It’s All Fun and Games and Learning

February 25th, 2014

By: Emily Drobenak, Schoolyards as Classrooms Project partner teacher at Accokeek Academy

In early February each year, there is a convergence of minds in Ocean City, MD from an endless arena of education outlets. This was the second year in which I had the good fortune to attend the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education conference through my school’s partnership with the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Schoolyards as Classrooms Project. Last year, I gained invaluable information from a number of mini-sessions from waste reduction to excellence in STEM teaching. This year, I was able to dive deeper with a half-day workshop titled “Learn to Play, Play to Learn.” This session addressed environmental education practically and socially. Our energetic and enthusiastic instructors put us right into the games to experience the learning activities hands on.

Teacher's InstituteI was surprised but delighted when so many of the initial activities turned out to be teambuilding exercises. We gained a level of comfort and were able to get the most out of our workshop once a comfortable classroom environment was established. Meanwhile, we were also subtly, but purposefully learning and talking about our natural environment. These activities were fun, felt like games, AND had the underlying purpose of teaching. One such game was called Bats and Moths. The class forms a cave by grasping hands while a student is blindfolded in the center as the bat. In a fantastically scientific rendition of a game similar to “Marco Polo” or “Sharks and Minnows,” the bat must call out to the moth, another student, who must echo the calls. A group of adults, who may have long forgotten the joys of playing, had a blast playing, and so would students. Meanwhile, they are experiencing an animal adaptation that will open the doors for further discussion and inquiry.

The session really brought to life for me how important playing can be when integrated with learning. The activities will get kids excited about their natural environment. If they enjoy learning about the world around them, they will want to protect it and secure it for the future. While it is already well past halfway through the year, I plan to incorporate these activities into my classroom and schoolyard activities. My students will soon be learning specifically about animal adaptations and “Bats and Moths” would be a great exploration of that. However, we will also be able to use the game Owls and Crows to explore other content areas while keeping our local environment in the forefront.

Our instructors referenced a book from the seventies, “New Games,” and nature educator Joseph Cornell as great resources to use playing to learn in environmental education. I encourage you to look into the resources for yourself and help your students learn to play and play to learn!

Three Days and Two Nights at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center

January 28th, 2014

By Brenda Wright, Hard Bargain Farm Education Center Coordinator

“Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.”

John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf

 

My name is Brenda Wright and I have been a naturalist for the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center for the past 20 years. It is difficult for me to imagine that the kids I worked with back in 1994 are now adults with possibly their own children. I hope, if I had any impact on them at all, that they are sharing the world around them with the children who may be a part of their lives.

In these 20 years of teaching (and still ongoing) it never ceases to amaze me that there are 10-year old kids who, for whatever reason, have never had the opportunity to play in the woods. As a child I spent so much time in the woods exploring the natural world. My friends and I would spend whole days balancing on logs crossing the swamps and small creeks, looking at wild flowers and collecting as many different types of beautiful colored leaves as we could in the fall. Leaf rubbings were a favorite of mine.

I work with all ages of kids, but the 10-year olds generally spend the night, and for some this is not only the first time they will be walking through the woods but the first time they have spent a night away from home. During their stay at Hard Bargain Farm, many milestones are reached. Feeling the independence of being “on their own”, really getting to know their classmates and actually having the time to bond with other classmates that they may never have even taken the time to get to know before. It is an experience and transformation for many kids that will last a lifetime.

Last summer, the Alice Ferguson Foundation was fortunate to receive a grant from DDOE (DC Department of Environment). This organization has awarded many grants to the Foundation that made it possible for students in Washington, DC to visit the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center. The latest grant differs in that they are funding the program for three days and two nights; this has been an amazing opportunity for the staff, students, and teachers. Having the extra day and evening with these students has been so rewarding. It gives us more time to help the kids to feel comfortable in the out of doors, being away from home, and bonding with their classmates. I hope it is a trend that will continue. These students have their campfire on the second night and during that time we ask them to reflect on their visit, and some of what they said was very touching and rewarding. Here are a few of the quotes: “I got to do things I never would have done”; “being in such a beautiful place”; “learn about birds, I did not know how amazing they were”; “I never thought I would stand next to a real goat”–and it goes on and on. I would like to end with a video of a teacher who was present on one of these trips.

And the Winner Is… Walker Mill Middle School

December 13th, 2013

By Everette Bradford, Community Outreach Liaison

Walker Mill Middle School officially adopted the Trash Free Schools project in the fall of the 2012-2013 school year, which gave momentum for the school to create a green team to tackle various environmental issues around the school including recycling and reducing waste.  Sidney Bailey, the founder of Walker Mill’s Green Team and claims that it was the motivation of the students and their will to recycle more that led him to join the Trash Free Schools project and create the green team.  Since its inception, the Green Team has been a rapidly growing entity at Walker Mill, where the students and teachers drive environmental stewardship and education through the hallways of the school.

Even though Mr. Bailey is no longer at Walker Mill Middle School, the project by no means is suffering. This year’s Green Team Leader, Mrs. Keisha Bennaugh is heading up the project and taking it in the right direction. The Green Team has doubled in size this past year and now has more than 100 students and multiple teachers. The students will continue recruit new members and teachers until they reach the goal of having school-wide participation in their efforts.

To help with their recruitment efforts, Mrs. Bennaugh brings her eclectic and artsy vibe to enhance the “green-movement” at the school. Students on the Green Team have worked with Mrs. Bennaugh to put fashionable flair on their Green Team attire,  which they are allowed to wear outside on their uniforms on Fridays. She also worked with the students to  create a large “green” mural in the schools media center. Along with encouraging creativity, the Green Team faculty also  challenge the students to take responsibility and work on professionalism and hospitality skills as they work to haul the schools recyclables from the school’s classrooms and offices.

DSC_0239

The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Executive Director, Lori Arguelles, addresses the Green Team during the ceremony.

In addition to the great work that is taking place in the school, on November 15, 2013, the Green Team was awarded with their $1000 Grand Prize for winning the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Litter Prevention Video Contest. The school hosted a small ceremony in the media center that included guest speaker such as;Lori Arguelles, Executive Director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation; Mayor Kito James, Town of Capitol Heights; Sidney Bailey, former Green Team Leader and Vice Principal at Center City PCS; and Angela Angle, Policy Aide, Office of Prince Georges County Council Member Derrick L. Davis. Walker Mill Middle School was also presented with Certificates of Appreciation from the Town of Capitol Heights and County Council Member Derrick L. Davis.

The Green Team will utilize their prize money to research and retrofit the school with plants that will improve the indoor air quality. The students also have a desire to procure more recycling bins for classrooms and the hallways and begin greening and planting exercises on the schools exterior. Other future projects for the Green Team include creating a central meeting location for the Green Team, joining in on the Anacostia River Restoration Project efforts, and looking to host a trash free carnival. In the meantime, the Green Team will begin planning activities for the annual Potomac River Watershed School-Yard Cleanup and continually seek more funding sources to complete their projects.

The Number One Plant to Avoid Outdoors

September 16th, 2013

By Keith Roumfort, Program Manager, Bridging the Watershed

“Three leaves, let it be.”

“Hairy rope, don’t be a dope.”

Such mnemonic sayings help people avoid one of the concerns for the average hiker: poison ivy. Poison ivy, a North American native that isn’t a true ivy, likes to grow in disturbed areas. Despite its name, it’s not poisonous, but the urushiol oil that lies in
plant gives humans an unforgettable rash.

To avoid that itching experience, it’s a good thing to know how to spot this common plant on outdoor trails.

Look at the edges (margins) of the leaves
Poison ivy has compound leaves, a cluster of three leaflets that form the leaf stemming from a petiole (“leaf stem”). Many other similar plants have compound leaves of three leaflets as well, so to help identify the plant, you can look at the edges or margins of the plant as well as counting leaflets.

Plant leaves are usually symmetrical, a mirrored image on both sides. Poison ivy’s margins on the leaflets can be symmetrical and asymmetrical on the same plant.

 
poison ivy margins
 
The margins can be smooth (entire) or jagged (toothed).
poison ivy symmetry

 

Fall Changes
Throughout fall, clustered berries ripen from green to a pale, light yellow. Often the seed-containing berries are gobbled up by birds before winter sets in. The leaves are deciduous, turning yellow or sometimes red before falling to the ground.
 
 
poison ivy berries 1
poison ivy berries 3

 
 

The Perennial Hairy ‘Rope’
No matter what the season, but especially during bare winters, the vines are easily visible. The vines may creep over the ground, on walls, and up trees. As the vines mature, they get thicker and covered with dark hairy-like structures that anchor the vine to the surface. Beware as the vines may give you the rash.
 
hairy rope 1hairy rope 2

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tips to remember if you are exposed:

  • Don’t infect your eyes or mouth as urushiol oil can spread the rash internally.
  • Don’t burn poison ivy because you can inhale the rash-inducing smoke.
  • Wash the exposed skin with plenty of cool water without the water getting to other areas of your body. Warm or hot water can open up your pores to the oil. Be careful in removing exposed clothing and cleaning it.
  • A person with a rash is not contagious. The urushiol oil has already been absorbed into the skin. Only contact with residue oil can spread the rash.
  • If the rash gets worse and/or lasts for a few weeks, see a doctor.

Spending time outdoors can be lots of fun no matter what the activity with just a bit of common sense and precaution. Some people may claim to be immune to poison ivy, but like other forms of immunity, it can be lost. The best way to prevent the itchy surprise after a hike is to be aware of where you are walking and develop sight recognition of poison ivy.

Truly Treemendous Tales from the Field

August 5th, 2013

By Elizabeth Rives, Bridging the Watershed Program Coordinator

Admiring a Majestic American Sycamore at C&O Canal Historical Park

Admiring a Majestic American Sycamore at C&O Canal Historical Park

“Look at that – that tree is tight!” exclaimed a bubbly six-grader from Accokeek Academy while walking to the site for a Bridging the Watershed field study. Fortunately, I’ve hung around enough tweeners and teenagers to know that tight, in teen-speak, means “stylish, cool, having everything together,” according to the web-based Urban Dictionary. The student was admiring the striking white silhouette of an American sycamore tree on the banks of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park at Great Falls Tavern.

At BTW we thrive on those “aha” moments when learning becomes relevant, or “tight,” to a student’s life. We’ve become accustomed to hearing such exclamations over a crayfish, or an especially large and menacing hellgrammite the students have netted in the creek. Sometimes the awe is even over chemistry when a water sample magically turns from dark blue to clear. But it’s not often about a tree. So for me, a devoted tree enthusiast and tree identification teacher, I couldn’t believe my ears when it was a tree that inspired that level of enthusiasm.

Prince William Forest Park Features 15,000 Acres of Trees

Prince William Forest Park Features 15,000 Acres of Trees

And then, to my delight, it happened again the next week at Prince William Forest Park — a park whose main claim to fame is 15,000 acres of trees. All those tree roots soak up pollutants from runoff before the water drains into Quantico Creek, making it one of the most pristine streams in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan region. For BTW students, that means a boundless diversity of insects to study. For one North Stafford High School AP Environmental Science student, however, it sparked an unsolicited and lengthy private discussion with me about non-native trees and their impact on the surrounding ecology! Now that was perhaps as thrilling an “aha” moment for me, the educator, as it was for the student.

Greenbelt Watershed Watchdogs; Faye Austin March 23, 2011 057

Central High School Teacher Faye Austin at Greenbelt Park

Four days later at BTW’s advanced teacher workshop on benthic macroinvertebrates I got my third tree “aha” in three weeks. This time it came from a teacher who, at the end of the workshop, suddenly remembered she knew me from a workshop on tree identification I led the previous summer at, where else?, Prince William Forest Park. To my surprise, amusement, and embarrassment, her face lit up as she shouted, “Oh, you’re the tree lady,” toward the end of my talk on field logistics. Okay, so maybe this one wasn’t so much about trees, but at least she had associated me with trees and remembered that she had taken a workshop to learn how to identify them.

If you’re wondering what my take away was from that flurry of tree “aha” moments, that’s easy: all good things come in trees, er threes.