a week here, Program Director Greg Fizzell said.

Fizzell, whose background is forestry and environmental science, helped found MOSS in 2001 as a way to share the passion he learned as a field scientist.

Being a scientist, I thought it was really exciting and part of what was exciting about it for me was being around lakes and rivers and those kinds of things, Fizzell said. I just started thinking, 'how can I pass that along to people? How can I pass that excitement to them?' And I thought that having an outdoor school such as MOSS would be a really good way to transfer the love and passion that I have for the outdoors and for science to other folks.

Students spend two days learning different scientific concepts and practices, and then on the third day, they come up with their own research questions and carry out experiments to answer those questions.

When they're here, it's all about the scientific process, learning what it means to be a scientist, the tools of science and answering scientific questions, Fizzell said.

With middle schoolers, the instructors hope they are providing a positive science foundation that kids will remember. Eitel says it's an especially important age for girls to get excited about science because she says it's the age they tend to become disinterested in science and technology fields.

Part of what we hope to do is just create that connection to learning and that connection to doing science and hope that somehow that sticks with them as they go through all of the rest of middle school and high school, and they still remember that this was something that they felt like, 'yeah this is something I can really do. This is maybe who I could be,' Eitel said.

Schools do have to arrange payment to send classes to MOSS, but Fizzell says many decide to arrange fundraisers or find creative ways to help pay. Schools, teachers or parents interested in MOSS can click here to visit the website. There are still some openings left for the spring, and summer non-school groups are also available.

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