Posts Tagged ‘Outdoor Lessons’

A Day in the Life of a Hard Bargain Farm 5th Grader

August 29th, 2018

By: Kayla David, Outreach Coordinator

For those of us to have walked the paths of Hard Bargain Farm, it is no wonder to us why Alice Ferguson first fell in love with these rolling hills, forests, meadows and wetlands. The land is so much more than dirt and rocks. Each student that comes to Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm walks in the footprints of the young adventurers who came before them. For many of those students, this trip is their very first outdoor experience – and what an experience it is! A day at Hard Bargain Farm is never the same twice, but it might look something like this:

Rising early, the students dress and make their way down a winding path towards the gleaming solar panels of the Cafritz Environmental Center where they eat breakfast, family-style. Once everyone is fed and watered, the students hit the trails that wind through the property.

Along the way, the students stop at a meadow to learn about the migration of local wildlife,  their adaptations, and the resilience of nature as they inspect a few milkweed seeds (or as we like to call them milkweed fairies), and blow them into the wind. Their next stop is at the swamp, where they use dip nets and buckets to dig down into the leaves and muck to discover the life there. Squeals of excitement are heard when they discover a crayfish hiding in the mud.

“If we want to examine it, someone has to pick it up and put it in this bucket,” explains the educator. Looks of disgust and fear cover the faces of the students. Finally, a nervous but determined little hand reaches forward and grabs the small crustacean. Joy erupts all around, and now each student is in line to prove they are just as brave.

Once the students finally reach the river, they gaze out across the water at Mt. Vernon and imagine what life would have been like before this land was developed, before pieces of plastic washed up daily onto the shoreline. In this moment, the students see with their own eyes both the rich cultural history of the area, and how their actions – at their school, in their community – might impact the world around them.

Then, out of nowhere, and osprey swoops down, catches a fish and carries it to a nearby tree to enjoy. The students gasp and exclaim in excitement. After watching the bird for a little longer, it’s time to head back. As the Hard Bargain Farm educator herds the students back on the trail, the most important words of the day are spoken.

A student exclaims, “Aw, I don’t want to leave.” 

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!

Wiggling Worms

December 20th, 2010

Last week, I had the pleasure of introducing 3rd and 4th graders at Gale-Bailey Elementary School to my pet worms. The lesson was a combination of the “Wiggling Worms” lesson in More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons published by NSTA (my new favorite book of the year, by the way!), our HBF lesson on vermiculture, and my own ideas about how to incorporate an outdoor element into this lesson. First, the students listened to the wonderful Diary of a Worm. Then, students completed a table from MPPSL to think about what they already know about worms and their questions about worms. Next, students went outside to dig for worms (we didn’t find any!!). We had a conversation about how worms native to this area burrow deeper underground as it gets colder to stay warm (adaptations!). Then, I introduced students to some red wigglers I brought from home. They made observations on these worms using a form from MPPSL to guide them. Finally, we talked about what kind of environment these red wigglers would need to survive in their classroom in a worm bin, and what kind of food they would need to feed them. It was tons of fun!! Look for a copy of the lesson plan on this blog.

Digging in the soil – it sure was hard!

Why can’t we find any worms?

We can feel the worms’ bristles!

Using tools for closer observation of our worms

Studying Life Cycles in First Grade

November 5th, 2010

We took the first graders outside and acted out a tree’s life cycle borrowing a PLT activity. Then, students each collected one seed from the ground (we primarily had acorns and sweet gum tree seeds available). Back inside the classroom, we diagrammed a simple tree life cycle, and students created their own diagram using their seed they collected! The kids had a great time, and it was a nice introduction to their new unit!