Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the History of Ozark Natural Science Center?
You can watch a video about ONSC's history here. Beginning in 1989, a small group of individuals, guided by Ken and RuAnn Ewing of Rogers, started meeting with the single purpose of developing a concept plan for a residential field science center in the Arkansas Ozarks. Those early planning sessions resulted in Ozark Natural Science Center (ONSC), which was incorporated in 1990. ONSC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit field science/environmental education and conference facility, which hosted its first residential program in 1992: a two-week Wet’n Wild camp that was part of the Arkansas Enrichment for the Gifted (AEGIS) program of the Arkansas Department of Education.
2. What Does an ONSC School Program Look Like?
ONSC offers a unique, immersion-based approach to learning about nature and the natural sciences. Every year, approximately 3,000 students from public and private schools experience the beauty and unique biodiversity of the Ozarks' natural environment through our residential school program. During a typical 2-day visit, 15 hours of science curriculum are provided in the form of 3 separate hikes (both day & night) and 2 sit-down type classes (topics chosen by their teacher) that are also designed to be fun.
Outdoor classrooms cover stream habitats, fluvial dynamics, macro invertebrates, snake defenses, owls of the Ozarks, woodland mammals, insect defense mechanisms, salamander families, plant identification, water quality testing, frog calls and geologic processes/rock identification. There is also campfire time, with a Lorax enactment, and T-shirt and wildflower seed presentations. Four family-style meals are served, where students are educated in conservation, food insecurity, and where their food comes from, in addition to snack and recreation breaks.
4. Can Students Go on Similar Field Trips Elsewhere?
Not in Arkansas! There are no other residential natural science educational facilities in Arkansas, much less one with OSNC's staff knowledge and thirty years of experience teaching students. ONSC is the only year-round residential environmental education facility in the state and serves the four-county NW Arkansas region, as well as occasionally hosting children from the NE Oklahoma area, Chicago, and other areas of Arkansas. ONSC’s Teacher Naturalists have backgrounds and advanced degrees ranging from aquatic resources to botany to zoology, in addition to training and certifications in wilderness safety and first aid, and have published research on numerous relevant subjects.
5. What if a Student is Nervous? Do Students Gain Confidence and Self-Reliance During an ONSC Trip?
While students are supported by our Teacher Naturalists and other staff throughout their stay, they learn self-reliance from the minute they carry their overnight supplies to their lodges to the last lunch meal in our dining hall where they assist with clean-up before boarding their buses and returning to school. The most memorable experiences upon the trails in self-reliance include the night hike and the five minute solo hike portion of their morning hike. They leave with an increased sense of self confidence and trust in their abilities to both learn and explore the world around them.
6. Are Parent Chaperones Assigned to the Same Field Group as Their Child(ren)?
During a school program at Ozark Natural Science Center (ONSC), parent chaperones often accompany the school group. It is ONSC’s general policy to assign parents to different field groups than their child(ren). This helps chaperones to treat all of the students in their group equally, and also enables all students to experience the independence of learning alongside their peers from ONSC’s Teacher Naturalists.
In addition to providing hands-on, science-based education, OSNC field trips enable children to learn autonomy and resilience, both of which are vital life skills and cause many students to leave ONSC with even greater self esteem than when they arrived. ONSC makes exceptions to this policy on a case-by-case basis when it is in the best interest of the child or the group for a parent chaperone to be paired with their child.
7. How do students learn about food at ONSC?
ONSC has provided students with hands-on, experiential learning experiences that can enhance their understanding of the natural world and the impacts they have on it. Through the Food for Thought lessons, they grasp an understanding of the vast amount of energy that goes into putting food on the table for their nourishment and why it is important not to waste that food/energy.
8. Do Teachers Get CEU Hours for Coming to ONSC?
Yes! ONSC provides the opportunity to earn 10 CEU hours for teacher's professional development. ONSC provides a unique opportunity for teachers to gain CEU hours and get a break from teaching while ONSC Teacher Naturalists lead the lessons for two days. Meanwhile, the students are able to grasp tangible scientific concepts and have an experience that will influence them for the rest of their lives.
9. What are ONSC's Campus and Trails like?
ONSC is situated within the 400-acre Bear Hollow Natural Area and a part of the 15,000 acres of wilderness in rural Madison County, Arkansas. The campus includes three rustic lodges, indoor and outdoor classrooms, guest housing, faculty housing, an observation deck and nearly 8 miles of maintained hiking trails. An ADA trail is currently being constructed and will increase our total mileage to over 8 miles upon completion.
10. Does ONSC have an Accessible Trail?
Yes! Most of our educational activities take place on the 8 miles of hiking trails surrounding our campus. As we are located in the hills of Bear Hollow, most of our trails have steep or rocky portions that are difficult to traverse without full physical function.
In 2021 and 2022, ONSC built a new accessible trail, which serves any of our visitors and students, and is targeted toward those who need a more accessible route. Per the CDC, 18% of the population has difficulty walking or climbing steps. Using these numbers, we anticipate that at least 800 visitors and students per year can make use of our accessible trail.
The trail includes diverse ecosystems to maximize our ability to provide education opportunities along the trail, including the forest around the observation deck, meadow, wetland, and pond. The trail also adjoins with our Tyson Lodge to make it possible for overnight students and other guests to access these new educational opportunities as well.
The accessible trail can be navigated by an all-terrain wheelchair or an all-terrain rolling walker, as well as most motorized wheelchairs.
School programs that utilize the accessible trail may also incorporate pieces of ONSC’s class topics and classroom materials, including portions of the following classes: Creek Critters, Decomposition, Discovery of the Specimens, Herpetology, Ornithology, FrogWatch, Entomology, and Botany.
11. What is the Best Age Group for a School Program at ONSC?
ONSC now offers school programs for 4th through 8th grade, and our lessons meet NGSS and Arkansas state standards. Coming soon: curriculum for 8th grade! During a 2-day, 1-night overnight program, teachers can choose 2 classes and 2 evening activities. The field trip also includes 2 guided hikes (field investigations). Classes and activities are listed below, along with the standards that are met by each. Please visit https://www.onsc.us/teacher-page for more information about the classes and standards.
12. How Do You Measure Whether ONSC Programs are Effective?
Initial outcomes of the program are that the pre-teens have learned valuable experiential lessons regarding field science in an immersion-based approach which they would not normally have access to in a brick-and-mortar school building. Some intermediate outcomes, in many cases, may be that they have gained a better understanding of habitat systems, ecology and the prudent use of natural resources.
Exposure to high-quality and stimulating activities, with participation in field collections/testing and encouraged argument-driven inquiries and open discussions, improves the way a child learns. Having direct experience of the subject helps it to become more interesting and enhances understanding. In some cases, they may improve their emotional resilience and become better equipped to assess risk. For many of this population's under-served children, it is their first night spent away from home.
Longer term outcomes are the lasting impressions made on the students by the program, as evidenced by testimonials received over the years from adults who went through the program as area children. A report in the National Foundation for Educational Research (2005) concluded that children having an increased contact with nature experience improvements in self-perceptions, social actions, communication skills and leadership. The Moss report also found that children who learn outdoors know more, understand more, behave better, feel better, are physically healthier, and work more cooperatively.
13. What topics are covered during ONSC's field exploration (guided hikes) on the trails?
We adapt our hikes and topics to the subjects that teachers request, as well as the interest and knowledge of the participants, but here are some examples of common trails and topics:
Creekside: Water science, Forestry and Succession, Geology with Paleo Paints Face Painting
Bluff Shelter: Geology, Native American and Ozark History, Creek and Split Rock, Forestry
Rookard House & Yarborough Cabin: Creek, spring house and pond visit for Water Science, Ozark History and Architecture, Nature reclaiming her own, secondary uses of abandoned sites for living creatures, Forestry and Botany
Boti: Glade and Meadow, Geology, Forest and Succession, Hoo Doo Rock and Wishing Rock
14. What lessons/classes are taught by ONSC's Teacher Naturalists?
Lessons are typically taught on the trail, in the Smith Education Building, or on the Springfield Outdoor Classroom.
Botany: A course that introduces students to the Ozark plant world. Learn to identify local trees, herbs and flowers and their uses to early pioneers. Students will collect specimens, learn to use field guides and dichotomous keys as they explore hands on in the wild and in the classroom.
Breaking it Down: Exploring decomposition through a hands-on demonstration of a living, breathing earthworm compost bin, where students will be introduced to the three major groups of decomposers: Fungus, Bacteria and Invertebrates. The class will sketch, analyze chemical alteration by microbes, and compare old to fresh compost. They will see first‐hand how cycles of energy and decomposition occur while learning to treat all living things with respect - including compost ‐ a building block of life!
Creek Critters: There is a world of life under the water! In this class students will meet and identify some of these water-dwelling macroinvertebrates and discover how their presence can be an indication of water quality through hands experimentation. Join us as we explore the world of the tiny and its large impact.
D.O.T.S (Discovery of the Specimen): Students will explore ONSC’s museum specimens, where they will use tools and resources to identify specimens and collect data. From measuring a skull, to using a microscope, this hands‐on course will illustrate methods used for specimen identification, while highlighting the diversity of the Ozarks.
Earth's Greenhouse: Uncover the Greenhouse Effect's role in climate change by learning about
human emissions of greenhouse gases acting like a warming blanket around the Earth, global emission
trends, and climate feedback loops. Students will learn about the urgency of this global challenge and the
need for collaborative solutions, such as renewable energy and emission reduction, gaining insights into
effective strategies for a sustainable future.
Entomology: There are more insects on our planet than any other type of animal. Students try out new skills as entomologists as they study these amazing creatures. Identification, adaptations, habitats, and observations make all parts of this class hands‐on.
FrogWatch: FrogWatch is a nation‐wide citizen science project that will have students using scientific protocols to identify frogs and record data while exploring a pond. Students will learn to identify Ozark frogs and toads by their songs of croaks and peeps. They will gain knowledge about amphibians as bioindicators while learning about stewardship and wetland conservation.
Geology: Explore the rock cycle and the three major rock types, learn about the geology of the
Ozarks, and apply this knowledge to investigate a rock sample! Students will sketch their sample’s features,
identify its type, and unveil its geological history using various tools and resources, such as field guides,
rulers, magnifying glasses, Mohs scale tests, and a diluted acid chemical reaction test.
Herpetology: This adventure will introduce students to many different species of reptiles and amphibians, their amazing abilities, threats to their well‐being, and how humans can help them. The students will learn by playing a herpetology game and will have the opportunity to meet our snake ambassadors. This hands-on experience will continue as they investigate the herpetology specimens from our science museum.
Lunar Cycles: Observation, discussion, and discernment illuminate this exploration of the causes
behind the moon's changing appearance. Students will use a hands-on model of the Earth, Sun, and Moon
system to develop a concrete understanding of shadows, then simulate lunar phases, solar eclipses, and
lunar eclipses to grasp these celestial events.
Natural Selection: Discover the mechanisms of natural selection through study of Eastern
collared lizards’ physical and behavioral adaptations to their Ozark habitat in rocky, sunny glades, and learn
about the importance of conserving these habitats. Students will analyze and interpret data from local
studies on this species of concern, then conduct a survival simulation to model how adaptations, such as
coloration and speed, influence the survival and reproduction of these captivating reptiles.
Ornithology: Students will “flock” to this class, where they will learn the basics of bird biology, adaptations for flight, and bird conservation. They will explore the Ozark fliers as they conduct field work outdoors using binoculars and field guides to identify ONSC birds and accurately record scientific field notes.
Pollinators: Create a “buzz” about the vital role of pollinators in ecosystems! Students will learn
about pollinators’ impact on plant reproduction and food webs, the challenges they face, and practical
actions individuals and communities can take to support pollinators. Through an interactive simulation
game, students will experience threats to bee populations and collect data to make observations.
Radio Tracking: Have you ever wondered how scientists study animals in the wild? Students will learn firsthand how and why scientists use radio tracking to monitor and help wildlife. Following a brief tutorial, students will put their newfound knowledge to the test as they head out into the field to locate hidden transmitters using real radio tracking equipment.
15. What topics are covered during night hikes?
Surrounded by 15,000 acres of dark Ozark forest, our skies are truly amazing. Learn about the stars as they shine brightly and the history of their myths. Listen for soft rustles of nocturnal animals and call in the owls! Watch for bats and shadows across the night sky! Topics covered during night hikes:
Living creatures of the night
Science at night