Threshold Learning Center - Zearing, Iowa
Our Curriculum

Our Field Schools For Youth curriculum is aimed at youth in grades 4-9.  It is an innovative approach to environmental education.  We begin with Astronomy, the students learn about Earth, where we belong in relationship to the rest of the solar system, our moon, our star as well as the many other stars in our galaxy, comets, meteorites, and some Physics properties. Then we cover the Geology of the earth and how it is constantly undergoing change, concentrating on the geologic types found in the area of the camp. From there, we move into Archaeology, the introduction of man and his impact on the world and the students learn a little about their past and what life was like in the local area. As the students see some of the impacts man has made on Earth in the past, they are then introduced to the idea of Ecology, Environmental Science and in the end, Environmental Ethics. We have had comments from teachers that their entire year of science is covered in their stay with us.

The week is an in-depth, hands-on experience involving all the students' studies - math, science, reading, art, writing, physical education, home economics and drama. One very successful school in the past has brought everyone from the middle school - the science teacher, the art teacher, the math teacher, the computer teacher, the music teacher, the principal, and the language arts teacher. The school secretary was disappointed she was left all alone! This helps your co-educators feel you are not taking their students away from their courses for a week; rather, their subjects are highlighted just as well.


  1. WELCOME - Introduction/Explanation of field journals and what we'll be doing that week.
  2. DAYTIME ASTRONOMY (4th - 9th) - Modeling of the solar system in a way no book or mobile can ever beat. Students pace out a scale model of the solar system and the earth/moon system, learning the moon phases.
  3. DAY TELESCOPES (4th - 9th) - Locating and measuring sunspots, how to use a telescope, moon observations (if available during the day) and measuring the diameter of the sun.
  4. LIGHT LAB (4th - 9th) - Strobe lights and how they can help to locate a planet or star. Spectral analysis and understanding the light we can't see. Lasers and their help with finding distances.
  5. MARS LANDER (4th - 9th) - To build a Mars Lander, the students will design and construct Earth lander which can fall 12 feet and not have a water balloon break. This was done when Moon and Mars landers were first designed - they practiced on Earth first.
  6. TRIANGULATION (7th - 9th) - Measuring distances here on earth and in space using math and scale drawings.
  7. MICROMETEORITES (4th - 9th) - Did you know that thousands of meteorites land on the Earth each day? Micrometeorites, that is. In this activity, students will collect micrometeorites outside with their home-made meteorite receptacles and return to the lab to observe them under a microscope.
  8. SNACK (4th - 6th) - Scientists get hungry quite easily, so we like to incorporate food into our activities as much as possible. In this activity, the students will decorate a sugar cookie with frosting in the shape of a constellation. It can be a known constellation or they can invent their own. They share with the class their constellation and a story about how it came to be in the sky. Imaginations and storytelling run wild!

    Night 1

  1. PLANETARIUM ACTIVITIES (4th - 9th) - Star lab.
  2. ASTRONOMY PROGRAM (4th - 9th) - Night viewing with the telescope.
  4. ASTRO-PHOTOGRAPHY(6th - 9th) - Using digital and Polaroid images.
  5. TRICK PHOTOGRAPHY (6th - 9th) - Use a Polaroid camera to make photos that no one will believe!


  1. MINERALS FROM PLANET X (6th - 9th) - Take unknown minerals and find out their secrets to help you know if you have a gem or a common piece of sand.
  2. GEOLOGY SLEUTH (5th - 9th) - Drill into the earth and recover core samples of the structure below so that you can understand what lies beneath you. Using a model, of course!
  3. GOLD PANNING (4th - 9th) - Heavy minerals in the pan along with some gold flakes.
  4. STREAM TABLE ACTIVITIES (4th - 9th) - If you are with us for 4 nights, you can set up your own landscape and see how a model river forms new landforms.
  5. REMOTE SENSING (6th - 9th) - Use aerial and satellite photos to interpret what is on the surface of the earth or other moons and planets.
  6. ORIENTEERING (6th - 9th) - If you found a great fossil how would you and others find your way back to it?  Learn how to use pacing and a compass.
  7. RAPELLING DOWN INTO A CAVERN (6th - 9th) - We will train you how to do this skill. Studying nature and Geology can be an adventure!
  8. FOSSIL EXCAVATION and MICROFOSSILS (4th - 9th) - Go fossil hunting while at a magnifying lens or uncover fossils out of rock.

    Night 2

  1. GEOLOGY CUISINE 101 (4th - 7th) - Students tear into this snack session, dissecting a "conglomerate" chocolate chip cookie and a 3-layer cake showing sedimentary layers, topping it off with a carbonated drink, showing them how lava forms igneous rock.
  2. NIGHT HIKE (4th - 9th) - Students experience the outdoors at night, hiking with a black light to discover different rock layers (and some night critters) and "spelunking" through the challenge course with head lamps.


  1. ARTICULATE 'DEM BONES (4th - 7th) - A practice dig. Learn techniques of a professional dig and how to graph results.
  2. TIME LINE(4th - 9th)
  3. HIKE(4th - 9th) - Visit a prairie and get a feel for what Iowa looked like 150 years ago, walk through a creek and discover all the interesting things it holds, some students will even help carry water back to the site just like in the days-of-old.
  4. TOMBSTONE ETCHINGS (6th - 9th) - Find out about the life span of the local community. Figure out when diseases came through town, when wars occurred, how many women died during childbirth and much more. Write a story about the person/people connected with your tombstone.
  6. PICTOGRAPHS & PETROGLYPHS (4th - 9th) - The most ancient form of art and communication. Students etch into or paint a picture onto flat rocks they have found. Local berries, nuts, rocks and leaves are used to make natural paints.

    Night 3

  1. DINNER... Old-fashioned dinner or Native American meal.
  2. ...AND A SHOW (4th - 9th) - Visit a local theatre to see a show about life at the turn of the last century or have the students put on a drama with old-fashioned clothes to dress-up in.
  3. TOYS OF OLD (4th - 8th) - See if you know how these old-fashioned toys work.
  4. CAMPFIRE WITH STORYTELLING (4th - 9th) - Students participate in the oldest form of passing on information, history and tradition.


  1. 1/2 DAY HIKE(4th - 9th)
  2. WEB OF LIFE GAME (4th - 7th) - Students see how we are all connected on this earth, depending on each other and how it affects everything else if something in the web is removed or distorted.
  3. WATER MONITORING (4th - 9th) - Oxygen, Phosphorous, Nitrogen and pH levels are read as well as a biological and physical assessment of the body of water.
  4. PRAIRIE/WETLAND/FOREST STUDY (4th - 9th) - Compare and contrast these three habitats.
  5. CLIMBING UP TO THE UPPER-CANOPY (6th - 9th) - Many of us remember the sheer joy of climbing a tree. In this activity we climb to the upper canopy of a forest to experience a world we rarely see. We will do several studies that are performed on the upper canopy of rain forests by real Botanists.
  6. NATURE MAPPING (6th - 9th) - Using orienteering and graphing, students keep track of what species are seen and where. The data is then entered into a nation-wide database on-line, where they can check on their results from school or home.
  7. AWESOME EDIBLES (4th - 9th) - Find out what plants in the area are edible and have been used medicinally by locals in the past.

    Night 4

  1. NIGHT HIKE (4th - 9th) - Making SENSE of the night, owl calls, etc.
  2. CAMPFIRE (4th - 9th) - Students discuss environmental issues, then journal their thoughts.


  1. MAKE UP - Finish any projects we didn't get to or completely finish.
  2. WRAP UP - Connect everything we have covered throughout the week.
  3. WRITING - Have the students start their letters to a legislator, article for a newspaper, or presentation to a local group (Kiwanis, Lions, 4-H) back at home.