Stars In The Parks
High Tech Middle North County: San Marcos, CA | Designing Teachers: Brittany Perro, Chris Olivas & Charley Jacob

In light of the recent National Park closures, students explored how people use parks to connect to themselves, each other, and to nature. Students used the design thinking process to create a product that preserved and enhanced a local, state, or national park. They visited various parks to do field work for their products as well as experienced “peak moments” that often occur when immersed in nature.

Essential Questions:

  • How do people use nature to connect to themselves, each other, and the environment? 
  • How have people used the night sky to make important decisions in the past and how can we use it in future?
  • Are public parks a luxury or a necessity in communities?
  • As citizens, what is our role in maintaining, enhancing, and preserving parks on the local, state, and national level?
  • How do we provide equal access to the outdoors for all?

Key Academic Skills and Content: 

  • In science: Earth/Sun/Moon relationship, the scale of the universe, gravity, Newton’s Laws of motion, light and the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • In math: exponential expressions, scientific notation, and doing scaled drawings/designs.
  • In humanities: politics behind National, State, and Regional Parks, and how we, as citizens, can use our writing to engage in the political process and advocate for these sacred parks. Students are writing letters to Congress to encourage funding to programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Students also immersed themselves in Nature while reading literature about immersive nature experiences.

Project Duration: 6-8 weeks



Created with the support of the California Department of Education California Career Pathways Trust

Final Products: What the Students Made
Final Products: What the Students Made

In “Stars in the Parks” students used the design thinking process to identify the needs of their clients (that is, State and National Parks) and create products to meet those needs.

These products included the following:

  • a hiking trail informational kiosk
  • a scale model of the solar system for a hiking trail
  • “remixed” park emblems for “Park After Dark” events
  • an infographic about the “dark sky community” movement
  • a curriculum that teachers and park rangers can use on overnight camping trips to educate students about the night sky.
  • “leave no trace” signs for the Anza Borrego flower fieldsE
  • Essays arguing whether whether National Parks are a luxury or a necessity.
  • A composite letter combining each students’ “favorite moment” from their own National Parks essays into a collaborative piece, entitled “Dear National Parks”, that would be shared with California Senator, Kamala Harris.

In the photo above, you can see two students standing with a park ranger and holding an example of a “remixed” park emblem.

Core Practice 1: Design Thinking
Core Practice 1: Design Thinking

The overarching structure of this project was based on the design thinking process of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Students interviewed their specific users in order to design a product or experience. After prototyping and testing the students created a hiking trail informational kiosk, scale model of solar system for hiking trail, parks after dark ‘remixed’ park emblems, info graphic for dark sky communities, leave no trace signs for Anza Borrego flower fields, and a night hike curriculum.

Core Practice 2: Community Partners
Core Practice 2: Community Partners

The park users for this project were the audience for the products students created. Finding community partners was a major part of developing an authentic project and the planning for such occurred well before the project began.

Teachers collaborated with the partners to design specific products based on the needs and wants of the parks.

Core Practice 3: Parks At Night
Core Practice 3: Parks At Night

One of the main intentions for students to visit local and national parks was to empathize with their user. Another intention from the teachers was for students to interact with nature on another level. The students practiced mindfulness activities and journaling while on their fieldwork experiences.


More Interdisciplinary PBL Essentials: