Environmental Education Program Enhances BMS Students' Experience
For the group of sixth graders hiking through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this field trip was like no other.
“I think it was good because it’s not like when you go to a museum and don’t get to touch anything,” said sixth grader Rachael Adelstein. “You get to see the stuff and then touch it and really learn about it. That makes it fun!”
Rachel was excitedly referring to the annual Brady Middle School sixth grade environmental education program, a supplement to the sixth grade science curriculum.
“By taking advantage of the unique resources of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the District has created a classroom without walls and nurtured connections between students and the larger world around them,” said science teacher Dave Tirpak.
Student teams were divided into groups categorized by the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls. Half of the sixth graders participated each of four days one week in October; the others followed the second week. Following an opening ceremony that captured the excitement of the week, students were taken through different sections of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Experiences included a “watershed walk” where students had to interpret geological and cultural changes and a “journey to the river” where the sixth graders participated in scientific water quality testing, observed ecosystem changes and examined causes of pollution. Other activities included observation and exploration of rock formations and waterfalls as part of a discussion about the physics behind erosion.
“I learned about lichens and how they break the rock down until they get the energy they need,” said sixth grader Samantha Wittenberg. “It’s interesting seeing new things like the waterfall and carvings in the walls.”
“I learned how the Cuyahoga River was formed,” added classmate Destiny Pryor. “And the hike was cool. I think it’s a good learning experience because it’s more hands-on and you get to actually experience stuff instead of looking at pictures and reading paragraphs. You get to see it from your own point of view.”
The hike to Brandywine Falls and exploring “The Ledges” were highlights for the students. At various locations they were taught about types of bedrock, and chemical and physical erosion as they saw it firsthand. Students were lead by Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Staff and National Park Rangers who encouraged students to think outside the box, setting up challenges so the students could discover for themselves how nature evolves.
“We really want to foster a connection with the outside world in really understanding where they are in the world and having a sense of place. So it’s really important to encourage exploration and tangible learning,” said Courtney Luensman, a field instructor intern. “This cannot be replicated inside a classroom. Having kids go outside and actually exploring and touching is invaluable to their educational experience.”
One experience involved students partnering up and putting pressure on a classmate’s arms as that
individual tried to lift his/her arms. When that pressure was released, the classmate’s arms easily floated up. This experiment helped the students better grasp the idea of mechanical weathering around the creation and evolution of the waterfalls and streams. Students also had an opportunity to explore topographical maps and relate them to their surroundings while in that environment.
“I believe the most rewarding part of this program is the fact that our students get to explore several unique sites in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and use those locations to learn in a more exciting way than they can experience in a classroom,” said teacher Trish Owen.
Brady teachers like Owen and Tirpak who prepare the curriculum and the lesson plans leading up to the four-day experience are grateful for the opportunity to give their students a multi-faceted unit of study that thoroughly engages them.
“It’s completely hands-on, and it’s stimulating all five senses without a doubt,” said sixth grade teacher Anne Bing. “There’s just so much to do and so much to see. This is exactly what kids like to do….and they come to understand the importance of the national park and that they’re part owners of it. They learn that they must take a leadership role in caring for it.”
And the students not only take away an empowering education but also meaningful memories that will stay with them for a lifetime.
“I think it’s important because you’re never really going to understand anything that we learn in science fully without knowing how the rocks really feel or what they really look like or with a waterfall, how it’s really smooth at the top; you can’t really see that in a book or when you’re reading,” said sixth grader Ahmed Abouelsoud. “Once you’re actually there, you’re physically doing what you have read about. It’s a great experience.”
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