Teaching the outdoor, urban class of my dreams

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Minnesota’s Changing Climate, a curriculum package from the Will Steger Foundation available free online, has been the building block for the new environmental elective I have started at my school this past year.  The lessons found in this resource are presented in a sequence that allowed me to build between the lessons with the curriculum I felt dug deep into the process of science, and into content that the students found most interesting.  Focusing on the biomes of Minnesota in the beginning stayed in my student’s brains through out the year as we moved through various units on chemistry, acid rain, car emissions, biofuels, to birds and invertebrates. Lesson #1 and #2 were done in January where I made a map of Minnesota on the classroom floor and we explored some of the videos and content on the Minnesota’s Changing Climate Online Classroom.  It was that point that we started our own observations of the biome outside of our school and found an area that worked for us.  The Como Woodlands Outdoor Classroom (CWOC) in St. Paul’s Como Park was the site of choice for my class this past year for many reasons.

Murray Junior High School students worked at the CWOC in their Environmental Inquiry Immersion (EII or e2) class every month since January and continued to do so until the end of May.  We have been learning what abiotic and biotic factors can be measured in the forest, and will work toward doing individual inquiry projects on these factors at Wolf Ridge later this summer. The students continued to make additional measurements, for instance, they measured and made sketches of the buds as they start to swell, burst, and grow through out spring.  By keeping track of the dates, I can have students in the future years compare the timing of spring events.  Later in the spring they did invertebrate surveys.  The students will put all of their data in permanent binders in the classroom as we measure the spring greening up of Como Park.  I will keep the file/binders in the classroom to keep a permanent record with bud sketches, measurements made, and insect survey data recorded throughout the year. They will be there for following years to compare.  The students will be able to compare this year’s winter and spring bud burst, bird counts, invertebrate counts, soil and air temperature measurements, with the winters and springs yet to come as this will be a permanent record in the classroom.  20130528 081106

Throughout the school year the students meet various experts in environmental areas, for instance, they had a chance to hear and talk with Dr. Joan McKearnan, an ornithologist from the Minnesota Ornithologist’s Union, who came to the classroom to discuss diversity in birds and later took the students on a field investigation at CWOC to do a short bird study, although few birds were found at that time of the season, we saw more birds migrate though the area during spring.  However the students were very excited to see a red fox move through the park.  After our bird survey, the students went to the Raptor Center at the University of MN and learned about the work done there and toured the facility.

Erica Hoagland and Chris Smith from the Non-Game Wildlife Division of the MN DNR came to discuss careers in the DNR and the responsibilities they have in their job.  The next day they had set traps for turtles in Como Lake and the students got a chance to do counts and measurements to better understand the aquatic environment of Como Lake.

Beyond the abiotic measurements made in the field, I had the students take north, south, east, and west pictures of their assigned plots in CWOC every month, so students in the future can compare what the park looked like in the past.  Some of those pictures can be found along with some student entries our students posted on the Will Steger Foundation’s Minnesota’s Changing Climate Online Classroom.  Here are some examples of student entries:

Hi my name is Ciera the person that I was working with her name is Desiree and yesterday we went to CWOC also known as Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom.

The weather was really cold, it was so cold that when I took my glove off my hand was about to fall off…. the current weather was -12 C, and the minimum daily air temp. was -17 C, and last but not least the current soil temp. was -6 C

My observations were that it was cold again but it was warmer then it was last time, it didn’t fell like it. I was so cold, and so mad because I forgot that we were going on the field trip to (CWOC)(Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom). I wasn’t ready to go out side. My partner Kendell wasn’t there but I worked with this nice girl named Desiree and we hurried up to get it done, we hurried up so fast that we had to write down all the information in the warmth of the bus. The one good thing that did come out of the whole field trip was that we got to get out of school. I like to go on field trips but not in the very cold I would like to go back but when it is warmer like in the spring..

The clouds were altocumulus.the clouds were covering and it was a broken and it means it covered 50-90% of the sky.  There were no contrails. The sky was not obscured. The barometric pressure was 1,032 mb for the pressure and the local time was 8:00 am.  The humidity was 62%. The solid precipitation is the snow so the depth sample at sample 1, 2, 3 was 280cm.

But it was the lessons from Minnesota’s Changing Climate from the Will Steger Foundation that showed itself again at the end of the year when I was taking the students out to another potential outdoor classroom closer to my school, that I saw how much my students had learned this year.  I was really thinking out loud and asking questions as to whether this new outdoor space would offer the same functionality as the CWOC space had done all year.  The students continually offered insight as to how it could be used.  They made observations such as “It has areas that represent most of the different biomes of Minnesota, that would be great for future students to see.” and “there would be less CO2 emissions if you had the students walk here instead of riding a bus to CWOC.”  I saw the students applying their understanding and taking ownership of the dream.

– Mr. Tim Chase

Tim Chase can be reached by email at:  timothy.chase@spps.org



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