Hands On Learning at the WVPD
Story of the Week 10/26/14-11/1/14
By Marina Welch
As a VHCB AmeriCorps member with the Winooski Valley Park District, I am fortunate enough to provide field trips for local classrooms. These students have teachers that understand the value of hands on experiences, being out in nature, and seeing for themselves the plants and animals that they talk about in class. For example, the wetlands are a wonderful subject to learn in school. Students are extremely excited when they get to share with me how much they know, plants they can point out, and birds that could be out in the reeds.
Recently, I had four 3rd grade classrooms visit me in one week. I planned a whole day based around exploring the wetlands! The students were able to go on a Plant Identification Walk and were proud when they correctly identified a sensitive fern by the end of the day. Water quality testing was a big hit for the groups as well. We tested the water for phosphate and nitrate levels, dissolved oxygen saturation, pH, and turbidity. They learned that the water needs a certain pH range for plants to grow, that phosphate and nitrate are vital for a functioning wetland, and what the word 'turbid' means (how dirty the water is). At the end of the lesson, students were able to connect the importance of healthy water with maintaining a valuable habitat for the birds and mammals they love to talk about.
Students had the most fun tackling the large stand of Phragmites on the property. This non-native invasive reed takes over wetlands at a rapid pace. The students were very proud in knowing that they had helped us in this fight. Although some shoes got wet, the students jumped right in bundling the tall stalks. This makes it easier for staff to go in and cut the tops off of the reeds to drip herbicide into the stems. Despite the mud and hard work, teachers emailed me later saying that the students wouldn't stop talking about it. They topped off their day by playing a version of 'Shark and Minnows' where those that were 'it' were Phragmites. At the end of each round, students saw how quickly two stalks of Phragmites turned into a field full!
Although keeping 40 3rd graders on track can be exhausting (especially with an abundance of sticks to be used as swords), it’s worth it to hear how happy the teachers are when they’re able to bring their students out of the classroom.