This was no ordinary walk in the park. For the Brady Middle School sixth graders who toured the Cuyahoga Valley National Park as part of the annual Environment Experience, this was an engaging, new-found love of learning.
"We can have an up-close experience, and it's really hands-on. Being in the classroom you can't experience it this way," noted sixth grader Kate Halloran. "You learn more when you're outside doing it and seeing things for real when you're there in person."
This supplement to the sixth grade science curriculum enables students to experience nature in a hands-on, engaging way through the use of the unique resources of the National Park. Students were led by Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC) Staff who encouraged them to think outside the box while setting up challenges so the students could discover for themselves how nature evolves.
“I liked that we really got to explore a lot and see all these amazing things like erosion, rock formations-- it was so exciting!” effused sixth grader Caden Vincent. “It gives kids a great opportunity to see the world. Being outside of the classroom you get to see the world and nature, everything around you and the environment.”
And that, says Science Teacher Dave Tirpak, is the point.
“From my perspective, the most important thing is that they get to see all of the things we talk about in class. So when we talk about ice wedging in class they get to walk through examples of ice wedging which is so much better than a picture in a book. It’s just a fantastic resource as far as geology goes. You have got the Falls, the Ledges, the history of the Locks which ties into the River Civilizations they study in sixth grade. It’s just a fabulous resource so glad we have the opportunity to use it.”
Student teams were divided into six groups categorized by the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls. Half of the sixth graders participated one week; the others followed the next week. 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.
“Being able to connect the youth of our current generation with the outside is something we always strive to do because they are so connected to technology and so used to being connected with the rest of the world that they’re not used to being connected with the natural world,” said Park Ranger Jonathan Malriat. “If we can get them to want to conserve nature then they’ll protect and continue to preserve nature for generations to come.”
And it’s not just about the science of connecting with nature. The lessons span the sixth grade curriculum with assignments encompassing history, math, and even language arts through the required writing assignments.
“I like the stuff we have done. I don’t have to learn in the same way,” said sixth grader Sophia Madden. “I learn by actually experiencing it rather than learning about it on paper. It’s more fun that way.”
To view all of the photographs from the Environment Experience, click here.