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Sunship Earth is a comprehensive environmental science program geared to 5th graders.

The on-site portion of the program lasts five days and four nights at the Sunship Study Station, a natural outdoor setting at T.R.E.E.’s Outdoor Classroom just west of Covington. The Sunship Earth staff, crew counselors, and classroom teacher combine efforts to provide a dynamic, effective learning experience. The teacher extends this program back at school, which encourages the students to continue to apply their learning beyond the classroom. Sunship Earth is a beginning unit rather than a culminating one.

Sunship Earth helps students understand how their world functions and gives them a special appreciation of that knowledge through their head, heart, and hands. Sunship Earth acquaints young people with basic understandings of how the earth’s life systems function (head), and helps them to better know the earth as their place in space and to appreciate the richness and the beauty of our planet through first-hand contact (heart). In addition, Sunship Earth strives to help young people see that they have a dual role as passenger and crew member on this “Sun-ship”, and finally, gives each student a chance to explore the personal significance behind this new awareness (hands).

The following are some important points you’ll want to know:

  • Sunship Earth has been run by T.R.E.E. for the past 20 years. Over 3,200 Orleans Parish school students have attended. The staff is highly trained, caring andcommitted.
  • A minimum of 12 adults supervise the class of approximately 30 students. Students are NEVER without supervision.
  • The class is divided into groups of five or six students by the teacher and each group issupervised by one of the school’s adult chaperones. The students receive direct instruction for the 15 stations from T.R.E.E. staff who provides for personal, quality learning for each child.
  • The remainder of the time (meals, “heart” activities, processing activities, campfire, crafts, etc.) is spent in whole class group.
  • The school provides a qualified person to give medications. A hospital is only 5 minutes from camp.
  • Students live in dormitory-type buildings. Boysand male chaperones from the school sleep on one side; girls and female chaperones from the school sleep on the other. A cinder block dividing wall and bathrooms are between the two sides.
  • Participants are fed by T.R.E.E. staff. Meals are tailored to fit children’s eating habits while still being nutritious and accommodating various eating styles (vegetarian). Snacks are provided throughout the day while on trails.
  • The cost of the program includes EVERYTHING! (Included in the cost is bus, insurance, camping fees, wholesome meals, snacks, all supplies for activities and crafts, and a staff of 1 adult for every 3 children.)

The days at the Sunship Study Station are extremely busy ones, filled with a complete schedule of exciting learning experiences.


The week at the Sunship Study Station is an extremely busy one. Each day is filled with a complete schedule of learning experiences. Listed here are some of the highlights of the week-the major program elements. Since specific scheduling may vary somewhat, this briefing sheet is designed to give a general idea of what the week will be like.

Friday Evening

Students, teachers and parent volunteers are greeted and familiarized with the Sunship Earth grounds, dining hall and bunkhouse sleeping areas. Dinner is served and an evening workshop is conducted as an introductory activity of community building.

Saturday Morning

WELCOME ABOARD – An introductory activity of community building provides an exciting kickoff to the week and acquaints the students with the Sunship theme. As passengers on this planet, the students are given an important task for the week. Their mission is to find out how Sunship Earth operates, and how it’s human passengers can live in harmony with its’ “automatic pilot systems.”

TOUCH THE EARTH – Small groups led by parent chaperones depart from a centrally located “hub” where they use “magic paint” to discover the color and beauty in small things. The atmosphere is fun and the activities emphasize looking at the natural world in new ways, building awareness through all five senses, and awakening a “sense of wonder.”

MAGIC SPOTS – Each day there is time set aside for solitude. On Saturday, following the Touch the Earth Session, students locate their own magic spot which they’ll return throughout the week. Magic Spot time provides the opportunity for each child to develop an easy, quiet relationship with one particular natural space. At these times, they will use their Log Books which contain specially designed Magic Spot activities.

Saturday Afternoon, Sunday Morning, and Monday Afternoon

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CONCEPT PATHS - One entire afternoon and two full mornings at the Sunship Study Station are devoted to a series of exciting learning experiences – the Concept Paths. In small groups lead by trained crew counselors, the students will learn seven key ecological concepts: energy flow, cycles, diversity, community, interrelationships, change, and adaptations. An official Passport (a booklet type of learning tool) provides the continuity throughout the week’s adventures. During the course of the week, the kids will experience fifteen different Concept Path activities. They will crawl inside a giant leaf to learn how green plants capture the sun’s energy. They will become birds to discover how the hummingbird is perfectly adapted to get nectar from flowers. When they complete their Passports, they will have a good understanding of how the Sunship’s ecological systems work.

DISCOVERY PARTIES - These activities are designed to encourage the students to discover for themselves the fascinating things that live on our Sunship. In “Lost Letters”, for example, small groups led by crew counselors head out in search of the meaning of a long-lost word. With the help of a set of clues, they make lots of exciting finds and eventually figure out the word for themselves.

IMMERSING ACTIVITIES - These activities are aimed at total sensory involvement with the natural world. In “Micro Parks”, each student becomes a “Park Ranger” who is in charge of setting up a miniature national park in a small area on the ground. Once the parks’ special attractions (moss, rocks, tiny plants, small critters, etc) are marked with flags, tours are held so that everyone can share their parks.


MEALS - At the Sunship Earth Station, we attempt to make every part of the day a learning experience. The menu removes the disguises from foods by relating the dishes to their original sources. Students learn how to cut back on energy waste at meal times, everyone learns the identities of the “Mystery Passengers”, and there are Discovery Announcements, poetry reading and sharing times about the day’s events.

CRAFTS - After dinner, students will have the opportunity to work on crafts that are compatible with the Sunship Earth theme.

CAMPFIRES - The warmth and community spirit of a campfire allows time to wind down from the busy day, to enjoy each others company and to roast and eat marshmallows.

Sunday and Monday Afternoons

Monday Evening

THE JOURNEY HOME - After the regular campfire, a special campfire is held and an “ancient legend” is told concerning a group of people whose young ones embark on a journey down a river to discover the seven secrets of life (which correspond to the seven ecological concepts learned during the week) in order to help their people better understand the earth. The message is that the students, like the young ones in the story, must return to their people and share with them their newly gained understanding of, and feeling for the earth.

Tuesday Morning

MODEL PLANETS - The students, in small groups, construct a “Miniature Sunship” on a small area of the ground. Using leaves, sticks, rocks, etc., they fill their model planet with “living things” and include all the necessary ecological support systems (examples of the seven concepts). Ambassadors travel around the “solar system” and share ideas. Many true to life situations take place creating differing circumstances on “Sunship Earth” illustrating in an exageratedway, similar happenings on the real planet.

SUNSHIP CONVENTION - To finish the week, the students are asked to examine their daily lives to think of something they can do to help keep the sunship in good working order. Their commitments to be better sunship passengers are recorded in their passports and are shared at the Sunship convention, attended by all crews. They depart for home on a note of personal responsibility.

Evaluation Report

Prepared by the Earth Education Research and Evaluation Team, University of Arizona, July 2005


An evaluation of the Sunship Earth program offered by Teaching Responsible Earth Education (T.R.E.E.) was conducted from September 2004 through May 2005 by the Earth Education Research and Evaluation Team at the University of Arizona. The evaluation consisted of pre- and post- tests and questionnaires completed by participating students, teachers and parents; in-person and phone interviews with classroom teachers and T.R.E.E. staff; observations while programs were being conducted and in classrooms afterwards; and document analysis. This summary highlights the main findings.

During the 2004-05 school year. T.R.E.E. offered the Sunship Earth program 11 times with 323 5th grade students from 7 schools. All participating schools are public elementary schools in the Orleans Parish district. Many of the students at these schools live in high poverty areas; rates of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch at these schools range from a high of 99% to a low of 24%.

The evaluation resulted in five conclusions; each is described in the full report and summarized here.

T.R.E.E.’s Sunship Earth program fits well into participating schools’ curriculum.

Analysis of the Louisiana state standards documents, teacher surveys, and interviews with teachers provided substantial evidence that the Sunship Earth program meshes well with state standards and helped students accomplish many important curriculum objectives. Both teachers and students have even commented that concepts learned during their camp experience were included on the LEAP test. Teacher comments included:

Sunship Earth covers so many of the state benchmarks that we can’t let the kids who don’t go miss that information… The Sunship Earth materials absolutely help us to meet the state Grade Level Expectations (GLE’s) because we could check off an entire section of the earth science, physical science in the 5 days we were there.

The content from the program is already a part of the curriculum since it is linked to the life science and science, and the environment standards.

The children learned so much, not just science but social studies, math, language arts, poems, journals. The children…are still talking about it.

Students’ understandings of ecological concepts increase as a result of participation in T.R.E.E.’s Sunship Earth program.

The Sunship Earth program helps students learn fundamental ecological concepts, based on what is known about good learning. The ecological concepts are abstract ideas and are difficult for students to truly understand. The programs use experiential learning to make the abstract concepts concrete using the I-A-A (Inform-Assimilate-Apply) Learning Model. All of the activities take place outdoors in a natural setting, providing students with a real world context and with plenty of opportunities for further examples and reinforcement. The ecological understandings of students were assessed using the Ecological Concept Questionnaire (ECQ). The ECQ-SSE was administered as both a pre-test at school before students participated in the Sunship Earth program and as a post-test back at school afterwards. Overall scores increased by 28% from pre-test to post-test. Scores also increased substantially for each of the seven concepts taught in the program, from an average increase of 29% for the concept of Interrelationships to an increase of 43% for Change.

Students’ environmental perceptions change as a result of participation in T.R.E.E. programs.

Feelings are a major component of the Sunship Earth program. The program takes place in natural areas where students have opportunities to experience nature first hand. Specific activities help students learn to appreciate nature. The goal is to help change environmental perceptions. Students’ perceptions were measured by The Environment Questionnaire (TEQ), which was administered both as a pre-test before and as a post-test after the program. Results are broken down into two main components – Preservation and Utilization. A high score in Preservation and a low score in Utilization are indicative of a pro-environmental perspective. Overall, there were statistically significant changes toward more pro-environmental perceptions for students after participating in the Sunship Earth program; students scored higher on Preservation and lower on Utilization. In addition, students were more likely to voice their intent to support environmental causes and to conserve resources and enjoy nature. They were also were less likely to approve of altering nature and were less in support of the view that humans should have dominance over the natural world.

Students’ personal environmental actions change as a result of participation in T.R.E.E.’s Sunship Earth program.

We asked students about their personal environmental actions both before and after participating in Sunship Earth. We also asked parents and teachers about changes they saw in the actions students were taking. After participating in Sunship Earth, most students reported that in the winter they regularly make sure the heat in their room is not on too high (70%), turn off the light when they do not need it any more (92%), and save water by taking shorter showers or by turning off the water when brushing their teeth (75%). All teachers (100%) reported that their students have lessened their impact on the environment since participating in the Sunship Earth program.

There’s a huge improvement. They’re much more aware and not just aware but active in making a difference. They recycle, remind me to turn off the classroom lights. In the cafeteria even if they think they don’t like something they’ll try it because that’s less wasteful. I’ve seen them compete to have less waste and estimate the waste in grams.

In written surveys, most parents (81%) said they had seen changes in their children since the program.

She has shared with our family conservation lessons she learned at Sunship Earth. I see a new awareness of the earth and her place in it as a custodian of its preservation. Thank you.

Students, teachers, and parents are highly satisfied with T.R.E.E.’s Sunship Earth program.

One hundred ninety seven (197) students from five schools completed satisfaction surveys for Sunship Earth. These responses represent a cross-section of demographics that T.R.E.E. typically serves (low and middle income urban children and families). Over 90% of participating students reported that they enjoyed their Sunship Earth experience. Similarly, 180 (91%) of the students would like to do more outdoor activities like these and all students (100%) would like to return to do another program like Sunship Earth.

I like how you make learning fun. I like how I wake up and look forward to going to school.

"Somehow SSE changed what I thought of the outdoor world."

"I loved Sunship Earth. It was so fun!!! It couldn’t be better if I imagined it myself."

"Teachers also felt the program was valuable. When asked to explain, teachers mentioned the amount of content covered; the hands-on, engaging nature of the activities; the excitement of the students, and the high level of organization."

"It’s what I would like to do every day in my classroom."

"Actually exceeded my expectations. The learning and understanding packed into the four days was incredible."

"Such a different way of learning, so many are kinesthetic learners and they really benefit from seeing, experiencing. Afterwards I saw the amount of information they could retain and the array of abstract concepts of science that kids can put their hands on in a different way. Excellent program."

"It’s a wonderful way to teach. They hold onto it, are excited about it. It’s a way for them to grasp the concepts and learn without the textbook."

"I was AMAZED to hear how much they had learned. Students were able to recall many details and all 7 principles of life."

All 117 (100%) of parents who completed post-program satisfaction surveys reported that their children enjoyed the Sunship Earth program and would recommend that their child’s school continue to participate. The two most common reasons given, listed by most of those responding, dealt with how much their child had learned and how much their child enjoyed the program. Several parents mentioned the nurturing educational experience, the exposure to important environmental knowledge, and the enthusiasm of the children.

Overall Conclusion

T.R.E.E.’s Sunship Earth program provides unique opportunities for city children to experience the natural world. The program is exciting, adventurous, and magical. The students are fully engaged in active learning in ways that cannot be duplicated in the classroom. Data gathered from pre- and post-tests; observations; interviews with students, parents, and teachers; and questionnaires provide evidence that students learned important ecological concepts, were exposed to new environmental perceptions, and changed their own environmental actions. It is clear that all of this took place not only because of powerful, integrated, and complete educational program but also due to the talent and hard work of T.R.E.E. staff, classroom teachers, and parents.