Category Archives: Wetlands as Classrooms

Wetlands as Classrooms

My 16-year old brother is President of his high school class.  He thinks it’s fairly common when his science class goes on a field trip or takes place outside. His high school has a Water Quality Monitoring Team, a Climate Action Club and an environmental outing club.

Middle and high schools around the country have similar clubs and others have adopted a local wetland for class projects.  This time of year, there’s a surge of news stories about school programs that make use of local wetlands for class projects with students K-12 throughout the U.S. Even while facing budgetary constraints, schools are showing an interest in teaching kids about the environment. The National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-School program offers ways for schools to “green” their curriculum. But what does a “wetland classroom” look like? It would make sense that they would vary because wetlands are diverse.  For example, here’s a “school wetland” in North Carolina, not far from the Great Dismal Swamp: http://library.thinkquest.org/J003192F/our.htm

Wetlands and streams are valuable teaching tools for teachers in elementary, middle and high schools. The concept of “wetlands as classrooms” has broadened to include student-led wetland restoration projects, which have received some press coverage over the past few years.  For example, the Hardy Middle School in Washington, D.C. is creating a wetlands classroom, and a new environmental outdoor classroom has been created in New York. At the Maumelle Middle School in Arkansas, 7th graders are learning about how wetlands “saved the school” during floods and how to test the water chemistry.

In addition to school-based programs, there are a number of wetland organizations that provide a “wetland classroom” experience to school children. For example the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, operated by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks in Maryland, offers activities led by staff naturalists for kids (K-12) as well as college students. Students learn about species diversity, classification, impacts of wetlands on water quality, plant and animal adaptations, ecology, stream morphology and climate change.

In other communities, a wetlands reserve such as the Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Wisconsin has programs geared for educating kids. See also Exploration, education by the estuary: http://theworldlink.com/sports/outdoors/article_24975834-e621-11e0-a951-001cc4c002e0.html

In addition, science teachers at some schools have incorporated the ‘wetlands as classrooms’ concept into their curriculum.  In particular, one organization created a program called Project WET (Water Education for Teachers). Right now, teachers are excited because Project WET 2.0 curriculum software has recently been released.

Project WET is a nonprofit water education program and publisher. It “promotes awareness, appreciation, knowledge and stewardship of water resources through the dissemination of classroom-ready teaching aids and the establishment of internationally sponsored Project WET programs.” The program has an international reach and has been applied in schools throughout the U.S. Watch a video about Project WET here. Learn about what teachers are doing for Project WET in Arizona or Project WET in Georgia.  If you’re on Facebook, check out Maine Project WET’s page. The program is active inWisconsinMichigan, —well, all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For more about Project WET in the U.S., visit: http://projectwet.org/where-we-are/usa-project-wet/

There has also been some recent press about the 7th grade class in Illinois for their wetland-based class project. Mrs. Fran Wachter’s seventh grade class at Creal Springs School won the national middle school grand prize in Disney’s Planet Challenge, an environmental and science competition for 3rd-8th grade classrooms. The competition expanded this year to include middle school grades 6-8.  To read full article, click here. To view their winning video, Wetland Warriors: Restoring Health to Our Wetlands, click here.

Throughout the year, I get updates from Tom Biebighauser, U.S. Forest Service, who maintains a photo album of wetland restoration projects and some of these projects have involved students from schools in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Tom also works with the Center for Wetlands and Stream Restoration in Kentucky; the Center provides training for educators. They have a list of wetland classrooms and school-created wetlands along with other training resources on their website.

In other instances, students have opportunities to help with a larger wetland restoration project run by a state park or other organization, like the one in California last May:Pitching in: Students part of wetlands restoration project.

Environment Concern also maintains a list of school-based wetland projects, mostly in the Mid-Atlantic region, with brief “success stories” for each school:http://www.wetland.org/education_success0708.htm

Mid-Atlantic Environmental Education – Schools in the News

Need ideas for an environmental project to get students interested in ecology, energy conservation and saving the Earth? The EPA Region 3 Environmental Education Program‘s ‘Schools in the News’ website offers press articles of successful environmental projects undertaken by students in mid-Atlantic region schools that are making news. Visit http://www.epa.gov/region03/ee/school_news.htm to learn more.

If you have news or links to information  about “wetlands as classrooms,” please let us know so we can feature other schools and similar programs on our I am an Educatorwebpage.

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Just Eat It. Edible Wetlands…

Just eat it. Can’t beat it. An “edible wetland” helps teach kids about wetland ecology. Growing up on the coast of Maine, I nibbled saltgrass as a child and learned which seaweeds were edible. My parents taught me which plants were safe to eat in the woods and saltmarsh, and which plants to admire but not pick. But there are lots of ways to teach kids about wetlands…

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency developed a kit for teachers working with kids in grades 3-6 learning about wetlands. The kit includes a “mouth-watering” recipe for an edible wetland. Here’s the idea: Students discuss the word “wetlands” and life that depends on them. Students think of different life forms that exist around wetlands. After identifying the life forms, students may build their own “wetland” out of edible materials. Here’s the list of ingredients:

Materials for Edible Wetland

The amounts listed below will vary dependent upon the number of students involved. You will need a half a sheet of brownies or chocolate cookie bars, and one green and one blue fruit roll-up per group of 4 to 5 students. Other ingredients can be used for several groups.

• 9″x13″pan of brownies or chocolate cookie bars prepared ahead of time – soil base of wetland
• Graham cracker crumbs – sand
• Instant chocolate pudding or pudding cups – mud
• Blue fruit roll-up – body of water
• Green fruit roll-up – aquatic plants
• Fish shaped crackers – fish
• Green lollypops – trees and shrubs
• Green chewy fruit candy to anchor the lollypops
• Gumdrops – shrubs
• Gummy bears -animals
• Animal crackers – animals
• Coconut dyed with green food coloring – grass
• Milk for pudding preparation (if not using pudding cups)
• Large mixing bowl (if not using pudding cups)
• A cookie sheet on which to create a wetland

For full instructions on how to create an edible wetland as a teaching tool for kids, go to:http://www.epa.state.il.us/kids/teachers/activities/wetland.html

For an award-winning video, “Wetlands and Wonder: Reconnecting Children with Nearby Nature” as developed by EPA Region 8, visit:http://epa.gov/wetlands/education/wetlandsvideo/

Trout in the Classroom

When I was a kid, my grandparents used to take me to the state’s fish hatchery in New Gloucester, Maine to look at the fish. Even though they took me several times, I never tired of watching the brown trout swim in schools from pool to pool.   Later when I was a teen-ager, I belonged to the Water Quality Monitoring Team in high school. My teammates and I sampled water from area lakes and ponds, including Damariscotta Lake, where I had fished for brown trout with my brother and grandfather years before. I loved to cast and once caught two fish on the same hook! This made my younger brother envious. I should take up fly-fishing again.

Trouts Unlimited started a program for school kids called Trout in the Classroom over 20 years ago. Students in grades K-12 get to raise trout from eggs to fry in a classroom tank; monitor the tank water quality; engage in a stream habitat study; learn to appreciate water resources; begin to foster a conservation ethic; and grow to understand ecosystems. Each program is unique depending on the school’s curriculum. At the end of the year, students release the trout into a nearby stream that has been approved by the state.http://www.troutintheclassroom.org/home  This program is run in 20 states so far. For state-specific resources, visit:http://www.troutintheclassroom.org/teachers/
state-specific-resources
 There are many opportunities for local residents outside the school to volunteer with the Trout in the Classroom program:http://www.troutintheclassroom.org/volunteers

Scouts Earn Wetland Merit Badges

When I was a girl scout, my grandmother sometimes led my troop on field trips into the woods and wetlands in midcoast Maine. She taught us how to make “sit-upons,” which consisted of a stack of newspapers inside a trash bag; the sit-upons kept our butts from getting wet when we sat (inevitably) on the wet ground to hear Gramma talk about the wonder of nature, and all about her experiences as a girl scout. But most of my scout troop’s patches concerned arts & crafts and community service, not nature. I don’t recall ever earning a nature badge, although I spent most of my time outside, learning about wildlife and conservation, playing in creeks or building fairy houses in the roots of trees. My brother was a boy scout. I recall that he earned outdoorsy badges.

Today’s Boy Scouts strive to earn badges for projects they do in wetlands. For example, boys can restore a wetland, study birds, learn about conservation, study forestry or insects, etc. in order to earn an Environmental Science badge, Fish & Wildlife Management badge, Soil & Water Conservation badge, Bird Study badge, or for their final Eagle Scout project.

These New Hampshire boys earned their badges by building a bridge in wetlands:http://www.cabinet.com/merrimackjournal/merrimacknews/637153-308/five-scouts-earn-rank-of-eagle.html These Southwestern boy scouts worked on a river restoration project: http://www.southwestcoloradowetlands.org/Sample_Projects/Sample_
projects_main.html
 This boy completed an Eagle Scout project,blazing a trail to provide public access to a wetland in Alabama:
trails_for_eagle_sco.html
In Iowa, local scouts teamed up to work on wetland projects:http://www.ag.iastate.edu/centers/iawetlands/
cases/Ftdodge.html
http://blog.al.com/live/
2010/01/teen_cuts_

Since I was a girl scout, many new patches have been created. Girls can earn a Water Drop Patch by learning about watersheds, water quality and completing a related project.http://www.epa.gov/adopt/patch/

Everett Scout is an all-around golden girl
http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20100927/NEWS01/709279951